The federal government is America’s largest employer with nearly 2,000 agencies. Unfortunately, the federal workplace is far from immune from harassment complaints. Like other employers, it saw a surge in complaints after the #MeToo movement ramped up. Both sexual and non-sexual harassment complaints rose between FY 2015 and FY 2018, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) receiving as many as 1.5 reports, on average, per day.
According to a new report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, there were 29,657 harassment complaints over that period. Of those, 2.257 involved specifically sexual harassment. However, it is widely believed that sexual harassment is underreported, so the numbers may be even larger.
The 264-page report recommends the federal government appoint an ombudsperson to investigate sexual harassment claims with an eye towards proactive identification of the problem and prevention.
Which agencies are facing accusations?
According to the Courthouse News Service, the agency that received the highest number of sexual harassment complaints is the Social Security Administration. However, other agencies were scrutinized in the report, as well.
For example, a senior litigator at the Department of Justice reported that her supervisor stalked her for over a year — an experience she called “terrifying and life-altering.” She did file a formal complaint, but the agency seemed indifferent. Far from bringing in outside law enforcement for what could be considered criminal stalking, the agency took virtually no action. They did not suspend the man or demote him — or even put a note in his file. Instead, the agency simply transferred him to another office.
Other agencies that garnered unwelcome attention in the report were NASA and the State Department, both of which have histories of gender discrimination. For example, the State Department used to bar married women from overseas assignments, and NASA long excluded women from its ranks based on sex stereotypes.
One foreign service officer told the commission that she was raped by a member of her overseas mission. It took her about a year to process what had happened and recognize the incident for what it was. By then, the man who raped her had left the country. She was terrified to let her colleagues know, fearing that it would negatively affect her reputation.
As the #MeToo movement highlighted, sexual harassment is widespread in American society. Nevertheless, it is illegal — and it is illegal to retaliate against people who make complaints. If you are experiencing harassment in the federal workplace, contact an experienced employment law attorney right away.