Federal judiciary to survey employees nationally on harassment, misconduct

A vendor sells #MeToo badges a protest march for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
  • Judicial Conference agrees to nationwide workplace survey
  • Judiciary opposes giving employees greater statutory protections

(Reuters) - The federal judiciary's policymaking body on Tuesday agreed to administer regular workplace surveys to its 30,000 employees to help identify the extent that sexual harassment, discrimination and other misconduct occurs in courthouses nationally.

The move by the Judicial Conference of the United States followed calls by lawmakers and court reform advocates for the judiciary to do more to protect its employees following allegations of sexual harassment and other misconduct by some judges.

While several circuits and individual courts have conducted their own surveys to assess their workplace climates, the one approved by the Judicial Conference would be the first to be conducted uniformly across the federal judiciary.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Such a survey was recommended in March by a working group that was established in 2018 at U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts' request after harassment allegations emerged against some judges following the rise of the #MeToo movement.

U.S. District Judge Claire Eagan, the outgoing chair of the Judicial Conference's executive committee, told reporters after its semi-annual closed-door meeting in Washington, D.C., that the survey would detail "the prevalence of certain kinds of conduct."

Employees, managers and judges will be asked about their overall workplace environment, the courts' commitment to diversity, any prevalence of discriminatory harassment, and about "any other inappropriate or abusive behavior," she said.

The Federal Judicial Center, the judiciary's research arm, will administer the survey, which can be used to assess workplace conditions and reforms. Whether the results of the confidential survey would be made public "remains to be seen," Eagan said.

Ally Coll, president of the Purple Campaign, a group focused on addressing workplace harassment that has advocated on behalf of judicial employees, called the announcement a "step in the right direction" and urged the judiciary to make the results public or at least share results with Congress.

"This step would demonstrate a sincere commitment to transparency and indicate that the surveys are being administered because the Judiciary understands the need for accountability where problems are identified," she said in an email.

The survey was the latest measure aimed at improving the workplace recommended by the working group that the judiciary has implemented in the last four years.

But while the judiciary has taken steps to reform how misconduct complaints are handled, Roberts and other officials have resisted efforts by Congress to legislate in the area, citing judicial independence.

The judiciary is opposing a bill called the Judiciary Accountability Act that would extend to judicial employees statutory rights against discrimination and workplace sexual harassment that other federal employees enjoy.

Read more:

U.S. House panel pushes judicial workplace reforms with funding measure

D.C. federal courts to probe leak of employee survey alleging misconduct

Federal judiciary group recommends reforms to address workplace misconduct

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

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