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

3 minute read

Signage is seen at the entrance of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 30, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • D.C. federal courts to investigate leak of internal survey to Washington Post
  • U.S. House Judiciary Committee seeks copy of survey for judicial workplace misconduct probe

(Reuters) - Federal court officials plan to investigate who leaked a confidential survey of employees detailing allegations of gender discrimination, bullying and other misconduct by some federal district and appellate court judges in Washington, D.C.

Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a statement on Friday said the leak warranted an investigation after The Washington Post reported on the survey on Monday.

The D.C. Circuit confirmed the investigation after the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee on Thursday in a letter sought a copy of the survey, which was conducted for the courts for internal use.

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The Washington Post reported that while 89% of respondents rated the courts positively as workplaces, the survey included 57 reports from employees who claimed to have experienced problematic behavior and 134 who said they witnessed misconduct or heard about it.

Srinivasan said the D.C. Circuit and the capital's district court launched the survey in 2021 to "better understand our employees’ workplace experiences," and employees participated "on the understanding their responses would be kept confidential."

“The leak of a confidential document compiling the responses was a serious breach of that understanding and must be investigated,” he said.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the judiciary's administrative arm, in a statement said that "keeping the promise of confidentiality to employees who take workplace surveys is critical."

"Our employees’ trust in our commitment to maintaining their confidentiality is paramount to our success in addressing workplace concerns," the office said.

The workplace survey was conducted amid calls by lawmakers and court reform advocates for the judiciary to do more to protect its 30,000 employees from workplace sexual harassment, discrimination and other misconduct.

The judiciary in the years since the #MeToo movement emerged in 2017 has moved to reform how misconduct complaints are handled, and other courts like the D.C. Circuit have conducted their own surveys or workplace environment assessments.

But Chief U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and other officials have fought to avoid having Congress step in and pass legislation to provide judicial employees with statutory protections against harassment and discrimination.

Unlike other federal employees, court employees 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.

Read more:

Ex-judiciary employees describe harassment, discrimination to U.S. House panel

Federal judiciary group recommends reforms to address workplace misconduct

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