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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 24, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 08
Texas judge sues to keep from watching training video on LGBT issues
Section One
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Texas judge sues to keep from watching training video on LGBT issues

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

An administrative judge who works for the Social Security Administration (SSA) is suing the agency to keep from having to watch a 17-minute training video on LGBT issues.

Judge Gary Suttles of Houston, Texas, says that having to watch the video would violate his First Amendment rights and also the religious protection provision in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 2011, the Obama administration directed all federal agencies to provide for diversity and inclusion in their interactions with the communities they serve. In May 2016, the SSA sent its employees instructions to watch a video entitled 'Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Community,' which offered 'a brief session on tips for increasing cultural awareness in a diverse and inclusive environment.'

Suttles objected to seeing the video, saying he was 'already fully aware to treat all persons with respect and dignity and [has] done so [his entire life].' Instead, Suttles requested an exemption from his supervisor, the Houston office's Hearing Office Chief Administrative Law Judge Monica J. Anderson. But Anderson denied his request.

'Allowing employees to remain untrained on the topics covered by the mandatory video creates a risk of liability to the agency, poses a potential harm to other employees, and threatens the agency's core public service mission,' she wrote.

'Indeed, the agency is committed to providing the highest standard of considerate, thoughtful, and culturally sensitive customer service to the public. The agency must also ensure that all employees treat each other with courtesy and consideration. In mandating all employees to view the LGBT mandatory training video, the agency is ensuring all its employees are trained about, and will comply with, agency workplace rules and EEO principles.'

Settles demanded an alternative way to fulfill the SSA's diversity requirement, but when his supervisors told him he could read the video script instead of actually watching the video, he also refused.

Settles filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint based on his claims of religious discrimination, which is due to be adjudicated in March, but then pre-empted the hearing by filing his lawsuit.

In his suit, the judge alleges that the SSA refused to accommodate his religious beliefs. 'The agency has wholly failed to work in good faith to reasonably accommodate Judge Suttles' sincerely held religious belief against watching' the video, the complaint says.

The agency violated his rights, the complaint continues, 'by discriminating against him on the basis of his religion, creating a religiously hostile work environment,' and by 'retaliating against him for his protected activity of seeking a religious accommodation.'

Although Settles says he has a spotless record since his appointment in 2005, the Houston Press has discovered at least one incident in which he was censured for ridiculing a Social Security recipient for claiming PTSD disability benefits.

'I mean, hey, you were in the Navy,' Suttles told the man. 'You weren't even fighting on the ground. To me it would have been exciting. What do you mean stressful?'

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