April 06, 2020

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Back Ombuds for Sexual Harassment Response

Last week, the bipartisan, independent commission that oversees federal civil rights issues released a report looking at the government’s response to workplace sexual harassment. The report, "Federal #MeToo: Examining Sexual Harassment in Government Workplaces," endorses several steps agencies should take steps to prevent the incidence of workplace sexual harassment, including the appointment of a Federal Ombudsperson.

The report recommends the appointment of a Classical Ombuds with investigatory powers :
Congress should establish a federal ombudsperson, empowered to investigate alleged sexual harassment claims of complainants who may not have adequate recourse through available channels where existing agency structures may be compromised by conflicts.
The report does also acknowledge (in passing) the different types of Ombuds:
Another possible strategy to possibly mitigate this unfair advantage could be to have an ombudsperson available to victims during the processing of harassment claims. Ombuds programs vary in their structure—some are organizational, whistleblower, or advocate-based, for example.414 Ombuds programs already exist at some federal agencies, and have demonstrated benefits.415 At the EEOC’s “Reconvening of the Select Task Force on the Study of Sexual Harassment” meeting, Lisa Gelobter, CEO and Founder of tEQuitable discussed that her company has developed a program “Organizational Ombuds” that seeks to proactively stop harassment through an alternative dispute resolution approach that includes using ombudspersons.416 She cited the International Ombudsman Association description of the duties of Organizational Ombuds: “(1) to work with individuals and groups in an organization to explore and assist them in determining options to help resolve conflicts, problematic issues or concerns, and (2) to bring systemic concerns to the attention of the organization for resolution.”417 [Citing to the 2016 ACUS Report and Lisa Gelobter's EEOC testimony in 2019.]
The Commission is chaired by Catherine E. Lhamon, who authored the Department of Education’s 2011 Dear Colleague Letter. Lahmon was also questioned by Sen. Tom Harkin in 2014 about the role of campus Ombuds. (USCCR #metoo Report.)

Related posts: Watch Senator Question White House Title IX Expert on Role of Campus Ombuds; IOA Takes a Stand on Title IX Issues; IOA Releases Memo Providing Legal Grounds for Ombuds Confidentiality in Title IX Matters; ACUS Finalizes Recommendation on Use of Ombuds in Federal Agencies.

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