Original post, August 15, 2016
In 2001, the United States government paid some 500 million dollars in compensation to over 1,100 women who alleged they were discriminated against by the Agency. The landmark case, Hartman v. Albright, is to this day the second-largest, costliest settlement payment inflicted on U.S. taxpayers by government management employees some of whom apparently feel immune to any legal prosecution for prohibited personnel practices because of their public employee status, and thus apparently feel free to engage in behavior that would not otherwise be tolerated in the workplace whether at a federal agency or in the private sector.
A recent example was the situation with a top Fox News executive who resigned in the wake of multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior and workplace comments to a number of female employees of the network. Also quite recently, there was a commentary published by Glamor magazine, in which U.S. President Barack Obama noted that he’s “been pretty aware of the unique challenges women face — it’s what has shaped my own feminism”, while alluding to “the stereotypes” pervading our society. “It’s easy to absorb all kinds of messages from society about masculinity and come to believe that there’s a right way and a wrong way to be a man. But as I got older, I realized that my ideas about being a tough guy or cool guy just weren’t me. They were a manifestation of my youth and insecurity. Life became a lot easier when I simply started being myself.”
It looks as if some Voice of America managers would benefit from pondering the above examples to avoid creating what may be perceived as a hostile workplace environment. In addition, judging by some recent reports, AFGE Local 1812 believes that it may be time for a refresher course in EEO principles for VOA managers regarding what kind of behavior could be classified as a hostile workplace environment.
To be more specific, AFGE Local 1812 recently received some anecdotal information about a possible incident of inappropriate behavior on the part of a management official in a VOA language service. Our sources report that at a staff meeting, a language service chief allegedly described a “vivid” dream he had about a pregnant staffer during which the manager pointed out in some detail that he was not clothed. Regrettably, people say it was not the first time said service chief had engaged in offensive sexual innuendo in a public meeting.
Reporting such conduct to the appropriate officials presents a problem for the employees because this action may result in retaliation against the employee who reports the conduct. Many in the Agency believe this would be the result. This might help explain why, at the same time upper management claims to be making strides in improving the Agency’s culture, morale among rank-and-file remains firmly anchored at rock-bottom. Any allegations of untoward speech or behavior on the part of managers, especially if done publicly at staff meetings, must be promptly investigated and, if substantiated, appropriate action taken, whether by providing appropriate counseling and training or more serious action if it is deemed to be an ongoing problem.
We at AFGE Local 1812 call on the VOA Director not only to provide mandatory refresher courses on sexual harassment and the meaning of a hostile workplace for the benefit of Agency managers under her supervision – training they would be required to take seriously – as well as to to ensure a “zero-tolerance” policy regarding such inappropriate behavior. There is no reason why VOA, which is tasked, among other things, with promoting American values and universal human rights to a global audience, should stay anchored in a mentality vividly portrayed in the award-winning “Mad Men” TV series of a few years ago.