Kirsten Gillibrand has made fighting sexual misconduct a focal point in her campaign. Gillibrand is very outspoken and supportive of the #MeToo movement and says that her “campaign is confronting the toxic culture of sexism and misogyny in our political system. We’re fighting for women to be heard. We’re fighting to be valued.” However, a former aide, and several other women, faced harassment in the workplace and felt that their claim was mishandled.
A former aide, who chose to remain anonymous, said that she chose to work for Gillibrand because she wanted to work with someone who fights for women’s rights after the 2016 election. After a fellow coworker, Abbas Malik, was in line to receive a promotion, he began to make sexual remarks directed towards her. In the past, he had a history of regularly making crude, misogynistic remarks about female colleagues and potential female hires.
Malik had been working with Gillibrand since 2011 as her driver and had a constant presence in her life. In July 2018, Gillibrand told him that he would be promoted to direct advance work for her future trips which would put him “in charge” of the woman. After word of the promotion, the harassment started immediately becoming increasingly aggressive. After facing four separate unwanted advances on July 13, the woman did her best to avoid Malik the following week. He complained saying she was being mean to him because of his expected a promotion and wanted an apology.
About a week and a half later, the woman emailed Anne Bradley, deputy chief of staff, with her recollection of events she had been recording over the last week. She also provided them with former employees who could affirm Malik’s behavior. An investigation was opened but discovered it was ultimately resolved five days later. Malik had been disciplined but not fired and lost his expected promotion. The woman was upset but satisfied at the time that there had been a fair process. However, that changed quickly when she felt she was not being taken seriously and was now being treated differently.
The woman eventually decided to resign on August 13 because of how the office handled the investigation. She recalled that even then Jess Fassler, the chief of staff, responded defensively and said that she too could have been fired. The woman said that she felt “belittled, insulted, and intimidated” even when she was trying to quit.
Politico did their own investigating and reached out to Gillibrand’s office two weeks ago with several claims and accusations. Her office opened a new investigation and ultimately terminated Malik last week. This situation shows a possible disconnect between the senator’s public stance and her office’s private actions. The case highlights the challenges of responding to alleged sexual harassment when it hits home, even for a leader on the issue.
Click here to read the full 3/11/19 article by Alex Thompson and Daniel Strauss from Politico.