The Foreign Service Journal, June 2020

10 JUNE 2020 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Tex Harris and a Girl Named Alex In 1995 when the Foreign Agricultural Service gave up its three-year battle to keep me out of the Foreign Service due to my minor daughter’s disability, it was the first case of its kind under the Ameri- cans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. I sent a copy of the final decision to F. Allen “Tex” Harris, who was AFSA president during my brutal bureaucratic battle. Tex, who passed away in February, supported my fight. I knew of his successful dissent in other battles, including exposing human rights abuses in Argentina, and had called him several times during my three-year battle for dis- ability rights in the foreign affairs agen- cies. I vividly recall the times Tex called me, to ask about my daughter’s health and to offer kind words. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportu- nity Commission and the Justice Depart- ment’s Civil Rights Division reversed the FAS stand on the grounds that it constituted associational discrimination against persons with disabilities. A 950- word column in The New York Times on Jan. 22, 1995, also helped. I shared the final decision with Tex and asked him to share it with all foreign affairs agencies and all AFSA members. “Never again” became my motto. On May 25, 1995, Harris wrote a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, a former U.S. congressman who had voted for the ADA. A brief three-paragraph letter, it meant the world to my family. It meant Tex Harris LETTERS understood my fight was not only for me but for other qualified Foreign Service candidates denied or forced from duty solely due to disability discrimination. “I’m pleased to commend the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity for the thoughtful decision it issued in James E. Patterson’s case (case number 921203),” Harris wrote. “For too long, the Foreign Affairs agencies have disregarded the prohibitions in the Reha- bilitation Act and the Ameri- cans with Disabilities Act against discrimination on the basis of an employee’s disabil- ity, or the disability of a person with whom the employee has a relationship or association, by refusing to offer an accommoda- tion to these individuals.” Harris continued: “In the past, AFSA has had several requests for assistance from individuals who have been unable to get a medical clearance because of either their own disability or one of their family member’s.” I understood the sorrow of others who had accepted discrimination as a fact of their lives. They had been told by their government that they were “insur- ance burdens” and unworthy of diplo- matic careers because their disabilities or their disabled dependents would make others “sad” or “uncomfortable.” I was told these things. “We are pleased with the EEO Office’s decision in Mr. Patterson’s case, in which the office recognized that a reasonable accommodation for an employee whose dependent could not be medically cleared was to permit an accompanied tour and the payment of a separate maintenance allowance,” Harris wrote. “The Department of Agriculture’s final decision provides a much-needed precedent in this important area of civil rights law.” Harris called USDA’s decision “well- reasoned.” He copied his letter and FAS’ Final Agency Decision (FAD 921203) to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Secretary of Commerce Ronald Brown, USIA Director Joseph Duffy and J. Brian Atwood. In turn, I forwarded Tex’s letter to disability rights activists, academics and others. Battling the foreign policy bureau- cracy is not for the faint of heart. I choose not to dwell on the “brutal” moments, but to recall the better moments, such as every time I spoke with Tex Harris. He let my daughter and me know we were not alone. n James Patterson FSO, retired Washington, D.C. Share your thoughts about this month’s issue. Submit letters to the editor: