ragged edge magazine online



Issue 4

July, 2001




10 things I learned from filing an EEOC complaint

By James E. Patterson

A lot of things have happened since my daughter and I were profiled in the May/June 1995 issue of The Disability Rag ("A Father, A Daughter and Uncle Sam").

I was a civil service employee at the U.S. Department of Agriculture when in 1992 I was denied a promotion to its foreign service because my daughter had had corrective heart surgery at birth.

I filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, based on my association with my disabled daughter. In 1995, the USDA changed its "irreversible" decision, and I was promptly dispatched to Mexico as Agricultural Attaché. The Agriculture Department then closed the books on my complaint.

They'd forgotten one thing: damages. So it was that I had to file another complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission -- to make them pay up for the problems they caused me. I received my check in February 2001!

Today my 10-year-old daughter is fine and looking forward to a happy, healthy and full life. But the last nine years have been a long and stressful experience.

Friends have asked what I learned from it. I have given that question considerable thought. Here are 10 things I learned that can help others going through similar experiences:

1. Keep the faith. Look for sources of motivation and inspiration during the lengthy process. I found solace in the Bible, which I consider the most inspirational book ever written. Those of other faiths can find similar inspiration in their holy books.

2. When you file a complaint against management, word travels quickly. This is unfortunate, since you might want to change jobs within the organization to distance yourself from hostile and unsympathetic managers. In my case, I was told that it would be impossible for me to change jobs due to my EEO status.

3. Don't take frustration out on your family. At first, I was guilty of this. Fortunately, I recognized this weakness and changed courses so that I was directing my frustration through the EEO process.

4. Hire an attorney on a contingency-fee basis; they are out there, you just have to look for them. I hired an excellent attorney with a background in civil rights from the Department of Justice. The advice about the EEOC process and the laws, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disability Act, were invaluable.

5. Document, document, document! Keep a written journal of all the instances of harassment and unfair treatment that occur due to your participation in the EEOC process. Keep your attorney informed with weekly or monthly letters and other documentation. While I was engaged in the EEOC process, I was moved from my office into a storage room; the illegal move took place on a day I was on sick leave.

6. Don't let your work suffer while you are engaged in the EEOC process. This is one of the quickest ways to get fired. Keep trying to put in a productive eight-hour workday regardless of the harassment. In my case, management simply ignored me and assigned me no work, giving me plenty of time to spend on my EEOC complaint.

7. Discrimination can be emotionally disturbing; it was very disturbing for me. I sought professional help in dealing with my frustration, panic and anxiety problems.

8. If you have a strong case of discrimination, contact your agency or department head. My case was strong because USDA put in writing that I was being denied promotion due to disability of a dependent. I sought assistance from the Department of Justice, Department of State, the American Civil Liberties Union and several U.S. Senators. All of them informed USDA that I could not be denied an employment opportunity due to the disability of a family member. USDA just didn't want to hear what these agencies and Senators were saying.

9. Tell your story to the news media. I was lucky to get the New York Times interested in my case and I got good coverage including a story in January, 1995. The Wall Street Journal had made my case front page news in November 1994. This coverage helped USDA to realize they were getting bad press relations due to my case.

10. Don't give up! Don't become so frustrated that you simply give up. Don't be so humiliated by management slights and mistreatment that you allow them to get by with denying you your personal, legal, professional and civil rights. If you believe in your case, then stay with it. See it through to the end -- no matter how long it takes.

James Patterson lives in Washington, DC. He can be reached at 113232,3546@compuserve.com

James Patterson lives in Washington, DC.

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