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High profile sexual harassment cases in government seem to be increasingly common, or perhaps more victims are inclined to come forward and report the misconduct. Regardless, federal agencies have been the site of workplace sexual misconduct with the same frequency as privately owned companies. Federal, state, and local agencies are tasked with handling sexual harassment claims when brought forward by the victim, but it is equally important that federal agencies themselves are held to the same standard of accountability when it comes to policing sexual assault and harassment.
If a federal employee is sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace by someone with whom he or she has an employment relationship, the first course of action that is usually recommended is to speak with the immediate management or file a formal complaint with the company. Fearing lawsuits and legal repercussions, private companies have each drafted their own unique sexual harassment policies, paving avenues for the victim to seek recourse while punishing harassers.
Federal agencies do not often experience the same urgency or fear of liability, and sexual harassment reform in many agencies has been sluggish or altogether nonexistent. Victims pay the price for this lethargy, as some sexual harassers may be dealt relatively weak punishment for their indiscretion while others are punished “properly.” It remains difficult to decipher “proper” punishment when there is a hodgepodge of sexual harassment policies, minimal consistency, and in some cases, no guidelines at all.
The Lack of Guidelines Punishing Sexual Misconduct in Federal Agencies
Recent reports have shown that there are no consistent guidelines dictating the treatment of sexual indiscretion in federal agencies. Because many lack a clear cut definition of sexual misconduct in agency policy, the punishments handed down to offenders are inconsistent at best. The House Oversight and Government Reform committee became aware of the issue when they released an examination of sexual misconduct and penalties in federal agencies. The report called for “swift and forceful” measures of accountability for those who do engage in misconduct of a sexual nature. The first step to enact such measures is to establish a standardized definition of sexual misconduct in federal agencies and resolve the issue of disparate punishment for these offenses.
A representative in the committee who penned the report wrote, “federal employees deserve a safe work environment, free of predatory behavior.” In the absence of consistent guidelines and compulsory penalties for sexual misconduct, federal employees may not be guaranteed the same protections afforded to those who work in private companies.
With policies and penalty tables that may not have not been updated in decades, it remains difficult to address the problem in a consistent and comprehensive manner. This is not to say sexual offense goes unaddressed in federal agencies, but it is troublesome that the same misconduct may result in the offender being fired in one scenario, and merely verbally reprimanded in another scenario at a different federal agency. Punishment can be arbitrary when there are no set guidelines to reference.
The House had made moves to rectify the poorly constructed, inconsistent approach to sexual harassment in federal agencies. Various recommendations have been made, such as streamlining the process by which a proven sexual harasser would have security clearance suspended or revoked. They have also recommended that each federal agency keep adequate documentation during harassment and assault investigations, and keep managers and employers privy on the expected punishment.
It is also recommended that the Office of Personnel Management coordinate with the Chief Human Capital Officers counsel to create a list detailing the “nature of offenses” and a table of penalties. Having a concrete table of penalties helps clearly convey the message to employees that there will be direct and aggressive consequences for misconduct. An absence of such guidelines may promote an agency culture in which offending employees feel they will get off scot-free, even if the victim reports the harassment.
Sexual Harassment in a Federal Agency: You Are Not Alone
While the bureaucrats toil with definitions and punishment tables, it is entirely possible that someone has already been harassed at the federal agency in which they work. Justice for these victims should not be delayed because lawmakers still had yet to adequately define the offenses on paper. If you were sexually harassed or assaulted by a coworker or supervisor in a federal agency, you may feel that little was done to exact justice against the offender. The culture of a federal agency may promote the notion that certain higher management personnel are shielded from disciplinary action for such offenses.
The problem appears to be rampant, and you were harassed at your job in the federal government, you are not alone. Over 200 women working in the California State capitol alone signed a letter alleging profuse sexual misconduct by lobbyists and state legislators. During the #MeToo campaign, four female senators joined the tides of women speaking out against sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere. One such senator alleged that sexual harassment and assault are still rampant on Capitol Hill.
Sadly, even laws and firm penalties that make sanctions against sexual misconduct do not always deter offending behavior. Furthermore, there is no guarantee those who were harassed will be emboldened to report it. The fear that nothing will be done, even if they complain about harassment, can be a powerful deterrent for men and women who have been harassed. If you find yourself wondering what to do after a fellow employee or supervisor in a federal agency harassed or assaulted you, you are advised to take action and speak with a knowledgable, compassionate sexual harassment attorney.
Committed, Compassionate, Knowledgeable Sexual Harassment Attorneys
Taking legal action, in the form of civil or criminal suit, can create a sense of closure about the incident at very least, but it can also bring the perpetrator to justice. Sexual harassment attorneys Gilman and Bedigian are devoted to prosecuting your sexual assault or harassment claim. The prospect of litigating a claim when the defendant is an imposing federal agency can be absolutely daunting. If you wish to file suit for an actionable claim, you will need an experienced, skillful attorney at your side to handle the investigation, present your case, and do all the necessary legal maneuvering.
Retaining an attorney can take a great deal of the weight off your shoulders and alleviate the pressure you may feel about taking the offender to court. It is possible to exact justice for a sexual harassment claim, no matter who committed it or where he or she is employed. It is imperative that you act quickly, because certain evidence may become less compelling over time. Contact Gilman and Bedigian online immediately or call 800-529-6162.