Congress to hear from woman suing over judiciary's harassment policies

Italy allows free movement across the country following the coronavirus outbreak in Rome
A woman is seen in silhouette in Rome, Italy June 3, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
  • Caryn Devins Strickland comes forward as "Jane Roe" in lawsuit over judiciary harassment review process
  • Strickland to testify before U.S. House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee subcommittee

(Reuters) - A former public defender, who has been pursuing a high-profile legal challenge to the federal judiciary's process for handling sexual harassment complaints under a pseudonym, is stepping forward to inform Congress about the judiciary's "unfair and biased" procedures.

Caryn Devins Strickland, a former federal public defender in North Carolina, said she decided to shed the pseudonym in order to testify publicly before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee examining sexual harassment in the judiciary.

"There is simply no reason to trust that the judiciary is uniquely capable of responsibly handling these matters internally, without oversight and transparency," Strickland said in prepared testimony released ahead of the hearing.

A spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the judiciary's administrative arm, had no immediate comment. It has said it is committed to providing a harassment-free workplace.

A working group established at U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts' request proposed on Wednesday several new reforms to how it addresses workplace misconduct.

Strickland previously had been known only as "Jane Roe," the plaintiff who alleged that a higher-ranking federal defender sexually harassed her, including by constantly "shadowing" her and implying she would be promoted if she acquiesced to his sexual advances.

She said she was forced to quit her job at the Federal Public Defender’s Office in the Western District of North Carolina after complaining about sexual harassment through a flawed and biased internal process the judiciary adopted.

The defender's office, which like others nationally provides lawyers for indigent defendants, is part of the federal judiciary.

Her claims are at the center of a lawsuit a judge dismissed that she has asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider. A three-judge panel of jurists from other circuits during arguments last week appeared leery about reviving it.

Strickland, who formally shed her pseudonym in a court filing on Wednesday, said in her prepared testimony that she is coming forward to bring to Congress' attention the judiciary's failure to protect her rights and those of 30,000 other employees.

Unlike other 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.

Strickland alluded to that fact, saying "there is no reason for the judiciary to receive exceptional treatment when it comes to the nation’s civil rights."

The case is Roe v. United States, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-1346.

For Roe: Jeannie Suk Gersen of Harvard Law School and Cooper Strickland

For the Judicial Conference: H. Thomas Byron III and Amanda Mundell of the U.S. Department of Justice

Read more:

Federal judiciary group recommends reforms to address workplace misconduct

4th Circ. leery of challenge to federal courts' sex harassment policies

Federal judiciary defends internal sexual harassment review process

Fed court workers say judiciary mishandles bias, harassment complaints

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at