FCC Fighting 'Hostile Workplace' Charges

Stem from allegations of porn-watching at work, retaliation

The FCC is the target of a lawsuit related to allegations that FCC employees were repeatedly watching porn at work, creating a hostile work environment for a fellow employee. The suit stems from 2012.

On Oct. 19, both the FCC and the plaintiff were granted more time by the Washington, D.C. U.S. District Court for discovery in the ongoing case, with the FCC planning to depose the plaintiff and the plaintiff planning to depose an additional FCC employee.

That plaintiff, a 30-year vet of the agency, filed suit charging she had been subjected to a hostile work environment, gender discrimination and two counts of retaliation.

In April of this year, the court dismissed three of the five charges against the commission—the FCC wanted four of the five dismissed and a summary judgment in its favor on the fifth.

FCC lawyers had argued that even had there been such porn-watching by male employees, since the porn was not in a common area—she says it was in the adjacent cubicle and she could hear "groans"—or in an email sent to her or placed on her desk, its mere existence was not "sufficiently 'severe or pervasive' to alter the conditions of employment."

But the court would not dismiss the hostile work environment claim, saying that based on the evidence presented, "The Court finds it plausible that Plaintiff’s employer subjected her to 'discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult' that is sufficiently 'severe or pervasive'” to alter the conditions of Plaintiff’s employment and “creates an abusive working environment."

The court also would not render summary judgment in the FCC's favor on one count of retaliation, in which the plaintiff claimed she was denied any awards or merit increases after filing her EEO complaint.

A semi-annual Inspector General's report to Congress just this past March said that investigators had found "substantial evidence that employees used FCC equipment and resources to....view, store, and send pornographic material," but did not identify them, saying it had "referred the case to the appropriate Bureaus and Offices within the Commission for action."

The court's April 8, 2016, decision, which the FCC did not include on its website list of FCC-related court filings, was spotlighted this week in a story in Tucker Carlson's website The Daily Caller and a follow-up commentary from Fred Campbell of Tech Knowledge in Forbes.

“Any employee found to be engaged in improper conduct will face disciplinary action," said an FCC spokesperson. "Since 2013, the FCC has been using filtering software to block access to inappropriate web sites at work. On all personnel matters, the FCC takes disciplinary action consistent with government-wide rules. We can’t comment on specific personnel cases or pending litigation.”