Tela L. Weber Gatewood 70 earned her juris doctorate with
distinction from the University of Iowas College of Law and was
admitted to both the Iowa and California bar associations. After
graduation, Gatewood worked as assistant city attorney for the city
of Des Moines for five years. From 1978 to 1994, she served the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) a Senior trial attorney
and supervisory trial attorney in Philadelphia and later in Dallas;
during her last three years with the EEOC she was an administrative
judge. Since 1994, shes served as administrative law judge
for the Social Security Administration in Oklahoma City.
Gatewood served on the Executive Council of the National Conference
of Administrative Law Judge and is a member of both the Association
of Administrative Law Judge and the National Association of Administrative
GGatewoods statements do not reflect the polcy of, nor is
she speaking for, any of her past employers.
Judge Gatewood says the most difficult and challenging case shes
ruled on comes from her day as an administrative judge at the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In this role, she handled
discrimination complaints from federal employees.
One particular case involved a young man who had not been successful
in completing the training class for air traffic controllers. The
man (names are not used because administrative cases are confidential
until appealed) had a rare disease that greatly affected his ability
to waslk. The disease also can have a mental element, but this man
had achieved academic success in the past. The man alleged discrimination
because of his disability.
After hearing the evidence, Judge Gatewood was convinced the man
received disparate treatment due to his disability, but she couldnt
be sure whether a hostile environment or his own difficulties grasping
the knowledge required of a controller was to blame. The weight
of the decisiion was not lost on Judge Gatewood because she knew
the U.S. Department of Transportation, which includes the Federal
Aviation Administration, almost always upheld the finding of the
administrative judge. Adding to the difficulty was her knowledge
that there were adequate numbers of air traffic controllers and
no new training classes were anticipated.
If she found the man not qualified and not entitled to relief,
she risked not enforcing the antidiscrimination laws. If she found
the agency didnt prove the man unqualified, and further that
the man did not comprehend what he needed to know, she might put
the publics safety at risk.
Judge Gatewood decided she must follow the antidiscrimination
law she was worn to uphold. She found in favor of the man and indicated
an appropriate remedy would be to place him in another training
class if one was to be held in the near future.
The Department of Transportation upheld her ruling and the man
was invited to participate in a training class that began shortly
after her ruling was issued.
At the Social Security Adminisstration, administrative law judges
primarily handle appeals from denial of disability benefits.
Judge Gatewood says her most interesting and difficult cases almost
always include a primary mental impairment, although the individual
might be in denial and believe her physical impairment is primary.
She recalls one such woman with a bipolar disorder.
During manic episodes, the woman had grandiose delusions; during
the initial stages of depressed episodes, she could become confrontational.
Her son testified the claimant often thought she was rich or owned
the local bank or another local store during the manic stages. Her
son said shed been known to go into the bank, demand her money,
and tell those who didnt cooperate that shed fire them.
The woman was lucid throughout the hearing itself, but the episodes
were well-documented so Gatewoods decision to allow benefits
because of mental impairments was not particularly difficult.
It was after the decision was issued that the case became more
The claimant decided to make Judge Gatewood a pen pal of sorts.
Though the judge never responded, the woman wrote her several letters
each week for at least a year. Sometimes the claimant would close
with I am not crazy, a reference to her knowledge that
benefits had been allowed for reasons of her mental impairment.
The letters often showed copies had been sent to the FBI, CIA, Department
of Defense, and Department of State.
Toward the end of her letter writing campaign, the woman wrote
of a rich mana noblemanshe was going to marry. She promised
to send a wedding invitation and even sent a list of gift suggestions.
She said they needed special permission to marry and
find a place where they could live. Late letters indicated they
had received permission to marry and live in Canada. She said in
addition to her new family, she would be allowed to take three people
with her to Canada. She wrote that she had decided to take Betty
Crocker, Richard Gere, and a jazz band.