The federal agency tasked with investigating sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace is probing one of its own supervisors for allegedly engaging in sexual quid pro quo arrangements with subordinates, according to several individuals involved in or aware of the case.
The activity allegedly took place at the Miami District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where the supervisor is being investigated for proposing sex to male employees in exchange for more favorable treatment at work. Those who rebuffed her advances, according to multiple individuals in the office, were subject to increased workloads, given the most complex cases to investigate, and tasked with running her personal errands.
EEOC’s Office of Equal Opportunity, which investigates internal complaints at the agency, is investigating the incident, according to the individuals and confirmed by a response from the agency’s Office of Legal Counsel to a public records request submitted by Government Executive. The investigation, which began in 2017, includes affidavits signed by employees allegedly impacted by the supervisor’s behavior, one of which was reviewed by Government Executive.
The exact details of the probe remain under wraps, but some employees in the office shared their version of events. Katherine Gonzalez, the supervisor who is the subject of the allegations, did not respond to multiple requests for comment, while a spokeswoman for the EEOC would not confirm or deny the investigation, citing privacy concerns.
One employee in the Miami office who asked not to be named out of fear of retaliation alleged that he was pressured into having sex with Gonzalez. He told Government Executive the incidents began almost immediately after he started working at the Miami office. Gonzalez, who was his supervisor, pushed her breasts against him multiple times in his first week, he said, and things escalated from there. She began asking for favors, food and gifts. She demanded the employee, who was married, bring her flowers on Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. All of the requests came with an implication that she would ruin his work life if he did not comply, he said.
He felt threatened and feared his job was in jeopardy, he said, and the two eventually engaged in sexual intercourse in the office. The intimate relationship continued, and the employee said he believed it was the only metric upon which his work performance was evaluated.
As this was occuring, the employee was tasked with investigating allegations of sexual harassment in workplaces throughout the district.
“When you are where I am, all the issues going on in your profession, the last thing you expect is a violation of the law you are protecting,” he said.
Various managers in the enforcement division were aware of Gonzalez’s relationships with at least five employees while they were occurring, two employees told Government Executive.
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Employees began lodging informal verbal complaints around April 2015 and continued through 2016. The director of the Miami office, Michael Farrell, at one point told staffers in a meeting that “everyone is to blame for this,” multiple employees recalled. Farrell referred questions about the incident to an agency spokesperson.
In late 2017, employees presented a formal written complaint to the Miami district director, including a photograph an employee had snapped when Gonzalez exposed her breasts to those in the office. At least five individuals have come forward with complaints against Gonzalez, according to individuals familiar with the events.
Eventually, the employee who described his sexual relationship with Gonzalez said he began to rebuff her advances. She responded, he said, by asking if he was gay, questioning the stability of his marriage and calling him a “pussy.” Additionally, his workload increased significantly, he said.
Another employee said the alleged incidents, which were widely discussed among staff, took a toll on office morale. That employee, who did not personally experience inappropriate behavior by Gonzalez, noted the irony many perceived in the situation: The EEOC’s mission is to enforce anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws, yet it seemed unable to police its own office. “We were attacking the public for behavior we can’t protect against ourselves,” he said.
At least one employee who raised complaints was transferred out of the Miami office, multiple workers alleged.
In mid-2017, the director of the Office of Equal Opportunity arrived in Miami, separated managers from rank-and-file employees, and took sworn statements from everyone, some of those present told Government Executive. In signed affidavits, the victims formally logged their complaints.
“Nobody was surprised” to see the investigator, one employee said.
After Government Executive started probing the allegations, managers prohibited employees from talking to reporters, an employee said. Government Executive contacted two other alleged victims, both of whom initially said they would consider speaking to a reporter but then later failed to return the reporter’s calls.
“Right now I’m legitimately scared [of retaliation],” said one employee. “There are lots of accusations. My level of fear is astronomical. I don’t want to lose my job.”
Citing the Privacy Act, the EEOC declined to discuss the case. The law “prohibits us from sharing any information about an investigation,” Christine Nazer, an EEOC spokeswoman, told Government Executive earlier this year. “We take all complaints seriously and have an internal anti-harassment policy in place, which outlines the specific conduct covered by our policy, procedures for handling harassing conduct including investigations and resolving conflicts, taking preventative and/or corrective action, etc.”
A letter from EEOC, sent in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, confirmed there remains “an open, ongoing investigation” into Gonzalez’s alleged conduct. Gonzalez has rarely been seen in the office in recent months, according to one employee, who said staff was informed that she is on a “special project.”
A few weeks ago, the employee observed that Gonzalez’s name plate had been removed from her office.