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Former OSHA employee can’t sue over retaliation

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EEOC

A federal appellate court ruled Tuesday that a former OSHA employee who filed more than 60 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints in five years cannot sue the Department of Labor for retaliation and for allegedly creating a hostile work environment following her complaints.

Chrysoula Komis is a former U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector who claimed in her EEOC complaints that she was denied the ability to work from home, had been shifted to clerical duties, was reassigned and was not promoted, among other allegations, according to documents in Chrysoula Komis v. Secretary of the United States Department of Labor, filed in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Documents chronicle a series of disciplinary actions against Ms. Komis, which included “written reprimand, suspension, denial of access to training opportunities, and removal from a particular assignment” which the appeals court observed to “appear to be discrete personnel actions altering the terms and conditions of her employment.

In August 2008, OSHA terminated Ms. Komis’ employment. Upon leaving her post in September 2008, she filed the last of her EEOC complaints, alleging “constructive discharge.” One month later she filed her lawsuit against the Labor Department, according to documents.

A trial court subsequently granted judgment “as a matter of law” for the department on one retaliation claim, a verdict Ms. Komis did not appeal. The retaliatory hostile work environment claim went before a jury, which also returned a verdict in favor of the Labor Department. Ms. Komis appealed that verdict, challenging the jury instructions, contending “the court set too high the level of harm she had to prove in instructing the jury that a hostile work environment,” documents state.

In affirming the trial court’s decision, a three-judge panel with the federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled the jury instructions were “harmless” in the verdict that tossed Mr. Komis’ hostile work environment claims, including those that stated she was not promoted and was given clerical duties, ruling her claims as unproven given “overwhelming evidence” from the DOL.

The ruling explained justifications, per the government’s testimony: “(1) there were fewer industrial hygiene assignments overall, (2) Komis’s Voluntary Protection Program … duties made it difficult to schedule Komis for such assignments, (3) OSHA’s focus shifted under a new presidential administration, (4) her three suspensions were proper disciplinary actions appropriate for Komis’s infractions of direct insubordination and forwarding of internal OSHA emails outside the agency, and (5) clerical duties were actually part of her job description from the time she took the position.”

The ruling also explained that no other OSHA employee at the time was permitted to work from home and that alleged incidents of a hostile work environment occurred without a supervisor’s knowledge of her EEO complaints.

The Department of Labor and attorneys for both the plaintiff and defendant could not immediately be reached for comment.

 

 

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