Legal Briefs: Handcuff harassment

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.

Burnis Tate, an African American Veterans Affairs vehicle operator, was driving a patient to VA's Overton Brooks Medical Center in Shreveport, La. Upon arrival, he and a white co-worker became involved in an altercation with officials of the medical center and Tate was assaulted by the chief of the center's Ambulatory Care and Processing Section. Security officers threatened to put him in handcuffs.

Tate's co-worker was ignored, even though he was the one who had annoyed the assaulter. According to witnesses, Tate did not speak loudly or react defiantly. But that's why VA said it sent out the guards to begin with.

Tate filed a complaint of racial discrimination for the way he was treated, but the agency did not uphold it. Instead VA apologized, but offered no explanation for the chief's behavior.

Tate took his complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found the VA guilty of discrimination and poor manners. He was awarded $3,000 in compensatory damages.

Lesson: Save the handcuffs for the person doing the harassing.

Burnis Tate v. Veterans Affairs (01986429), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, April 14, 2000.

Home Away from Home

When David Morrell worked at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., he rented a room in the area and commuted to work daily while his family lived in Paonia, Colo.-more than 200 miles away. He returned to Paonia on holidays and weekends.

Morrell sold the house in Paonia in December 1998 and moved to Rufus, Ore., submitting a claim to the Army for real estate expenses incurred during the sale. The claim was denied.

The version of the Federal Travel Regulation in effect at the time of the incident said the government would reimburse an employee for costs incurred during the sale of a residence at his or her former official station. The FTR defined "official station" as the place from which the employee regularly left from to commute to work.

If Morrell had commuted to a work station in a remote area without adequate family housing, he could have been reimbursed for expenses associated with the sale of the Paonia home. Colorado Springs, however, is not considered to be a remote area.

The Board of Contract Appeals upheld the Army's decision to deny Morrell reimbursement.

Lesson: It's not where you call home, but where you commute from, that counts.

In the Matter of David Morrell (GSBCA 15229-RELO) GSBCA, April 26, 2000

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