My First Career as a Federal Investigator and Sexual Harassment

I may have mentioned a time or two that my first job out of college, and while I was going to graduate school at night, was as a federal investigator. I worked as an Equal Opportunity Specialist for the Office for Civil Rights, OCR, still in existence today, an agency within the US Dept of Education. I left the job in 1981 when I moved to Houston, but I won awards and made my mark first.

I was always a bit of an activist with good writing skills and quite literate, some requirements of the job, and after a panel interview and some intense follow-ups, I secured the position as a 22-year-old who looked like 18.

After training in Denver, I shadowed experienced investigators. We got letters of complaint, that we were mandated to investigate. I was assigned to post-secondary education so I was involved with making sure all colleges in a five-state region were complying with all applicable civil rights laws in delivering education to students.

That included discrimination complaints from people with handicapping conditions, sexual harassment complaints, unequal treatment in sports complaints, and of course race discrimination complaints.

I am here to tell you today, that some of the sexual harassment complaints I investigated made the news because I had to find in favor of the complainant. In other words, colleges were protecting sexual predators, and when found out of compliance by investigators like me, a legal team would review and we would make recommendations. If the school did not make the changes we recommended, they could lose their federal funds. (That was a lot of money in those days so they were indeed intimidated by me – a long-haired young girl who had to explain the laws to them.)

It galls me to see so many people sympathizing with the people who are tumbling down off their pedestals now due to sexual misbehavior, intimidation, or harassment in their workplace.

You have not seen the effects like I have, and you have not seen what it does to damage individuals. Even though it was many years ago, I have a freaky long-term memory that plays like movies in my mind. I remember the cases where I found sexual harassment and it was an ugly scenario, and one that truly affected students who were just trying to get an education.

You do not understand the long-term psychological damage of inappropriate behavior in a setting such as work or school like I do because of this experience. If you did, you would sympathize with the victims, rather than the predators.

To give just one example that made all the local newspapers at the time, with my name included, I investigated a junior college that serviced students who needed an extra helping hand educationally before they could go on to university. Perhaps they needed math remediation, or English remediation, or whatever the case may be, this institution had a program to build up skills to then move the students on to regular university. Many were on full scholarship.

They had a dean in charge of this program, who had a thing for young girls. There were plenty to choose from in this program. Once ONE brave soul came forward to us because TG, she read the POSTERS they had displayed in the school telling her where to complain of this behavior, and then the number of complaints started multiplying to where we made it a class action complaint against this one dean.

Each and every complainant was interviewed separately and they all told the same story. When they went to the dean about their schedule or a class they were having difficulty with, he would sit across from them, and spread his legs open and massage his crotch. He would touch them repeatedly. He made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature.

In other words, he created a hostile academic environment for these struggling young girls who were trying to better themselves with an education because they avoided going to see him and he was an essential piece of their academic plan.

This behavior appalled and sickened these girls, who thought they had no recourse. Many had complained to his superior and it was IGNORED, brushed under the rug.Of course, my recommendations were to remove the man, along with providing counseling for the girls and assuring them of no retaliation.

The thing that still stays with me to this day, that despite all of the evidence of what we found, the college administration was more uncomfortable REMOVING this man, than they were over what happened to their students.

They worked on overdrive in counter-negotiations with us, pleaded with us, to let them keep the tenured dean at the college. We finally agreed he could stay and not be terminated if he had absolutely no student contact whatsoever and that he was away and out of sight from any of the affected students. I did not feel entirely comfortable with that arrangement but in academics, it is practically impossible to get fired. (They gave him some sort of off-site research position.)

I cannot imagine the nightmares and disgust that stayed with all of the affected students long after our agency completed our investigation. Some perhaps gave up on their dream to get an education. This is what we should all be thinking about when we hear of these cases. It affects the psyche long after the behavior is finished.

If you disagree, you have your right to state your defense of these despicable people, but I have the first-hand experience to tell you that no one, including the person in our highest office, (PAST and PRESENT) should be allowed to continue given a history of predatory behavior. Perhaps it disgusts me more than most due to my background as an investigator, and my personal history.

Now let me hear your thoughts.

 

 

3 comments

  • Your 1st job seemed very interesting! Like Warren…going after the rotten apples!

  • It stuns me h ow reluctant organizations are and apparently always have been to act on charges of sexual abuse and harassment, no matter how egregious.

    • They protect the powerful and not the victim, it is clear to me. At least that was the case in the past. Hopefully, we are FINALLY on to a new accountability era.

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