Feb 21, 2017

ALJ Sues Over LGBT Diversity Training

     From the Washington Post:
Citing his First Amendment rights and religious protections under the Civil Rights Act, a Social Security Administration judge in Texas who refused to watch an LGBT diversity training video is suing his superiors to avoid being fired, saying he was subject to a “religiously hostile work environment.”
Judge Gary Suttles said in a complaint filed Thursday in federal court in Texas that the Social Security Administration, or SSA, should be barred from taking any disciplinary action against him at least until his religious discrimination claims are heard by a federal employment panel. ...
Though his complaint describes a “sterling work record,” Suttles was criticized and investigated by the SSA in 2015 after he scoffed at a Gulf War veteran’s post-traumatic stress disorder during a disability benefits hearing. Suttles questioned whether the veteran, a 44-year-old who served as a fueler on an aircraft carrier, had experienced true trauma during the war. ...
     Suttles has a 15% reversal rate, meaning he turns down 85% of the claimants whose cases he hears. That's an extraordinarily low number. By any standard, Suttles is an extreme outlier.

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmm...I thought our local judge with 17% was bad. I crunched the numbers a year or so ago using SSA's own data, and found out that judge was about 48th lowest award rate in the country. I wonder where Suttles falls? Top 10?

Anonymous said...

If only the clowns would scrutinize the low outliers like they do the high outliers.....I hope this guy burns in hell over the deserving people that he has undoubtedly denied who were clearly disabled and suffered further anguish and even death as a result of his denial.

Anonymous said...

A shining light of a an ALJ (Almost Like a Judge.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully any rep with a LGBT client requests ALJ Suttles recuses himself from hearing their case.

Anonymous said...

Somewhere Nero is playing a fiddle

Anonymous said...

“I am already fully aware to treat all persons with respect and dignity and have done so my entire life,” he said in an email the next day, according to the complaint.


Claimants who have appeared before you might have a different opinion.

john smith said...

Her trans siblings, Zelle's family and all who loved her hope that is the result of the next trial as well. https://www.fiverr.com/sabakhan695

Anonymous said...

How very un-Christian of this wolf in sheep's clothing. I think each of his claimants should file civil actions for him creating a hostile environment.

Anonymous said...

Yea see despite what you may read here, the agency doesn't love high deniers. The agency doesn't care what decision the ALJ makes they care how many decisions are made.

If the rep's theory were true, SSA wouldn't be disciplining this egregiously low payer. They would love him.

Anonymous said...

"Suttles has a 15% reversal rate, meaning he turns down 85% of the claimants whose cases he hears."

I think you meant "approval" not "reversal."

Anonymous said...

@3:49

Nobody said being a low payer makes an ALJ immune to discipline, only that the focus is on high award rate ALJs, rather than low award rate ALJs. In regard to Suttles, it is my understanding that he is being disciplined because he has a track record of being...less than tactful with claimants, not for his award rate. I would suggest tact just slows the process down, and makes appeals more difficult due to boilerplate and vague language, but that is another matter altogether.

Anonymous said...

Conservative snowflakes are the worst.

Anonymous said...

I am so sick and tired of people hiding their bigotry behind their religion. It's like saying I only have a problem with this because my religion tells me to but otherwise I would be OK with it. I'm sorry but we all have something called free will. If you do not like things your religion supposedly espouses then you have the power to go elsewhere or ignore it.

Anonymous said...

@4:00

Hmm...well technically an ALJ award is a reversal of the administrative denial at initial and reconsideration.

Anonymous said...

The 15 percent grant rate says it all. The ALJ does not exactly have to agree w/ the LGBT training. But diversity training is almost a requirement for most major corporation jobs. Deal w/ it Suttles. Or get out.

Anonymous said...

Aren't intolerant religious extremists typically trying to keep a lid on things they fear inside themselves? Maybe the guy fears that he himself is sexually attracted toward men, and he's using his religious creed to hammer everybody else over the head. Or he is just using the issue to avoid/delay getting fired over his work performance.

Anonymous said...

re: 10:38pm,

Or, his religion has helped him come to terms with those issues. I mean, the man voluntarily works in a profession where he is paid a lot of money to wear a dress (err, excuse me, a "robe") to work every day.

