U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty (D – Conn.) has apologized for her failure to protect female staffers who claim to have been threatened and harassed by her former chief of staff. She has also abrogated a nondisclosure agreement signed as part of his termination.
Esty says she was “horrified and angry” in 2016 to learn that the man had allegedly harassed and physically harmed a staff member. One female staffer has reported being punched in the back and also receiving death threats from the man. At the time, Esty demanded the chief obtain counseling. An internal review later led her to conclude that the incident was part of a pattern of behavior.
The former chief of staff has denied many of the allegations. Hearst Connecticut Radio reports, however, that the alleged victim obtained both temporary and long-term protection orders against the man. The affidavit underlying those orders states that the man called the victim’s cellphone some 50 times and left messages threatening to kill her — and to get her blacklisted if she reported him.
The congresswoman, who has been known for her women’s rights advocacy, has now instituted mandatory harassment training and hired new senior staff.
“To this survivor, and to anyone else on my team who was hurt by my failure to see what was going on in my office, I am so sorry,” wrote the congresswoman. “I’ve asked myself over and over again, ‘How did I not see this? How could I have let down so many people?'”
That’s a good question, especially considering that congressional staffers have lesser protections than those afforded by the Merit Systems Protection Board.
When Esty did get around to firing the man, the Office of House Employment Counsel apparently recommended a settlement in order to get the man out of the office quickly. In that settlement, she:
- Signed a nondisclosure agreement
- Remitted his unpaid leave
- Authorized $5,000 in severance
Esty also gave the man a letter of reference for a job at the gun violence prevention group Sandy Hook Promise. He worked there until last week.
While nondisclosure agreements and reference letters may be appropriate when the facts remain in dispute, they seem unduly generous when the misconduct is credible, such as when a court has granted a long-term restraining order against the accused. These tactics merely push the trouble down the line.
If you work for the federal government and are subjected to harassment or threats, you have rights. Contact a federal employment attorney about protecting those rights as you confront the situation.