Seventh Circuit Adopts Harassment, Discrimination Policies


• Chief Judge Diane P. Wood says Kozinski scandal pushed court to reexamine equal employment opportunity plan
• New plan includes sections on harassment, discrimination, and confidentiality


The Seventh Circuit adopted new policies regarding harassment reporting and other wrongful conduct, prompted by the harassment allegations that forced Judge Alex Kozinski from the Ninth Circuit bench.

The expanded initiative also adds protections against discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity, new confidentiality provisions, and creates a position to help manage the complaint process.

The Kozinski scandal last year added the federal judiciary to the list of institutions rocked by harassment scandals that spawned the “#MeToo” movement, forcing it to examine how it handles harassment.

Kozinski resigned in December 2017 after he was accused of sexual harassment by numerous women, including former clerks.
A national working group on sexual harassment in the federal judiciary, also prompted by the Kozinski controversy, issued a set of recommendations this month that suggested funding for services to handle workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.

Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Diane P. Wood formed a committee to reexamine the Seventh Circuit’s equal employment opportunity plan, she told Bloomberg Law in an emailed statement. The initiative was not related to the national working group’s recommendations.

The plan provides detail on what remedies are available for workplace discrimination and harassment, such as filing an informal report or requesting formal dispute resolution, and includes new disciplinary consequences for discrimination or harassment. These range from an apology to the victim to termination.

It also creates a new position in the circuit to help with employment dispute resolution.

New Definitions

The Seventh Circuit’s new plan says that in order for its policies to be effective, it’s “critical that all employees respond to and report” inappropriate behavior described in the plan.

These include slurs or off-color jokes, inappropriate sexual advances, favoritism based on submission to sexual overtures, and display of sexually suggestive objects or pictures.

The expanded remedies section includes a part dedicated to harassment or discrimination. Disciplinary measures include:

—an apology to the victim;
—required counseling or training;
—oral or written reprimand;
—loss of salary or benefit; and
—suspension, probation, demotion, or termination.

The new position of circuit coordinator serves as the “go to” person for initiation and resolution of discrimination or harassment issues. However, if the person being accused of wrongful conduct is a judge, anyone with information must “promptly notify” the chief judge—either directly or via the coordinator.

The court also expanded its policies on confidentiality.

The courts can’t guarantee confidentiality, but will “to the extent permitted by law and consistent with their responsibilities to the public,” keep confidential all records relating to wrongful conduct.

It offers alternatives for those who want a more confidential setting, and suggests seeking guidance from social workers or therapists or calling the Employee Assistance Program for help or referrals.

The Ninth Circuit is also tackling the issue of sexual harassment within the circuit. It issued seven recommendations to promote a safer work environment at the end of May.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens atjkamens@bloomberglaw.com