Filing frivolous discrimination complaints has become the national sport of the federal government. Many people play, and competition is heated, but for my money the reigning champ is a man I’ll call Fred Lancaster (because, as explained in the main story, confidentiality rules forbid me from using his true name).
Lancaster is a middle-level official of the federal agency for which I am a lawyer. In the past few months he has:
• Filed a complaint because his friend in the office was suspended for two weeks. Lancaster claimed this was actually discrimination against him. The friend was suspended for threatening to kill two OCR employees.
• Filed a complaint alleging that someone told him that someone told him that someone said (that’s fourth hand) that Lancaster’s boss was going to get him out of the office.
• Filed another complaint alleging discrimination because his supervisor gave an assignment to Lancaster’s assistant without going through Lancaster. During the investigation, the supervisor explained that she did this because Lancaster had refused to speak to his assistant for several weeks.
• Filed a complaint because a fellow official had threatened to strike him. Lancaster alleged that prejudice was the motive. The fellow official is of the same sex, age group, and ethnic group as Lancaster.
• Filed complaints practically every time someone criticized his work or gave him assignments he didn’t like. He also filed complaints each time his supervisor, unable to correct Lancaster’s inadequate work, attempted to assign it to someone else. In all he filed more than 30 complaints in just over a year. That’s one complaint every eight working days.
• Last summer, two female college interns were assigned to Lancaster’s office. He and another employee invited them to his apartment so he could “help [them] with their SF-171s,” procedural forms. At the apartment, he made what used to be called improper advances. The interns spoke to Lancaster’s supervisor. The supervisor told Lancaster he was not to see the women socially. Lancaster filed a discrimination complaint for sexual harassment.
These complaints are now in a complex, lawsuit-like formal hearing process, where they may remain for years. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules forbid dismissing complaints merely because they are ridiculous. At no step of the way are federal officials permitted to toss these complaints back and say, “Aw, come on Lancaster, what do you take us for?” But that may not be necessary. It’s very clear what Lancaster takes them for.