U.S. OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL ANNOUNCES FAVORABLE SETTLEMENT OF
HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT COMPLAINT AGAINST UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 5/17/01
CONTACT: JANE MCFARLAND
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today announced the settlement of a prohibited personnel practice complaint filed by a manager with the U.S. Forest Service who alleged that an official of the facility at which she was employed had retaliated against her for filing an administrative grievance. The complainant alleged that after she filed a grievance against the official, she began to suffer continuous verbal harassment, including threats that she would “get hers.” According to the complainant, she suffered injury to her health and ultimately accepted a lower-graded position in another location in order to escape from the hostile work environment.
OSC conducted an investigation of the complainant’s allegations. Following the investigation (and before OSC issued a formal finding on the merits of the complaint), OSC requested that the agency consider settling the matter. Thereafter, the agency and complainant entered an agreement. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the Forest Service has agreed to provide $27,000 in back pay to the complainant in compensation for wages lost as a result of her acceptance of a lower-graded position. The agency also agreed to restore 320 hours of sick and annual leave that the complainant had used during the period of time when she alleged that she was subjected to a hostile work environment.
It is a prohibited personnel practice under 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(9) to retaliate against an employee for filing a grievance. The creation of a hostile work environment can constitute a prohibited personnel practice where, in reprisal for engaging in protected activity, the conditions of an individual’s employment are made so intolerable that a reasonable person would absent themselves from their worksite.
The Office of Special Counsel is an independent federal agency that investigates and prosecutes complaints alleging the commission of prohibited personnel practices at federal agencies. In cases where an OSC investigation reveals reasonable grounds to believe a prohibited personnel practice has been committed, and an agency declines to voluntarily provide relief to a complainant, OSC will prosecute a petition for corrective action before the Merit Systems Protection Board. In many cases, such as this one, OSC obtains relief for complaining parties through settlement, before it makes a formal finding regarding the merits of the complaint.