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VA employees may lose jobs over suits

March 20, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - In the past two months, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission administrative judges have awarded two employees of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Berkeley County, W.Va., a combined $327,000 in discrimination suits.

Now, two of the men involved in the suits for alleged acts of discrimination and harassment may lose their jobs at the hospital, according to Richard Smith, vice president of the local chapter of the National Association of Government Employees, the union that represents medical center workers.

The actions, called proposals of removal, stem from the EEOC administrative judges' recommendations that the hospital take disciplinary action against the individuals involved in the alleged discrimination, Smith said.

The two men received the proposals of removal Monday, Smith said.

He said the men have 14 days to respond to the proposal in oral or written form.

If they do not respond, their jobs will be permanently terminated in 30 days, Smith said.

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Barbara Corbin, assistant to VA Medical Center Executive Director George Moore, said Moore will make the final decision for proposed disciplinary action.

"The director (Moore) has maintained a zero-tolerance policy against any form of discrimination and harassment. He will respond to the administrative judges' decision with the appropriate disciplinary action," Corbin said.

She would not comment on the details of the proposed disciplinary action.

The removal proposals resulted from acts of discrimination and harassment allegedly committed by the two men against two of their co-workers in the carpentry shop at the hospital, Smith said.

On March 11, EEOC Judge Donna Rodwell awarded $135,000 in damages to Phillip Hensley, a deaf employee who has worked at the VA Medical Center since 1986.

In the ruling, the two men are named as two of the people who "allegedly participated in the harassment directly and laughed at and took pleasure in the antics of those who did."

Two others named in the ruling have since retired from the hospital.

The shop supervisor, Edward Robertson, who according to the ruling "not only was present and witnessed the behavior, but permitted the behavior to continue over the years and at times participated in and encouraged the harassment of Complainant (Hensley)" retired in early March, Smith said.

Frank Louden, also named in the ruling as a participant in the harassment and discrimination of Hensley, retired a few months ago, Smith said.

EEOC Administrative Judge Francis Polito awarded $192,000 in damages in February to Thomas Lineberg, an employee in the carpentry shop who said he faced racial discrimination on the job.

Lineberg and two other shop workers testified that Robertson observed the harassment of Hensley, and that they complained to him about how the others treated Hensley and about racial tension in the shop, according to the ruling.

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