Connie Williams, a city carrier at the Hennessey Oklahoma Post Office alleged that she was subjected to discrimination based on her sex, age, and reprisal for prior protected EEO activity when she was harassed by her postmaster. The Postal Service dismissed the complaint claiming that Williams was not harmed. On appeal Williams argued she was harmed, and contended that the harassment continued. The EEOC found that the claimed actions of the postmaster, including setting unrealistic expectations for the amount of time for the employee to prepare and complete delivery of her route, were sufficient to state a claim of discrimination and reversed the Postal Service’s decision. Williams v. Potter- February 5, 2009
Note: As this EEO case points out: .. a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 may be predicated on either of two types of sexual harassment — (1) harassment that involves the conditioning of employment benefits on sexual favors, and (2) harassment that, while not affecting economic benefits, creates a hostile or offensive working environment.
In Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993), the Supreme Court reaffirmed the holding of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67 (1986), that harassment is actionable if it is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the complainant’s employment. The Court explained that an “objectively hostile or abusive work environment [is created when] a reasonable person would find [it] hostile or abusive” and the complainant subjectively perceives it as such. Harris,. Thus, not all claims of harassment are actionable. Where a complaint does not challenge an agency action or inaction regarding a specific term, condition or privilege of employment, a claim of harassment is actionable only if, allegedly, the harassment to which the complainant has been subjected was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the complainant’s employment.
The following are excerpts from Williams EEO complaint:
In her June 24, 2008 complaint, complainant alleged that she was subjected to discrimination based on her sex (female), age and reprisal for prior protected EEO activity when she was harassed from March 2, 2008, to the present by her postmaster.
Much of the claimed harassment was the postmaster setting unrealistic expectations for the amount of time complainant had to prepare and complete delivery of her route, and repeated close monitoring and observation of her at the post office and on her route, Complainant claimed these unrealistic expectations forced her to walk at an uncomfortable pace, and skip lunch and breaks. When she did not meet the postmaster’s expectations or engaged in allegedly time wasting activity, the postmaster allegedly kept up his intensive monitoring, pressured complainant with comments, threatened her with corrective and disciplinary actions, and on May 14, 2008, gave her a negative route evaluation.
To a lesser extent, complainant alleged that the postmaster harassed her about work practices relating to safety and a form. She raised an incident of the postmaster getting angry with her for not timely submitting and completing a form estimating route time, and warning her for not setting the emergency brake on her truck.
In her complaint, complainant also alleged that the postmaster discriminatorily inquired about her schedule with her second employer. The postmaster was trying to determine if complainant was working a second job while on sick leave. She also claimed that her request to come in early on April 16, 2008 so she would not have to use annual leave was denied by the postmaster, resulting in having to use leave. Complainant claimed that on April 21, 2008, the postmaster only granted a request for sick leave after she told him her doctor would speak to him personally if necessary.
Complainant also alleged in her complaint that the postmaster told offensive jokes. She also claimed therein that on several occasions he got very physically close to her while monitoring her, bringing her work, and retrieving things. She wrote that he once brushed up against her hand and another time up against her while he was reaching. Complainant contended this was unnecessary, and was sexual harassment.
The final agency decision dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. It reasoned complainant was not harmed. On appeal, complainant argues she was harmed, and contends the harassment is continuing. She alleges that the monitoring and comments about her productivity continue. She indicates that on or about October 15, 2008, the postmaster gave her a formal discussion for failure to signal and leaving a truck security door open, and also told her she was did not properly lift nor properly wear her seat belt. She alleges that the postmaster requires her to bring in medical documentation to account for each time she is off work due to stress. She also submits a letter of warning by the postmaster dated November 3, 2008, for failure to immediately report an injury to her back and deviating from her route.
The claimed actions of the postmaster setting unrealistic expectations for the amount of time for complainant to prepare and complete delivery of her route, coupled with repeated frequent intensive monitoring and observation of her and pressuring her with comments, threats of corrective and disciplinary actions; and a negative route evaluation state a claim. If these actions occurred as claimed and are discriminatory, this could alter the conditions of complainant’s employment. Complainant contends the above forces her to walk at an uncomfortable hurried pace, and to skip lunch and breaks. The remaining claimed actions are part of the harassment claim, i.e., the postmaster using his supervisory relationship to create a hostile work environment for complainant. This includes the incidents regarding denial of change of schedule, leave matters, comments about complainant’s safety practices and the form, the October 2008 formal discussion, the November 3, 2008 letter of warning, and the alleged sexual harassment and jokes.