Democratic contender Kirsten Gillibrand, a leader in the #MeToo movement, had a 20-something female staffer quit her Senate office over the way her sexual harassment claim was handled, it was revealed on Monday.
The staffer alleged harassment by an older, married colleague, claiming he made unwelcome advances on her after he was promoted to a supervisor role over her.
She also claimed Abbas Malik regularly made crude, misogynistic remarks in the office about his female colleagues and potential female hires, Politico reported.
Kirsten Gillibrand, a #MeToo leader, had a 20-something female staffer quit her Senate office over the handling of her sexual harassment complaint
The staffer claimed Abbas Malik (above), an older male colleague, made unwelcome advances against her and harassed other women in the office
The allegations against the senator, who has emphasized her feminist credentials and her role as a mother in the crowded Democratic primary field, could hurt her credibility on the #MeToo issue and her standing with the woman voters she is courting.
The former aide, who requested to stay anonymous to avoid retaliation, resigned in August, emailing Gillibrand her reasons for leaving.
‘I felt defeated, not just from the humiliation and pain that the harassment had brought me, but that in attempting to seek appropriate disciplinary actions for my harasser, my experience was devalued. I was devalued,’ the aide wrote in her email.
‘I have offered my resignation because of how poorly the investigation and post-investigation was handled,’ she noted.
‘I trusted and leaned on this statement that you made: ‘You need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is O.K. None of it is acceptable.’ Your office chose to go against your public belief that women shouldn’t accept sexual harassment in any form and portrayed my experience as a misinterpretation instead of what it actually was: harassment and ultimately, intimidation,’ the woman wrote.
Malik stayed on in the senator’s office.
Gillibrand defended her office’s handling of the incident in a statement to the news website.
‘These are challenges that affect all of our nation’s workplaces, including mine, and the question is whether or not they are taken seriously. As I have long said, when allegations are made in the workplace, we must believe women so that serious investigations can actually take place, we can learn the facts, and there can be appropriate accountability,’ she said. ‘That’s exactly what happened at every step of this case last year. I told her that we loved her at the time and the same is true today.’
Gillibrand’s office concluded his behavior was inappropriate but did not reach the standard for sexual harassment. They did rescind his promotion and warn him any additional behavior would result in his firing.
And Politico reports that – two weeks ago – after it presented its findings from its own investigation into Malik, Gillibrand’s office opened a new investigation and dismissed him last week.
The news website reported there were claims that Malik made a ‘joke’ about rape to a female colleague and another woman said he made four unwanted advances to her in one day. Malik was also accused of calling a woman fat, calling someone ugly, rating women’s appearance and saying that a women working at the Senate as a fellow was ‘into him.’
He did not respond to Politico‘s request for comment.
Gillibrand’s communication’s director Whitney Mitchell Brennan defended the handling of the original complaint.
‘At every step of the process, immediate action was taken by the office,’ she said in a statement to The New York Times. ‘A full and thorough investigation into the evidence revealed employee misconduct that, while inappropriate, did not meet the standard for sexual harassment.’
The allegations against Sen. Gillibrand could hurt her credibility on the #MeToo issue and her standing with the woman voters she is courting as she runs for the Democratic nomination
Gillibrand has been seen as a voice for women and leader against sexual harassment since she was the first Democratic senator to call on then-Sen. Al Franken to resign in 2017 following allegations of harassment against him dating back to his Hollywood career.
She has also led the fight in the Senate to advance sexual harassment legislation, which would overhaul how such complaints are handled on Capitol Hill.
Malik served two tours in Iraq and had a title in the senator’s office related to military affairs, but his primary responsibility was to serve as Gillibrand’s driver.
He was reported to be close to the senator after spending years driving her and her children. Gillibrand officiated at his wedding.
The female staffer was a more recent hire with less stature in the office.