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During Judiciary's Annual Budget Hearing, House Panel Asks for Update on Third Branch's Plans to Root out Harassment

FTC worked with majority and minority staff to ensure Director Duff was queried about working group’s progess

During this afternoon’s House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the judiciary’s FY19 budget, Director of the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts Jim Duff was questioned about the third branch’s burgeoning response to sexual harassment in its ranks, marking the first time since the Judicial Working Group on Workplace Conduct (JWG) was formed on Jan. 12 that a congressional panel has inquired about its work.

About halfway through the hearing (at 27:24), Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) asked Duff about the differences in reporting harassment now versus when the working group was created this winter. Duff noted that though the JWG is still completing its work, “what we have determined clearly is that one of the barriers to filing [complaints] is the formality of our complaint process.”

“What employees need and want is a less formalistic process [than what currently exists],” he added. “Many employees just want guidance, counseling and, we think, intervention earlier on in the process, so that you don’t need to get to the formal complaint process. So we are going to create other outlets for employees [to lodge complaints] within the branch, both at a national level and throughout the circuits.”

Duff went on to cite an EEOC study that found that across the country 75 percent of individuals who experience harassment in the workplace never file a report or a formal complaint to their superiors. “That figure is stunning,” he said. “So we took the approach of what are those barriers [preventing reporting], how do you remove them, how do you ensure that our employees have a safe work environment and one in which they feel free to complain without retaliation.”

“Today’s hearing demonstrates that the judiciary’s response to sexual harassment should be subject to the same level of public scrutiny that its budget and its nominations are,” FTC executive director Gabe Roth said. “I was pleased to have worked with the majority and minority staffs of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, as well as with several former law clerks, to ensure that Director Duff was asked questions about the working group, and the House or Senate Judiciary Committees should follow up by putting a full hearing on harassment on the books.”

Rep. Cartwright also asked about how young law clerks working with “the pantheon of demigods” in the federal judiciary have adequate protections should they file a complaint against a powerful judge.

Judge John Lungstrum (D. Kan.), the chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Budget who also testified today, said that, moving forward, clerks should be counseled that the confidentiality that exists within chambers about cases does not extend to actions that constitute harassment.

Speaking about himself and his colleagues on the federal bench, Lungstrum said, “By and large, we all recognize we are held to very high standards […] and that we should be held accountable if we violate those standards.”

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