$100,000 in Punitive and Compensatory Damages Awarded, Arbitrator Cites Flagrant Violations by the Agency
Citing “reckless indifference,” an independent arbitrator decried the Social Security Administration’s multiple contract violations in a recent case regarding the wrongful suspension of an exemplary SSA employee and American Federation of Government Employees member. The grievant, Magnolia Littles, was placed on a 90-day suspension after a payment approved by her turned out to be fraudulent.
“The grievant was a 14-year veteran of the SSA with a work history that was clean and without disciplinary blemish,” stated Patti McGowan, the AFGE legal attorney who handled the case. “Based on the facts and the grievant’s testimony, we knew right away that there was no just cause for the 90 day suspension – something that the arbitrator was able to confirm for us.”
According to the independent arbitrator, “there is no substantial evidence that the grievant was negligent or otherwise inattentive to her duties as charged.” The arbitrator also found that the SSA committed multiple violations of the National Agreement with AFGE including violating the grievant’s Weingarten Rights where the manager must inform the employee of impending disciplinary action with union representation present; and discriminating against the grievant because of race. Three other employees were caught up in the event involving the same fraudulent culprit but none of these employees received equal treatment. The agency exhibited discrimination by varying the levels of discipline along the racial makeup of the group. Out of four employees who were similarly situated the only white employee in the group was not disciplined.
The arbitrator went on to say that “the Agency has flagrantly violated the National Agreement and has trampled upon the right of this grievant and of the Union.”
“The strong language used by the arbitrator admonishing the agency illustrates the manner in which employees are treated under the current SSA leadership,” stated McGowan. In the terms of the ruling, the arbitrator rescinded the grievant’s 90-day suspension, awarding full back pay plus interest; $50,000 in compensatory damages due to SSA’s unlawful discrimination; $50,000 in punitive damages due to the agency’s “gross and repugnant rendition of the matter at hand, and in an effort to deter such reckless, blameworthy misbehavior in the future”; and expunged the employee’s record of any and all information and records pertaining to these events.
“This is a first for an SSA local in arbitration,” concluded McGowan. “The unprecedented sums of damages awarded to our member should serve as a wake-up call. We won’t let these blatant injustices to our members stand.”
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