Federal judiciary group recommends reforms to address workplace misconduct

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  • Judiciary working group recommends reforms to address workplace complaints
  • Report comes ahead of Congressional hearing on harassment in judiciary

(Reuters) - A group of judges and officials tasked with reviewing the federal judiciary's approach to workplace sexual harassment and other misconduct on Wednesday recommended several reforms to improve how it addresses misconduct allegations.

In a report, a group established at U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts' request, recommended surveying employees about their workplace environment, revamping how complaints are heard and adopting a policy on romantic relationships.

The Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group's 32-page report was released ahead of a hearing on Thursday before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee to consider workplace harassment in the judiciary and whether legislation is needed to address it.

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The report's recommendations will likely not fully appease many reform advocates and lawmakers, who say the judiciary's 30,000 employees deserve greater statutory protections against harassment and discrimination.

"Even the best in class internal policy and procedures are not a substitute for statutory rights," said Ally Coll, the president of the Purple Campaign, a group focused on addressing workplace harassment. She is testifying at Thursday's hearing.

The working group was formed in January 2018 after sexual harassment allegations emerged against some judges following the rise of the #MeToo movement, events Roberts said showed the "judicial branch is not immune" to such workplace misconduct.

Those included Alex Kozinski, who resigned in December 2017 from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals amid an inquiry into harassment accusations by former female clerks. He suggested he was misunderstood and apologized.

Earlier recommendations by the working group in 2018 were quickly adopted by the judiciary to strengthen its codes of conduct, expand workplace protections, and streamline procedures for addressing misconduct complaints.

"But we don't see this as a process that is done," said U.S. Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown, a 9th Circuit judge and working group member.

The working group on Wednesday recommended regularly surveying judiciary employees to assess their views of the judiciary's commitment to inclusion and the extent of any misconduct.

It also recommended the judiciary collect more data on the extent to which employees utilize its employment dispute resolution process and release an annual report.

It urged the judiciary to revise its policies to require that complaints by employees be reviewed by judges in courts other than where they work to "enhance the perceived impartiality of the process."

And the group also recommended assessing whether to allow employees who file complaints to seek compensatory damages or other monetary remedies like as some other federal employees can.

Unlike those federal employees, the judiciary's do not enjoy protections under Title VII against workplace sexual harassment. The judiciary is opposing a bill in Congress, the Judiciary Accountability Act, that would extend such protections.

(NOTE: This story has been updated with comment from Ally Coll, president of the Purple Campaign.)

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.