VA Wins Summary Judgment in Labor Case

(CN) – A former Department of Veterans Affairs employee cannot prove he was subjected to a hostile work environment or that the VA retaliated against him for filing an EEO complaint, a federal judge ruled.
     Ronald Beavers worked for the Los Angeles Veterans’ Resource Center as a readjustment counselor from 1997 until he retired in late 2006.
     His hostile work environment claim was based on “disciplinary action taken against him, a confrontational meeting with his supervisor, his supervisor’s accusation that Beavers was ‘not a man,’ and his supervisor’s contact with Beavers’s physician and subsequent receipt of Beavers’s medical record,” U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson wrote in granting the VA summary judgment.
     Soon after Beavers was hired, his supervisor, Jason Young, noticed that Beavers used profanity when interacting with veterans and in front of staff members.
     Young “counseled Beavers about his use of inappropriate language at staff meetings – namely (1) that Beavers described an implant that he had received to treat a prostate problem as ‘act[ing] like a nigger’ and (2) that at a staff meeting Beavers said he told a Domestic Violence Group participant who requested credit for a class that wasn’t held that ‘now you want me to give you some pussy,'” the ruling states.
     After Beavers did not receive a promotion in 2006, he filed an EEO complaint alleging that Regional Manager Dick Talbott had discriminated against because of his age and sex. He withdrew the complaint two days later.
     At a staff meeting earlier that month, Beavers “referred to his EEO complaint and stated ‘Fuck it, I need some more money.’ Then, around the time he withdrew his EEO complaint, Beavers came into the kitchen during lunch and stated, ‘I guess you see I withdrew the complaint against Dick Talbott’s ass. But I’m not finished. I want you to know one thing, that Dick Talbott is a dirty motherfucker,'” the ruling states.
     Based on this inappropriate language, Young issued Beavers a letter of admonishment.
     That same year, Young met with Beavers in Young’s office to discuss whether Beavers was entitled to his requested higher grade level. Young said that he informed Beavers that he was not qualified for an upgrade, and that Beavers was angry throughout the conversation.
     Beavers provided a different story, stating that Young screamed at him to close the “fucking door,” told him that he “better not fucking leave and sit down and listen,” that he needed to pay Young more “fucking respect,” and that Young refused to allow a union representative to be present, according to the ruling.
     After that meeting, Beavers stopped going to work for medical reasons, allegedly due to his mistreatment at work. He faxed a Document of Medical Impairment to the Vet Center.
     Because the date on the document was illegible, and the date was needed for time accounting purposes, Young and another employee contacted Beavers’s physician to obtain a clearer copy. Beavers claimed that they then obtained all of his medical records without his consent.
     Judge Wilson ruled that Beavers could not state a hostile work environment claim or a retaliation claim, so Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, was entitled to summary judgment.
     Beavers based his hostile work environment claim on allegations of Young’s accusing him of not being a man, Young’s behavior during their private meeting, the letter of admonishment, and the retrieval of his medical records.
     Even if Beavers could back up his allegations with admissible evidence, he did not show that he was discriminated against because of a protected characteristic, Wilson found.
     “Construing Beavers’s argument charitably, the only protected basis on which he claims harassment is his sex. The only complained-of action that makes any reference to Beavers’s sex is Young’s alleged statement that Beavers wasn’t a man. This statement does not clearly constitute discrimination because of sex – it could equally be construed as an accusation of being more like a child than an adult. Even if it was harassment because of Beavers’s sex, it is only a minor insult and not sufficiently severe to be actionable,” Wilson wrote.
     Additionally, the harassment was not pervasive enough to create an abusive work environment, as Beavers pointed to just five specific instances of harassment. None of the incidents was particularly severe, nor did they unreasonably interfere with Beavers’s performance of his work. At least two of the incidents were disciplinary actions based on Beavers’s own use of profanity, Wilson found.
     Beavers was unable to show that the incidents were in retaliation for his EEO complaint. Even assuming that each of the incidents qualified as an adverse employment action, which Wilson found doubtful, the VA provided legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for each one.
     The admonishment letter was in response to Beaver’s use of profane language, the meeting in Young’s office was in response to Beavers request for a raise, and the contact with Beavers’ physician was solely to obtain a legible copy of the Document of Medical Impairment.
     Beavers, for his part, did not offer any direct evidence of pretext, bur relied on circumstantial evidence, which is not sufficient.

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