Anger management

Delores Stone, a fed employed by the Tennessee Valley Authority, got mad, but she didn't get even.

Stone was hired as an instrument mechanic at TVA's Sequoyah Nuclear Plant in 1978, where she calibrated and repaired instruments used in power plants. After completing training, she worked as a senior instrument mechanic (SIM) — a more complex and higher-paying job — from 1982 to 1988, and then lost her job in a staff reduction. From 1990 until 1995, Stone worked for TVA as a contract employee. On March 6, 1995, Stone was hired back by TVA to work at its Widows Creek Fossil Plant as an instrument mechanic.

TVA officials maintain that all of its 1995 new hires with previous SIM training were told that they would have to complete an eight-week SIM training course before they could be promoted from instrument mechanic to SIM, but Stone denies ever being told this.

In 1997, TVA had two SIM vacancies at Widows Creek. Eligibility for SIM training was determined on the basis of seniority, and the two employees with the most seniority, both males, were chosen. One of them had no previous SIM training or experience. Stone filed a formal Equal Employment Opportunity administrative complaint June 13, 1997, alleging sexual discrimination because she was passed over for SIM training and a promotion.

Stone also complained to management about performing SIM duties while being paid as an instrument mechanic. In one meeting Feb. 20, 1998, Stone said a TVA human resources consultant raised his voice and shook a fist at her, but TVA said that Stone had lost her composure and recommended she receive a fitness-for-duty evaluation. TVA presented evidence that showed that Stone was hostile and exhibited inappropriate signs of anger on other occasions toward her supervisors and others.

On Feb. 23, 1998, Stone was examined by a psychologist who determined that she could safely return to work. Stone said she was so humiliated by the examination that her doctor placed her on medical leave.

On April 1, 1998, Stone filed a formal administrative complaint with TVA's EEO compliance staff, alleging retaliation. On July 14, 1999, Stone filed suit in federal district court, charging both sexual discrimination and retaliation. The district court said Stone failed to prove her case and turned her down. "Evidence shows that TVA decided to promote instrument mechanics based on seniority from the date of last hire," the court said. Stone appealed the decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviewed the district court's decision and ruled in favor of TVA.

A careful review of all that transpired suggests that TVA may have discriminated against Stone, but it cannot be proven. When I was in government, I heard about cases in which managers looked for ways to lawfully discriminate against an employee. Did it happen here? We'll never know.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at milt.zall@verizon.net.

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