“She kept a harasser on her staff until it proved politically untenable for her to do so.”
Sen. Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY), one of the many running for the Democrat nomination for president, has championed herself as a top supporter of the #MeToo movement.
But now Politico reported that an aide within Gillibrand’s office resigned last summer due to the handling of her sexual harassment complaint against Abbas Malik, one of Gillabrand’s top aides.
In July, the female staffer alleged one of Gillibrand’s closest aides — who was a decade her senior and married — repeatedly made unwelcome advances after the senator had told him he would be promoted to a supervisory role over her. She also said the male aide regularly made crude, misogynistic remarks in the office about his female colleagues and potential female hires.
Less than three weeks after reporting the alleged harassment and subsequently claiming that the man retaliated against her for doing so, the woman told chief of staff Jess Fassler that she was resigning because of the office’s handling of the matter. She did not have another job lined up.
The woman was granted anonymity because she fears retaliation and damage to her future professional prospects.
The woman lashed out at Gillibrand’s hypocrisy in a letter, which never received a response from anyone in the office. She wrote that on July 25, 2018, she told Deputy Chief of Staff Anne Bradley about harassment from Malik. On July 30, 2018, Bradley and Chief of Staff Jess Fassler told the woman “that the office and Senate HR concluded they did not find cause to fire Abbas for sexual harassment” as “it was a series of misinterpretations and too much of a ‘he said, she said’ situation.
However, the office demoted Malik, which satisfied the woman for one day. On July 31, Bradley came into the woman’s office:
On Tuesday, July 31, 2018, Anne came into my office and said that “Jess told Abbas that he could have fired him for a number of reasons but isn’t going to. So he should consider himself lucky.” Thinking I had full support of the office, I was deeply confused and saddened by this. Later that afternoon, I decided to discuss this with Jess and Anne. Jess responded to me by saying “You could also be fired at any minute, for any reason.” I felt defeated, not just from the humiliation and pain that the harassment had brought me, but that in attempting to seek appropriate disciplinary actions for my harasser, my experience was devalued. I was devalued.
On Monday, August 13, 2018, after discussing my resignation with Jess, he said to me, “I could have fired you too. You fed Abbas alcohol while he was on duty.” That statement is grossly inaccurate and I felt as though I was being belittled, insulted and intimidated even when I was trying to quit.
The woman lamented over the result of 2016, but felt excited to work for Gillibrand, “a politician who would fight for women’s rights at a time when they were being openly threatened in our country.” She said she wanted to specifically work for Gillibrand because of the senator’s “strong stance on sexual harassment in the workplace, committee to work as a champion for women and desire for transparency in politics.”
The woman ended the letter:
I trusted and leaned on this statement that you made: “You need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is O.K. None of it is acceptable.” Your office chose to go against your public belief that women shouldn’t accept sexual harassment in any form and portrayed my experience as a misinterpretation instead of what it actually was: harassment and ultimately, intimidation.”
Politico discovered that the aides who led the investigation into the woman’s claim did not reach out to the two former employees the woman claimed “could corroborate and add to her allegations of inappropriate workplace conduct.”
Politico contacted 20 former staffers from Gillibrand’s office:
One of those two former staffers said Malik often called her fat and unattractive to her face and made light of sexual abuse. She recalled one instance in which Malik remarked that a particular woman they were talking about “couldn’t get laid unless she was raped.” The person did not report that behavior at the time but now says she wishes she had.
Two more staffers who worked for Gillibrand said the woman’s claims of Malik’s inappropriate workplace behavior matched their own experiences. They said Malik regularly made misogynistic jokes, frequently appraised what they wore, disparaged the looks of other female staffers and rated the attractiveness of women who came in for interviews.
The office also dispensed with the allegations of Malik‘s retaliation without informing the woman of its conclusions or any disciplinary action.
Malik kept his job until Politico confronted Gillibrand’s office two weeks ago with more complaints against him. These included “a ‘joke’ about rape to a female colleague – a persom whom the office had failed to contact last summer despite repeated urgings by Malik’s accuser to reach out to that person.”
After a new investigation, Gillibrand’s office fired Malik:
And the case highlights the challenges of responding to alleged sexual harassment when it hits home, even for a leader on the issue. Malik had spent years by Gillibrand’s side as her driver — the senator officiated at his wedding — while the woman was a more recent hire and had significantly less stature in the office. He was accused not of physical harassment but of making unwanted advances and using demeaning language — behavior that can be easier to downplay and can require a higher level of diligence to get to the bottom of.
Gillibrand’s advisers said they took the woman’s claims seriously, consulted with Senate employment lawyers for guidance and punished Malik at the time for what they could substantiate. But after “a full and thorough investigation into the evidence, including multiple interviews with current employees who could have witnessed this behavior, the office concluded that the allegations did not meet the standard of sexual harassment,” the office said of its initial internal investigation.
The woman said in an interview: “When I had the courage to speak up about my harasser, I was belittled by her office and treated like an inconvenience. She kept a harasser on her staff until it proved politically untenable for her to do so.”
So much for being a champion of female sexual misconduct victims. #MeToo for thee, but not for me.DONATE
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