Anonymous said...

Cheer up, ALJ Snowflake!

Amishboy51 said...

I'm a retired SSA employee, so somewhat out of the loop, but I don't remember the training as anything more than "treat people fairly, regardless of gender/sexual orientation," etc. So how does that contravene Suttles' (or anyone else"s) religious beliefs? Doesn't even the Bible advocate, "Hate the sin, not the sinner."?

Anonymous said...

SSA should target outlier ALJs who deny at excessive rates for additional scrutiny because the extremely low approval rate is a strong indicator that they are not following binding agency rules and policies. I'm not saying it automatically means that they are. It is just very much more likely. If you are going to use program integrity $$$ wisely look at the most likely culprits. The purpose of the SSD program is to serve people with disabilities. Any indication that an ALJ is failing to follow rules and policies designed to protect and benefit those people should be thoroughly investigated and dealt with. The fact that OIG has not done so is most unfortunate. And for those who worry about independence of ALJs I would answer that such independence in decision making is for those who make decisions within agency rules and policies, not for those who repeatedly fail to do so in ways that hurt claimants.

Anonymous said...

Cases are before him on appeal from a denial(s). So his approval would technically be a reversal of the lower decision(s). I guess that's what they mean though I've never heard that word.

I wonder exactly what cases he's approved!

Amishboy51 said...

@ 7:34
While what you say is logical, in my experience "SSA law" is not as cut-and-dried or objective as you suggest. Many ALJ decisions hinge on "credibility," a notoriously slippery term. I suspect the low-paying outliers simply find most claimants to not be credible (often due to the dearth of objective findings, although in the view of many ALJs, requiring "commensurate" objective evidence contravenes regs and rulings).

Anonymous said...

@9:27

Require objective evidence to support symptom testimony, which is by definition subjective, is also contrary to caselaw in most circuits.

Anonymous said...

Reversal rate is the correct term, because the claimant is at the hearing protesting the previous denials. Supposedly, outliers with very low reversal rates are supposed to be scrutinized like those ALJ's with high reversal rates, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I went before a judge with a 10% reversal rate (and lost). I have enough difficulty with those with 30% reversal rates though that's not impossible.
I don't understand this all of a sudden remembering your religion when dealing with LGBT/gay issues but deal with all the other kinds of sinners. That looks to me like judging. Why is that sin (if sin it is) separated from other sins?
He would have to go live in the woods if he didn't wish to brush shoulders with other sinners. My church doesn't sanction gay marriage, but as long as I'm not having gay sex or any sex out of wedlock, I'm clear.

Anonymous said...

10:20 here,

Requiring*

Also, I should clarify, requiring objective evidence to support the severity of symptom testimony, which by definition is subjective, is contrary to case law in general. Requiring objective documentation of the source of symptoms, other than impairments which defy objective verification (lupus, migraines to an extent, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc.) is permissible.

Anonymous said...

If this ALJ is willing to publicly state his bigotry (and bootstrap it to his religion), I can only imagine the true depths of his bigotry.

If I practiced in front of this ALJ I would certainly be asking him to recuse himself from every case, not just ones involving LGBTQ clients.

Anonymous said...

I practiced before him, won remands on his denials and had to sit in his hearing room while he expressed disdain for every claimant I represented. Based on my observations, he could care less about LGBT issues or training. He is stalling the administrative action against him for insulting a veteran. I wish the hyprocrites in Congress would have called this outlier instead of the Judges with high allowance rates they slandered a few years ago. One of those ALJs had more integrity in his little finger than ALJ Suttles ever demonstrated.

Anonymous said...

@1:27,

I think he probably is looking for a lawsuit as a way to gain national notoriety (maybe a TV pundit gig) after leaving/being fired from the agency.

Anonymous said...

Charles and regular readers: the quality and content of comments has really been deteriorating into political opinion hash and not SSA issues. "burns in hell..." really? Numbers rarely tell the whole story. This judge may have an unscrupulous local attorney--or two-- who keep sending low chance cases forward in the hopes of hitting one--and do not tell us this does not happen. Your whining vitriol is tiresome. The blog is still enjoyable and valuable. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

@9:53

Your comment assumes the other judges in Suttles are not receiving these "unscrupulous" local attorneys cases. The average in the Houston-Bissonnet is 30%, twice Suttles rate. As ALJs are randomly assigned, your argument is specious.

