Legal Briefs: No more hanky-panky

ksaldarini@govexec.com
klunney@govexec.com

Every Friday on GovExec.com, Legal Briefs reviews cases that involve, or provide valuable lessons to, federal managers. We report on the decisions of a wide range of review panels, including the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Federal Labor Relations Authority and federal courts.

After six years with the United States Postal Service, Juliana Hackman suddenly found herself the center of unwanted attention.

Hackman transferred from the Cook Street postal facility in Springfield, Ill., to the city's Downtown Station facility in 1992. Over the course of the next four years, Hackman alleged she was subjected to egregious sexual harassment, testifying before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that several of her co-workers, five in particular, continually used sexually explicit language and engaged in sexually explicit conduct in her presence.

The harassment ranged from making sexual innuendos when discussing mail processing on the work room floor to displaying pornographic pictures in the common area. More inappropriate behavior included a celebratory spanking of another female carrier in honor of her 29th birthday. Graphic discussions on women's physical appearance and sexual preferences also took place openly.

Hackman testified that she went to the postmaster about the problem, who told her he would speak to the offending parties, despite the fact that he didn't agree with her complaint. According to Hackman, matters improved for a short time, but the inappropriate behavior resumed after about two months.

She then approached her female supervisor who advised her to "let it [the harassment] roll off your back."

Hackman filed a discriminatory complaint with the USPS. The agency ruled that Hackman failed to document a specific example of inappropriate sexual behavior, but the EEOC overruled its decision on appeal, finding in favor of Hackman and concluding that the harassment created a hostile and intimidating work environment.

The commission directed the USPS to either take disciplinary action against the offending employees or provide them with 40 hours of EEO sensitivity training.

Hackman will be reimbursed all annual and sick leave used as a result of the agency's discriminatory actions as well as any compensatory damages due.

Lesson: Keep the hanky-panky off the work room floor.

Hackman v. Postal Service (01971882), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, March 16, 2000.

Russian Roulette

Lemuel Mauldin, a NASA employee, traveled to the Ukraine and Russia in 1997. Mauldin, a veteran of such trips, knew that he would have to pay a charge for excess baggage in Ukrainian currency. So, he converted about $90 worth to pay for the charge. But, as luck would have it, he wasn't charged for excess baggage on this particular trip.

Back in the United States, Mauldin was stuck with the $90 worth of Ukrainian currency. None of the banks he visited would convert it for him. So, when he filled out his travel reimbursement form, Mauldin attached the currency with a note explaining the situation and asked to be reimbursed for the $90 amount.

The travel office denied his claim, chalking it up as an "exchange loss," arguing that the government cannot be held responsible for currency that cannot be reconverted to U.S. dollars.

Meanwhile, the travel office said it returned the currency to Mauldin, but Mauldin said he never received it.

The General Services Board of Contract Appeals examined the case and decided that NASA was incorrectly placing the burden on Mauldin. When Mauldin returned the currency to the travel office, it became government property again. Its loss was, therefore, the government's fault.

The board ordered the agency to reimburse Mauldin the $90.

Lesson: Money is money.

In the matter of Lemuel E. Mauldin, General Services Board of Contract Appeals (15242-TRAV), March 27, 2000.

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