BusinessAfter Release of Independent Report, Nadeau and Bonds Set Sights on Legislation

After Release of Independent Report, Nadeau and Bonds Set Sights on Legislation

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D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (D) recently released an independent review of the District’s investigation into sexual harassment complaints against ex-Bowser administration official John Falcicchio. 

The findings of that review, Nadeau said, will inform her legislation that mandates third-party investigations into sexual harassment complaints made against mayoral executives. One recommendation from the now redacted report that she cited involves the creation of a centralized sexual harassment oversight panel, which reviews complaints and supports District agency-level sexual harassment officers (SHOs). 

Nadeau also noted that she would spend some time determining the need for a standalone office for SHOs in D.C. Department of Human Resources (DCHR). 

“We learned from this situation there was a lot of confusion about who was investigating this and who to go to,” Nadeau said. “We need to pursue investigations that are of the utmost integrity and independence.” 

The D.C. Council unanimously approved the launch of an independent investigation into the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel (MOLC)’s investigations into sexual harassment complaints against Falcicchio, former deputy mayor for Planning and Economic Development and chief of staff for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), during its July 2023 legislative meeting. 

On May 10, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) hand delivered the report from the independent investigation to the Executive Office of the Mayor, Nadeau, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), and D.C. Councilmembers Anita Bonds (D-At large) and Kenyan McDuffie (I- At large). 

The independent investigation cost the D.C. government $750,000. Days before the OIG circulated physical copies, the D.C. Government reportedly reached a $500,000 settlement with the two former D.C. government employees who filed complaints against Falcicchio. 

By the evening of May 17, Nadeau’s office released a redacted version of the independent report, which also included details about a third subordinate who alleged sexual harassment but didn’t file a complaint against Falcicchio. 

The independent investigation, conducted by the law firm of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, found that, despite a mandate that the Office of the City Administrator (OCA) investigate sexual harassment allegations made against a deputy mayor, neither OCA, the Executive Office of the Mayor or the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development had a SHO at the time of the city’s investigation. 

“That person wasn’t available,” Nadeau told The Informer. “The mayor’s policy says you can go to any sexual harassment officer in any agency [but] it’s a lot of work for a person trying to file a complaint… How do you figure out the sexual harassment officer [in a way] that maintains your privacy? Making it more clear and centralized and not reliant on all positions being filled at all times makes it easier for complainants.”

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Councilmembers Nadeau and Bonds Try Their Hand at Sexual Harassment Legislation 

The 117-page independent report determined that MOLC’s sexual harassment officer, who ultimately conducted the investigation, didn’t have the resources and supervision that didn’t allow them to glean wisdom from human resource officers, the attorney general and other SHOs. 

The report also stated that the SHO also didn’t review Falcicchio’s government-issued devices. 

Additionally, the manner in which MOLC organized the findings from the first investigation, according to the independent report, didn’t clearly convey the evidence of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.  

Nadeau said that such an outcome emphasized the need for bolstering the D.C. government’s response to sexual harassment complaints. 

“Ensuring that SHOs exist and they are well trained is the first step of prevention,” Nadeau said. “Once we get to reporting, the harassment has already occurred. I want to make sure that should it happen, employees know they have a path to make that complaint, that they have rights and that they will be supported.”

Last summer, Nadeau introduced her legislation, titled the Sexual Harassment Investigation Integrity Act of 2023, which was referred to her committee– the Committee on Public Works and Operations– and the Committee on Executive Administration and Labor, chaired by Bonds. A key provision of that bill requires the Office of the Inspector General to hire and retain independent counsel to conduct investigations into harassment and discrimination complaints made against mayoral appointees, agency directors, employees who report to the mayor, or the city administrator.

D.C. Councilmembers Anita Bonds (pictured) and Brianne Nadeau are working toward legislation clarifying how to report sexual harassment complaints against executive office employees. (WI File Photo
Toward the end of last year, Bonds and Nadeau conducted a joint hearing about Nadeau’s legislation during which they heard from public and government witnesses who weighed in on the intricacies of an independent sexual harassment investigation. 

