Highland News Leader

Gender-based focus groups to address sex harassment at AMC

A sign welcomes visitors through the Belleville Gate entrance at Scott Air Force Base.
A sign welcomes visitors through the Belleville Gate entrance at Scott Air Force Base. Chad R. Gann, USAF

Troubling attitudes regarding sexual harassment and low morale uncovered during a survey of workers within a key Air Mobility Command unit have led the Defense Department to start a series of gender-based focus groups at Scott, beginning today.

In an email sent out Friday, a top AMC civilian official announced that focus groups, in which men and women will be interviewed separately, will run today, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on base as a result of a workplace survey in which workers in the A3 unit participated in December.

The focus groups are being set up at AMC a day after the BND published an article about a sexual harassment case that has roiled AMC for nearly a year.

The focus groups “are designed to gain greater insight and understanding of the climate within the A3,” wrote Terry Johnson, director of staff for AMC’s Directorate of Operations.

Dealing with sexual harassment and abuse has become a top priority for the U.S. Air Force, which in recent years has been stung by a series of embarrassing scandals.

Earlier this month, a well-publicized Pentagon survey showed that one in 10 female Air Force Academy cadets suffered unwanted sexual contact during the school year, while half of female cadets reported being sexually harassed during the school year that ended in May, according to the report.

In addition, the flying service has instituted major changes in basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to safeguard against sexual harassment and assault. The changes occurred after a scandal exploded at Lackland, where more than 30 instructors were investigated for misconduct with 68 recruits and technical training students. Master Sgt. Michael Silva, a former training instructor, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for raping a recruit in 1995 and his then-wife in 2007. Another instructor convicted of rape, Luis Walker, committed suicide in prison last year.

The focus groups scheduled to take place this week at Scott will focus on the unit called A3, but known officially as the Directorate of Air, Space and Information Operations. The survey conducted last December is known as the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute Organizational Climate Survey, which annually seeks to assess racial, religious, gender and ethnic diversity and workplace issues within units across civilian and active duty military units.

On Sunday, the BND reported on a case that involved Mary K. Reid, a branch chief within A3 called A3B, otherwise known as the Department of Defense Commercial Airlift Division.

Reid lost her job as chief of the A3B analysis branch in early October after a commander-directed investigated substantiated allegations that Reid had sexually harassed three female employees. The allegations have led to offers of financial settlements to the three from Scott’s office of Equal Employment Opportunity and a misdemeanor charge in St. Clair County of battery against Reid filed by one of her alleged victims.

Reid, through her attorney, denies the allegations and says the accusers have financial motives. Reid is seeking to dismiss the misdemeanor charge and reclaim her old job.

Both the Air Force and Reid potentially face legal liability if the alleged victims of Reid’s harassment filed, and won, lawsuits against both, according to employment lawyer Adam Carter, of Washington, D.C.

“The reason why you impute liability to the Air Force, to the employer, is because she is a manager and managers should know better and should be trained not to do that,” Carter said.

Reid, by virtue of her supervisory role, potentially faces individual legal exposure “because it’s not the employer’s business groping their employees, and therefore this person was acting outside the scope of her employment,” Carter said. And because of her management role, Reid was changing “the working conditions of the employees by virtue of their power relationship” because of her ability to evaluate their work performance, to hire and fire and control promotions, Carter said.

If lawsuits are filed against the Air Force and Reid, and they lose them, then a key factor in assessing damages would be the psychological impact on the victims of the alleged abuse and harassment, Carter said.

“If for example, they haven’t had any mental health history, then all of a sudden they had these breakdowns, and depression and had to go on medication, and can peg that to the time of the harassment,” he said, “then the damages are a lot greater.”

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