Monday, February 27, 2017

Social Security Disability Judge Refuses to Watch LGBT Video and Sues the Agency

Social Security Disability Judge Gary Suttles from Texas has refused to watch an LGBT diversity training video as was mandated by the terms of his employment.  To avoid getting disciplined or fired, he has filed a lawsuit claiming a "religiously hostile work environment".  

The order to all Social Security Judges to watch the video is an effort by the Social Security Administration to create "better awareness in a diverse and inclusive environment".

On a statement to the hearing office director, Judge Suttles stated that he would not watch the video and said: "I am already fully aware to treat all persons with respect and dignity and have done so my entire life".  I strongly disagree with the Judge.  Judge Suttles is part of a group of "serial denier judges" within the systems whose practices have been unchecked by the agency for many years. Suttles approves the benefits of only 15% percent of the claimants who appear before him.  Over the past three to four years the agency has fostered a culture that favors judges with low approval rates. Very little has been done to review judges, such as Suttles, who have extremely low approval rates.  

In his complaint, Judge Suttles alleges that he has had a "sterling work record" in his career as an administrative law judge.  However, he fails to mention that he was investigated after he unfairly treated a Gulf War veteran who appeared before him in a disability hearing.  The veteran alleged disability as a result of war related PTSD.  According the the Washington Post and the Austin American-Statesman, the 44-year old veteran had served as a fueler on an aircraft carrier. Judge Suttles mocked the veteran's claim by stating:
"I mean, hey you were in the Navy.  You weren't fighting on the ground...  To me it would have been exiting.  What do you mean stressful?"
Even though veterans' groups condemned Judge Suttles remarks, the Social Security Administration refused to suspend or remove him from his job.  Hopefully, any Social Security Disability Lawyer with an LGBT client who appears before Judge Suttles will demand that he recuse himself from the case.