US agency personnel chief investigated for sexual harassment

By on 02/08/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA, is investigating whether some of the sexual harassment at the agency was criminal (Image courtesy: Almond Butterscotch).

The top official in charge of personnel at the US government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is under investigation for sexual harassment, including allegations that he repeatedly hired women as possible sexual partners for male employees.

The investigation was confirmed by FEMA’s boss, William Long, who added that some of the behaviour could be criminal. The misconduct had been revealed following a seven-month internal investigation, which began when an employee made a complaint that Coleman had sexually harassed her.

National newspaper the Washington Post has seen parts of a report detailing the results of the investigation. The name of the official under investigation was redacted, but FEMA officials confirmed to the paper that the individual was Corey Coleman, who led the personnel department from 2011 till June this year, when he resigned before a scheduled interview with investigators.

FEMA toxic for females

In an interview with the Washington Post, Long described a “toxic” environment in the human resources department under Coleman at FEMA. Coleman hired men who were friends and “fraternity” brothers from college, and women he met at bars and through online dating sites.

He promoted some of them to roles throughout the agency, evading official hiring procedures. FEMA employees told investigators that some of the women were transferred between departments, and some to regional offices, so that his friends could try and have sexual relationships with them.

Many of the men and women Coleman hired remain employed by the agency despite being unqualified, while some long-standing employees at the department left because they did not want to put up with the behaviour, officials said.

‘Systemic problem’

“What we uncovered was a systemic problem going back years,” Long told the Washington Post. Several of the cases have been referred to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, who oversees FEMA, to investigate possible criminal sexual assault.

“The biggest problem I may solve here may be the eradication of this cancer,” Long said. “How many complaints were not heard? I’ve got to make sure we have a safe working environment for our employees,” the Post reported.

Long said the problems extend beyond Coleman. The investigation is “not going to stop with him,” he said.

Stable door secured

The chief executive has sent an email to all the agency’s employees about the investigation, and detailed the steps he is taking to tackle sexual harassment. These include mandatory training by an outside company, new counselling services, a new body to investigate allegations, and an independent team to look into claims that may not have been dealt with.

As sexual harassment has gained prominence since the #MeToo social media campaign highlighted the issue, federal agencies in the Trump administration have stepped up training for employees and pledged zero-tolerance policies for perpetrators, the paper said.

Coleman did not respond to a request for comment from the Washington Post, and FEMA officials told the paper they have not been able to carry out the interview that was scheduled in June.

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.

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