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DHS OIG: U.S. Coast Guard Academy retaliated after complaints

In 2016 and 2016, a female faculty member and lieutenant commander at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, filed a complaint about harassment and bullying by supervisors based on her race and gender. The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General has just released a report finding that the Academy not only failed to respond properly but also retaliated against her.

The OIG found by a preponderance of the evidence that the unnamed lieutenant commander was given a poor annual evaluation "after making discrimination and harassment complaints against her superiors." The lieutenant commander's name, the superiors she complained about, and the people who handled her complaints were all redacted from the report, which was heavily blacked-out overall.

The report also states that the Coast Guard did not respond adequately to the complaints and indeed subjected the lieutenant commander to additional harassment in response to her initial complaints.

Recommendations included:

  • Supplemental training for managers and supervisors at the Coast Guard on the agency's harassment, discrimination and bullying policies.
  • An amendment to the complaining lieutenant commander's annual evaluation.
  • A requirement that commanders who resolve such complaints document the outcomes and the reasons for their findings.

The Coast Guard Academy did not respond to multiple requests for comment by the Associated Press.

The two senators from Connecticut issued a joint statement about the troubling report.

"The Inspector General's report is a damning indictment of the Coast Guard Academy's handling of racial discrimination and harassment. ... We fully expect immediate, thorough and transparent steps to change this atmosphere of racial hostility and hold academy staff and officers accountable for their actions."

According to the AP, the Coast Guard Academy was already under congressional investigation for alleged discrimination against, harassment of and bullying of minority cadets.

The #MeToo movement has shown us how common it is for women not only to face illegal discrimination and harassment, but also to face disbelief, further harassment and even retaliation when they complain. If a lieutenant commander and Coast Guard Academy faculty member received such treatment, it can be hard to trust that your own complaint will be heard fairly.

If you have suffered discrimination, harassment or bullying in a federal workplace, you have the right to expect that the problem will be resolved fairly and that you will be provided with a safe, legally compliant workplace. Before you make any complaint, however, discuss your situation with an experienced federal employment law attorney. Talking with a lawyer in advance can help you build a compelling complaint and may protect you from retaliation.

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