Washington – Federal investigators have determined the Coast Guard Academy in New London retaliated against a black, female officer after she complained she was bullied and harassed.
The officer, an instructor at the academy, reported she was subjected to harassment and a hostile work environment, based in part on her race and gender.
A report, released Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, said “a preponderance of the evidence” established that the officer, a lieutenant commander at the academy, received low marks on her annual evaluation after she made complaints. The inspector general also found potential disparities in how the U.S. Coast Guard responded to the officers’ bullying complaint compared to a later bullying complaint from a different member of the academy.
The inspector general determined the academy violated the Military Whistleblower Protection Act and ordered it to implement a number of reforms.
The IG report also details how one of the officers handling the complaint “was so angry that on the same day as learning of the complaint, he drafted an email to himself demanding that Complainant apologize, then resign, for having made the complaint.”
“The Inspector General’s finding that a Coast Guard officer’s whistleblower complaint was not protected, leading to substantiated claims of retaliation, is deeply troubling,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who represents New London in Congress. “The remedial actions recommended in this report must be executed without delay so that the complainant’s status is fully restored and that real change is implemented to prevent this from occurring again.”
The Coast Guard Academy did not have an immediate response Tuesday night to the IG report.
The determination that the Coast Guard Academy retaliated against a whistleblower is the latest mark against the school, which is facing a congressional investigation for harassment, bullying and discrimination against minority cadets.
Last summer, Courtney and two other key lawmakers asked the Coast Guard commander, Admiral Karl Schultz, for “all documents, including authority memoranda, investigative reports, panel sheets, final action memoranda and post-investigation talking points” regarding allegations of harassment or bullying made by any student or faculty member of the academy during the past three years and the results of any investigations conducted to examine these allegations.
The two other lawmakers looking into racial bias at the academy are Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Elijah Cummings, D-Md. Thompson will head the House Homeland Security Committee, which has oversight of the Coast Guard, and Cummings will be the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the next Congress since their party wrested control of the U.S. House from the GOP in the midterm elections.
The lawmakers say they received incomplete and heavily redacted information from the Coast Guard. Last month, they accused the service of a “lack of transparency” and demanded it turn over the information they have sought for months about allegations of racial discrimination.
“The IG’s report underscores the urgent need for the leadership of the Coast Guard and the Academy to address, head on, Congress’s ongoing concerns regarding persistent issues surrounding discrimination and harassment,” Courtney said.
Cummings was even tougher.
“It is intolerable that the Coast Guard has retaliated against a service member for making protected complaints of harassment and discrimination, and I expect the Coast Guard to immediately hold accountable all individuals who had any role in carrying out this retaliation,” he said.
Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy have also requested information about complaints of racial discrimination at the academy.
“The Inspector General’s report is a damning indictment of the Coast Guard Academy’s handling of racial discrimination and harassment,” the senators said in a joint statement released Wednesday. “It is consistent with what we have heard from constituents – prompting our original call for action from the Academy. We fully expect immediate, thorough and transparent steps to change this atmosphere of racial hostility and hold Academy staff and officers accountable for their actions.”
The Coast Guard Academy has also drawn fire for poor grades on the “Equity Scorecard,” a study by the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California that tracks academic data, including graduation rates, by race, ethnicity and gender.
The Equity Scorecard reported that “black/African American cadets have been consistently less likely to graduate than the all-cadet average.”
The scorecard also said black cadets suffered from a disproportionately high share of disciplinary actions.
As far as the whistleblower, the Department of Homeland Security ordered the Coast Guard Academy to upgrade her evaluation, document in writing the reasons for findings and outcomes in response to bullying and harassment complaints, and require supplemental training for U.S. Coast Guard supervisors and managers on the agency’s discrimination, harassment, and bullying policies.
This story was updated on Dec. 5 to include comments from Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.