During that joint hearing, Bonds revealed that she too introduced a bill, titled “Straightforward Approach for Equity in the Workplace,” that’s aimed at unifying and simplifying approaches to addressing sexual harassment complaints across District agencies.

Provisions of Bonds’ bill include the prohibition of sexual harassment by all D.C. government employees, including those under the jurisdiction of the mayor and independent agencies. 

The bill also tasks MOLC and DCHR to recruit and establish qualifications for SHOs. Each deputy mayor’s office, per the legislation, would install an attorney as a SHO. Within 90 days of the bill’s publishing, DCHR would also establish a Workplace Culture Task Force that would evaluate workplace culture and professional practices during quarterly meetings for at least two years. 

Alleged criminal misconduct would be reported to a law enforcement agency. 

Bonds’ bill is currently in the D.C. Council’s Committee on Public Works. While Nadeau expressed her desire that both bills be condensed and successfully shepherded through the legislative process before the end of the calendar year, Bonds told The Informer that Nadeau should conduct a committee hearing on her bill, just as had been done for Nadeau last December.   

One concern that Bonds expressed concerned expenses incurred by the D.C. government when independent investigations into sexual harassment occur. While she spoke in support of installing SHOs in each government agency, Bonds stressed that their contact information be made readily available to inspire confidence among those who want to file a harassment complaint. 

“It could be difficult for a D.C. government employee to make a complaint within their agency,” Bonds told The Informer. “I’m not feeling everyone will use it…  When things aren’t going well, you aren’t going to talk to people in your job community. You will go outside.”

For her, the independent report not only confirmed that MOLC acted ethically, but that she might be going in the right direction with the Sexual Harassment Investigation Integrity Act of 2023

“When reading the independent report, [I understand] this process is about human relations,” Bonds said. “An individual may feel like they’re being harassed while the harasser may think that they’re being friendly. These situations could be occurring right under your nose which is why [it’s important] to have a process in place.”

Instilling Public Trust in the Government 

Falcicchio abruptly resigned during the earlier part of 2023 in the aftermath of the sexual harassment complaints made by two female subordinates. In the months that followed, the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel conducted two internal investigations that substantiated the allegations. 

By last fall, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) updated D.C. government sexual harassment policy in an executive order that, among other things, mandated D.C. government employees to disclose intimate relationships they had with colleagues, subordinates, or higher ups. 

Bonds told The Informer that 200 D.C. government employees have since submitted documentation disclosing such relationships. 

During the joint committee hearing that Bonds and Nadeau held in December, both council members heard from a slew of government witnesses and one public witness, Robert Vinson Brannum. 

Brannum, a lifelong D.C. resident and former D.C. government employee, counted among those who demanded the release of the redacted findings from the independent investigation. When he spoke before Bonds and Nadeau in December, he requested that Nadeau’s legislation give credence to D.C. government employees suffering from racial and age-based discrimination. 

Doing so counted as part of what he called his lifelong fight for civil and human rights. 

“There’s a culture in this government that somehow experience doesn’t matter and that accountability and transparency can be masked over in order to accommodate bosses,” said Brannum, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner and president emeritus of  the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations. “There’s no emphasis on the truth and defending what’s right, just and fair.” 

Brannum, a former employee of D.C. Office of Veteran Affairs and D.C. Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency, went on to tell The Informer that, regardless of what legislation gets approved later this year, the onus falls on the executive and the council to fulfill their roles in, respectively, executing the law and holding those accountable who don’t do so. 

Without fidelity to those responsibilities, the government fails the people, Brannum said. 

“It’s the same in the military,” Brannum explained. “You trust and have confidence that the commander will protect you in time of war. It has to be led from the top. The atmosphere can’t be toxic. It must be conducive for people to do their jobs on behalf of the agencies and the people. Not to have allegiance to oppression.”

Source: Washington Informer

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