Executive and Judicial Branch Sexual Harassment Settlements

The recent Washington Post articles about sexual harassment at the Department of Justice really upset me. Lawyers have an ethical code for a reason and it clearly wasn’t being followed.

So I started writing a letter (see below) which I delivered to Members of Congress last week. In my role as a former Obama Administration political appointee, I asked them to investigate all of the sexual assault complaints filed at executive branch agencies and in the judiciary.

I also them to use the findings to draft legislation making it easier to fire individuals who commit sexual harassment, stop tax dollars from being used to pay settlements, and hold former political appointees accountable for creating a culture that tolerated sexual harassment in the federal government.

Federal government employees have the right to work in a harassment-free environment. And we as taxpayers have the right to demand that our tax dollars are spent on repairing infrastructure, not paying for the bad behaviour of others.

Chairman Gowdy

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

2157 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

Ranking Member Cummings

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

2471 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

Chairman Johnson

Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

340 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Ranking Member McCaskill

Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

340 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Gowdy, Ranking Member Cummings, Chairman Johnson, and Ranking Member McCaskill,

As a former Obama Administration political appointee and federal agency chief counsel, I respectfully request that your committees investigate the numerous complaints of sexual harassment filed by executive and judicial branch employees. Please use the findings to write new legislation making it easier to fire those who commit sexual harassment, require that information related to termination of employment be made public, and stop taxpayer dollars from being used to settle sexual harassment claims.

Sexual harassment in the federal government is a rampant problem that has persisted for years. The Department of Justice, per recent Inspector General reports, transferred individuals instead of imposing severe disciplinary action. At Yellowstone National Park, female employees faced a hostile workplace full of unwelcome and inappropriate comments. Multiple Congressional hearings have shone a bright light on sexual harassment in the military and most recently, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shared that the judicial branch is not immune.

Sexual harassment exists in the federal government in 2018 because former political appointees failed to address the problem. Political appointees like then Attorney General Holder issued policy documents stating that DOJ would “maintain policies to allow all employees to work in an environment that is free from discrimination and harassment.” They published notices in the Federal Register like then Secretary of Transportation LaHood did detailing the rights and protections available under federal anti-discrimination and whistleblower protection laws for those who report sexual harassment.

But as the DOI and DOJ Inspector Generals have so bluntly shown, these notices and policy statements are just words. In 2011, I requested an Inspector General investigation into sexual harassment and sexual assault at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, a federal service school. Shortly thereafter, I was given the option of resigning or being fired.

My abrupt departure damaged the trust that MARAD employees had in the then DOT political appointees. They knew that my departure was linked to the IG request and no one was going to risk their career by reporting additional sexual harassment.

That’s why Secretary Zinke’s December 2017 video to Department of Interior employees is so eye-opening. Never before has a sitting secretary publicly shared that he or she fired individuals because of sexual harassment. The typical operating procedure based on my personal experience and recent news reports is to tolerate the behavior, transfer sexual harassers to other jobs in lieu of firing them, and possibly give them bonuses.

In your oversight capacity, please review the sexual harassment complaints that have been filed over the past 20 years. Some information can be found in the annual No Fear Act reports. Don’t limit your review to just these reports. As I learned at MARAD and in prior service as a career federal lawyer and military officer, all bad acts aren’t recorded on paper.

I also recommend that you direct other departments to follow Secretary Zinke’s lead and release information regarding sexual harassment related firings. Some information is currently released in annual No Fear Act reports, but that information is incomplete. Readers don’t know how many of the complaints result in termination of employment. Departmental General Counsels can provide this information and releasing it will build greater trust between career government employees, political appointees, and the general public.

Similarly, more transparency is needed regarding the settlement agreements associated with sexual harassment complaints. Departmental annual reports list “legal liabilities”. What are these liabilities and how many tax dollars have been spent settling sexual harassment claims? Chief Financial Officers can provide this information.

Lastly, please ask individuals who served as secretaries, deputy secretaries, general counsels, agency administrators, and senior military officers over the past twenty years why they failed to fire individuals who committed sexual harassment and sexual assault. What were the legal and policy justifications for keeping these individuals in their jobs? Compiling this information will help Congress draft legislation to stop future political appointees from repeating past misguided and damaging mistakes.

Thank you for considering my recommendations.

Sincerely,

K. Denise Rucker Krepp

Former Maritime Administration Chief Counsel

cc:

Rep. Byrne

Rep. Comstock

Rep. Speier

Senator Fischer

Senator Gillibrand

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K. Denise Rucker Krepp

K. Denise Rucker Krepp

Homeland security, transportation, and sexual violence expert. Coastie. Former MARAD Chief Counsel. MST & transparency advocate. ANC6B10 Commissioner. Mom