Informal Option Proposed to Address Sexual Harassment in U.S. Judiciary

A working group conceded this week that the federal judiciary’s policies for addressing complaints of sexual harassment and workplace abuse are inadequate.

However, the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group issued a report that makes a troubling recommendation and fails to address what to do about federal judges with lifetime tenure who engage in sexual harassment and bullying.

The group suggests the 30,000 employees of the U.S. judiciary would be more likely to complain about abuse and harassment if  “less formal mechanisms” were established to file complaints. This less formal option would provide complainants with “guidance, counseling, assistance and relief.” The group suggests it be “calibrated to the nature of the conduct” and “should exist at the local, regional and national levels.”

The informal option is troublesome because it is not transparent and contributes to a lack of accountability that is particularly imperative in a male-dominated workplace to halt serial sexual harassment and workplace abuse.

The working group was formed by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts at the request of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. and consists of federal judges and senior Judiciary officials. Notably absent on the panel are current or former law clerks, low-level workers who are most vulnerable to abuse and representatives from the public.

In 2017, a total of 66% of active U.S. District Court judges were male.

The working group states that “inappropriate conduct, although not pervasive within the Judiciary, is not limited to a few isolated instances.” The group claims that “incivility, disrespect, or crude behavior are more common than sexual harassment.”

The working group ignores the problem that makes the mostly male U.S. Judiciary uniquely prone to engage in abuse and harassment.  Federal judges have lifetime tenure.

Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution provides that federal judges cannot be removed “during good behavior.” This vague standard has been interpreted to require impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives and conviction by the UI.S. Senate. The process has only worked eight times in U.S. history.

The report acknowledges that existing formal judicial  and employee codes of conduct were not developed to address workplace harassment or civility and “should more clearly communicate the rights and responsibilities of employees, including the scope of confidentiality and the availability of remedial procedures.”

In addition, the group recommends more education and training on civility for judicial employees.

The group urges the Administrative Office of U.S.Courts establish an internal Office of Judicial Integrity that would provide counseling and assistance regarding workplace conduct to judicial employees “through telephone and email service.”

The working group was created in the aftermath of the resignation (with pension) of Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit after numerous law clerks and others accused him of sexual harassment and improper conduct

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