Grassley: The Judiciary System Has a Sexual Harassment Problem

Posted: Jun 06, 2018 11:00 AM

A new report, originally ordered by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and released by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts (AOUSC), exposes a number of sexual harassment issues and general incivility inside the U.S. Court system.

"On December 20, 2017, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., asked the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to establish a working group to examine the sufficiency of the safeguards currently in place within the Judiciary to protect all court employees from inappropriate conduct in the workplace," the report states. "The Chief Justice highlighted this issue in his 2017 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, noting that the Judicial Branch cannot assume that it is immune from the problems of sexual harassment that have arisen elsewhere in the public and private sectors."

"The Judicial Branch employs 30,000 individuals in a broad range of occupations. Based on input from the electronic mailbox, the advisory groups, and circuit surveys (much of which was anonymous), and from interviews with employees, including law clerks, the Working Group believes that inappropriate conduct, although not pervasive in the Judiciary, is not limited to a few isolated instances," the report continues. "This information suggests that, of the inappropriate behavior that does occur, incivility, disrespect, or crude behavior is more common than sexual harassment. As the EEOC Study noted, 'incivility is often an antecedent to workplace harassment.' The Working Group agrees that, rather than focusing simply on eliminating unwelcome behavior, the Judiciary should 'promot[e] respect and civility in the workplace generally."

The report is vague and offers general, not specific, solutions to issues of sexual harassment and other misconduct within the judiciary. Further, the report seems to gloss over the issue of sexual harassment as a serious problem.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has schedule a hearing on Capitol Hill next week to get to the bottom of the issue. 

“The Chief Justice of the United States and his team have had nearly six months to draft a report and propose serious solutions to the problem of sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct in the federal judiciary. After the Kozinski scandal and other allegations, it was a real chance to undertake reforms," Grassley released in a statement. "But in too many ways, this vague report kicks the can down the road. It leaves to other part-time advisory committees the key task of formulating specific policy changes. It appears victims could be left wondering to whom they can report, with little instruction or transparency in the process or resolution."

“Nearly every federal agency has an independent watchdog guarding against misconduct. And all federal entities—except the courts—have meaningful remedies, guidelines and procedures for addressing workplace harassment. It’s time for the federal judiciary to catch up,” he continued.

The news comes after a spate of sexual harassment claims against members of Congress came to light last year and after U.S. Court of Appeal Judge Alex Kozinski was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women who worked for him. From the Washington Post:

A former clerk for Judge Alex Kozinski said the powerful and well-known jurist, who for many years served as chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, called her into his office several times and pulled up pornography on his computer, asking if she thought it was photoshopped or if it aroused her sexually.

Heidi Bond, who clerked for Kozinski from 2006 to 2007, said the porn was not related to any case. One set of images she remembered was of college-age students at a party where "some people were inexplicably naked while everyone else was clothed." Another was a sort of digital flip book that allowed users to mix and match heads, torsos and legs to create an image of a naked woman.

Bond is one of six women — all former clerks or more junior staffers known as externs in the 9th Circuit — who alleged to The Washington Post in recent weeks that Kozinski, now 67 and still serving as a judge on the court, subjected them to a range of inappropriate sexual conduct or comments. She is one of two former clerks who said Kozinski asked them to view porn in his chambers.

Grassley's hearing is titled, "Confronting Sexual Harassment and Other Workplace Misconduct in the Federal Judiciary” and will take place on June 13, 2018 at 10 a.m. et.

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