Senior attorneys at the Department of Justice who groped female employees and engaged in other acts of sexual harassment were rewarded with bonuses, according to a recent audit.
The inspector general found that the Justice Department has a habit of transferring employees who are accused of sexual harassment rather than reprimanding them, going against the government's "no tolerance" policy. Auditors found several cases where attorneys who stalked and spied on their female employees were subsequently rewarded for their behavior.
"We found that Civil Division employees received performance awards while a sexual harassment or misconduct investigation was ongoing or while disciplinary actions were in effect," the inspector general reported in the audit released last week.
In one case, a senior attorney was accused of making "sexually charged and offensive comments" and of having "groped the breasts and buttocks of two female trial attorneys without their consent during an office happy hour."
The attorney received only a written reprimand, had his title changed, and was relieved from supervisory duties. He was not suspended, despite "prior misconduct and the seriousness of the second incident."
In fact, after receiving the reprimand for groping two female colleagues, the attorney received multiple performance awards.
In another case, "a GS-15 senior attorney admitted to stalking another attorney and hacking into her personal email account," the inspector general said. "The senior attorney then conducted a ‘catfishing' operation on the other attorney, resulting in his revelation to the other attorney several weeks later that he had used a fictitious online profile to entice her."
The attorney received a title change, a written reprimand, and was transferred within the Civil Division, and restricted from entering the building where his stalking victim worked for one year.
Nevertheless, he received a performance award while the reprimand was still in his personnel file.
The inspector general said there was "little documentation" in the attorney's case file to justify the decision for the attorney to only receive a written reprimand.
"In one case, a female attorney alleged that a male attorney had peered through a window above her closed office door while she was pumping breast milk," the inspector general said. "A few months earlier, the same male attorney allegedly peered into the office of a different attorney while she was pumping breast milk."
"FYI—It happened again," a supervisor said in an email to the assistant director of the branch.
The employee received oral counseling on the incidents, after a supervisor "accepted the male attorney's explanation of the incident as an honest mistake." In addition, the attorney had been accused of other inappropriate behavior "directed toward female coworkers or interns" as far back as 2009.
"Accordingly, we question whether branch managers have complied with the Department's zero tolerance policy ‘to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to address all allegations of harassment,'" the inspector general said.
The attorney also received a bonus "even though he had recently been counseled regarding the conduct underlying those allegations."
The inspector general also found that the Civil Division appears to "have a pattern of transferring individuals with substantiated misconduct to other branches of the Civil Division or within the Department."
One manager described transferring employees with misconduct as "pass the trash," or being "flushed" into other Justice Department divisions.
Justice Department managers also said bonus decisions are not reviewed, and supervisors simply submit names and amounts to HR in a spreadsheet.
"This Civil Division manager also questioned the practice of awarding and publicly recognizing an employee who has been recently disciplined, stating that it may ‘reinforce the general perception that coming forward to report an allegation of [sexual harassment or misconduct] will not result in any meaningful consequence,'" the inspector general said. "We agree with this concern."