In regard to your assertion that advancing "low chance cases" is "unscrupulous," I'm uncertain to your reasoning. If anything, representing high chance cases is arguably unscrupulous, given the lack of need for representation. In any event, representing claimants who need representation is the goal, not high-success rate individuals.

Additionally, I would presume "unscrupulous" attorneys would move locations to a more favorable jurisdiction if they simply intended to mill cases.

Anonymous said...

9:53:
Yes, "burns in hell." If you have represented a claimant that gets denied at a hearing by a denier ALJ, the claimant commits suicide after the denial, the District Court remands the egregiously improper denial, and you secure back pay for the deceased claimant's family in front of an impartial and fair ALJ, then yes, burns in hell is the appropriate terminology. Imagine being physically and mentally broken down for four years and finally get your day in court where you are ridiculed, humiliated, considered "not credible," etc.

Keep drinking the Kool Aid.

Anonymous said...

seek help...

Anonymous said...

Like 12:01 I don't see why a disability mill would practice in the Houston area. A 30% denial rate is below the national average. Most of the disability firms which have take lots of cases hoping to get a few through will drop the case before the hearing if they don't see how it can be won. Even ALJ's with a high allowance rate need something to validate a favorable decision.

Anonymous said...

@1:27 I think you're on to something. Judge Suttles might well be trying to get a pundit part. Rush Limbaugh makes way more than an ALJ. I thing Fox is too liberal for him, but I hear Breitbart has an opening.

Anonymous said...

@9:53,

I like how you invent a possible reason for why Suttles's denial rate is so high. Yeah, it's every disability firm's business model to take on as many cases with crappy evidence as possible, pay to request records in these cases, field these peoples' calls, and hold onto their case through the hearing, despite being assigned a judge who only grants 15% of cases. They lose money like this for pure entertainment. They also manage to get these cases assigned only to Suttles.

The more plausible theory is that Suttles is a biased, misanthropic man who enjoys categorically denying as many people as possible irrespective of what the law says and the evidence posits.

Anonymous said...

Are some aljs so miserable in their jobs and lives that they derive some perverse pleasure in being the "big shots" in the robes who can deny vulnerable claimants - many of whom live below the poverty level ?

Anonymous said...

The training was a TOTAL waste of time. I don't think the folks I work with disagreed with the training--treating folks w/ respect, etc. This is not the first time that we have had LGBT sensitivity training. As a coworker from Arkansas said, "why isn't their training for how to treat hicks like my folks back home?" It comes across as less sensitivity training (as that is not needed) but more as this group is an exalted class of folks. One reason Trump got some votes is this kind of baloney. (Not from me but from folks that aren't bigots.)

Anonymous said...

@11:32AM

The reason there isn't sensitivity training for hicks like your coworker's folks back home is because they have not be a class of individuals who have been discriminated against and much worse by our society. Your comments re an exalted class and your coworker's comments are just examples of the inherent bigotry in our society and is the exact reason why this training needs to be done.

I would suspect that you and your coworker probably sit around and wonder why there isn't a white history month as well.

Anonymous said...

@2:09

Actually discrimination of individuals from Appalachia was common place in the first half of 20th century.

But I would agree that training is probably not necessary in the modern era.

Tim said...

2:09 PM No, it's because they're not a "protected class." Whether or not individuals or even groups have been discriminated against isn't the point of the law. It's whether or not they belong to a "protected class." There are many groups, such as the Irish, Italians, etc. that have been discriminated against that are not considered a "protected class."

Anonymous said...

You're getting paid. Watch the required video

Tom Sawyer said...

It is an agency overwhelmingly having with a lot of irrelevant components, departments, and tax-wasting job positions, especially at HQ and Regional Offices. For example: The OCREO Offices will not assist but instead intimidate Asian-American employees who filed complaints while contradictory touting the overused HR term "Diversity". Currently, the environment is very hostile for less vocal ethnic groups of such and the union is looking the other way. Very Sad!!