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Rep Speier Exposes Gross Culture of Sexual Harassment at State Department

October 15, 2019
Press Release
Speier Shares Employee Complaints Alleging Grotesque Violation of Rights and State Department Stonewalling Investigations

Washington, DC – Today, on the two-year anniversary of the #MeToo movement, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14) shared alarming public comments from State Department employees alleging gross sexual harassment and retaliation condoned by the agency.

In May 2019, Rep. Speier testified at a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) hearing on “Federal Me Too: Examining Sexual Harassment in Government Workplaces.” As part of the public record in its investigation, USCCR has uploaded redacted comments from several State Department employees sounding the alarm about a repugnant culture of harassment and retaliation.

“Reading these comments was a gut-punch. To see the extent to which our diplomats and civil servants have been so devalued and deeply wronged by a State Department more obsessed with protecting harassers than protecting its employees is galling. These alarming statements also raise serious questions and concerns about whether State is capable of protecting its workers and holding perpetrators accountable,” said Rep. Speier, Co-Chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus.

Following the May 2019 briefing, USCCR sent document requests to the three federal agencies at the center of its investigation – the Department of State, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and NASA – with a deadline of agency submission on June 24. Five months after the original request, Rep. Speier has been informed that USCCR has yet to receive those materials from State.

Rep. Speier’s legislation to overhaul harassment and retaliation processes at the State Department is forthcoming.

Excerpts from the public comments are below. The full public comments can be found on the USCCR website under “Archives, May 9, 2019 Briefing: Federal Me Too: Examining Sexual Harassment in Government Workplaces- Briefing Materials.”

Excerpt from “Individual 6”: “Some State Dept employees state that the State Dept has told them that they could get fired if they tell USCCR, Congress or other USG agencies about sexual harassment at the State Dept. How has this issue been handled between USCCR and State?”; “I hope your GC is able to talk to State’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). When they do, the GC also needs to establish if people who’ve signed NDAs (or Settlement Agreements) can share with USCCR or not. Presently, State employees are told if they talk to their Congressperson or USCCR about the events that resulted in an NDA, then they could lose any financial remedies and be fired.”

Excerpt from “Individual 3”, a retired Foreign Service Officer (FSO). This comment is endorsed by several other FSOs: “The culture surrounding the reporting of harassment at State is challenging and designed to weed out potential reporters at every step. Survivors are actively dissuaded from coming forward and receive little to no support if they do”; “A culture of denial is heavily at play at State and harassers harass with impunity because they (and everyone) know that no significant consequences exist for even the most egregious acts of harassment or retaliation”; “In an attempt to report, the process is often death by a thousand paper cuts”; “When I reported the series of incidents to a representative in EUR/HR, the officer squeezed her eyes shut, plugged her ears, and said to me, ‘No names!’ It was her JOB to listen and investigate, and even she did not want to hear it.” 

Excerpt from “Individual 2” who shared a letter sent to State OIG to guide their investigation into the Office of Civil Rights: “S/OCR never responded to or acted on my 2012 harassment case. I am aware from multiple other women that S/OCR has ignored or ‘lost’ their cases as well”; “To remove a woman from her job and housing and force her to leave a foreign country in one week is definitely retaliation. The State Dept. must take steps to stop the use of forced curtailments as a back‐door, consequence‐free method of retaliation for reporting harassment or discrimination”; “Through my interaction with S/OCR, I have concluded that the office exists to protect the Department and, by extension, perpetrators and offenders, who benefit from the free legal representation of the Department acting on their behalf while victims are cast aside to find their own attorneys and pay extensive legal costs themselves”; “I am also aware of a number of Foreign Service women who received financial settlements from the Department of State and these included required signing of Non-Disclosure Agreements.”

Excerpt from “Individual 4 Part 2”, who is sharing a retaliation claim sent to the Office of Civil Rights: “The State Department has retaliated against me for my EEO activities and is continuing to do so. On May 29, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joycelyn Hewlett relayed to my attorney, in my presence, that the State Department does not want me to continue in its employ because I have filed EEO actions. My conditional offer as a Diplomatic Courier has been pending since March 2018. It is clear from this statement that the reason that I have not been given my final offer is because I have filed EEO actions. Furthermore, according to Attorney Hewlett, the State Department is unwilling to offer me a settlement that would include me continuing as a Foreign Service Officer, my present occupation, not due to any concern about my performance, but because I have filed EEO actions.”

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