June 30, 2022

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Armed Forces Retirement Home’s chief operating officer sexually harassed employees, IG finds

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The former main working officer of the Armed Forces Retirement Dwelling sexually harassed three staff members and retaliated from one particular employee when she turned down his sexual developments, according to a report from the Division of Protection inspector standard.

James M. Branham resigned from his posture as the No. 2 formal at the Defense Department’s Armed Forces Retirement Household Nov. 9, 2021, in accordance to the report, introduced Wednesday. A new COO was appointed in December.

“We uncover his conduct specially egregious provided his position as the AFRH COO and the authority he held more than the subordinate feminine staff,” the investigators wrote.

Officials at the Armed Forces Retirement Home declined to remark on whether any authorized action will be pursued towards Branham, citing coverage. The DoD investigators mentioned they will ahead their report to Washington Headquarters Providers for inclusion in Branham’s staff file.

The headquarters is a DoD area exercise that deliver administrative and administration guidance to multiple DoD factors and armed service departments in the National Money Area.

“I commend the 3 employees who cooperated in this investigation and claimed what was going on to them,” reported Armed Forces Retirement Residence CEO Stephen T. Rippe in an e mail to Armed forces Situations. “No just one ought to be harassed in the workplace — at any time. This scenario is in particular troubling because it concerned the Home’s leadership. Our staff and people need to be expecting the incredibly very best from their leaders, who must hold by themselves to the maximum achievable common.

“As this report helps make crystal clear, that did not occur in this case and I stand firmly by the report’s conclusion.” He observed that “despite this failure of leadership by an unique, the report did not fault the Home’s polices and processes nor give any recommendations for enhancement.”

Branham could not be attained for comment.

“Mr. Branham’s actions established an daunting, hostile and offensive do the job environment that manufactured these feminine personnel unpleasant or caused them distress,” the DoD IG report mentioned. They also uncovered that he created reprisals towards one particular of the workers, dealing with her otherwise from other folks when it came to quarantining and staying authorized to telework all through the initial months of the pandemic.

Branham, a retired Military lieutenant colonel, began as COO at the Armed Forces Retirement Household in February 2018, in the midst of economical turmoil at AFRH. The former COO was fired in September, 2017 by a DoD formal who cited his unwillingness to shore up the funds of the agency’s two houses.

AFRH is open mostly to particular retired and previous enlisted users and their spouses, with campuses in Washington, D.C., and Gulfport, Mississippi. Branham worked at the Washington campus.

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In addition to residents’ fees, income sharing and leasing agreements, donors and the AFRH have confidence in fund, the residences relies on the 50- -a-month paycheck deduction from energetic-obligation enlisted users and the profits from fines imposed on enlisted users for disciplinary violations.

The DoD hotline been given a complaint from Branham Aug. 15, 2020, alleging he experienced sexually harassed subordinate female personnel and took reprisal actions towards a person of the workers because she turned down his sexual developments. After initiating the investigation on Nov. 10, 2020, the inspector basic reviewed a lot more than 200,000 DoD data, which includes emails and hooked up documents and pics, and interviewed the individual who submitted the complaint as perfectly as eight other workforce.

The investigators manufactured no recommendations with regards to any solutions for the worker who endured reprisals — determined as Staff 2 — for the reason that she has remaining the corporation for one more full-time situation in other places.

Branham commenced dating one particular of his subordinates in 2019, determined as Employee 1, just after he asked her to dinner. Investigators reviewed numerous e-mail in between she and Branham, who used his official govt electronic mail. They also discovered 5 photographs that Branham forwarded from his personal electronic mail account to his federal government electronic mail account that appeared to be that staff “in various states of dress or undress.”

Investigators’ analysis showed that Branham despatched the pictures from his mobile phone to his governing administration email deal with “within minutes or several hours of sending very sexually explicit emails” to the personnel. They finished their romance in March 2020, at the commencing of the COVID-19 pandemic. Employee 1 advised investigators that immediately after the bodily marriage finished, she felt their individual and experienced relationship was “awkward” and “weird” because of the preceding physical romance.

Branham declined to be interviewed by investigators, but in his response to their preliminary conclusions, he agreed that he had engaged in an inappropriate connection with the employee, but disagreed with some of their conclusions, according to the report.

“Mr. Branham considered that his romance with Worker 1 was consensual and did not constitute sexual harassment. We disagree,” the investigators wrote. “Mr. Branham initiated, pursued and engaged in an personal romance with a subordinate employee. The subordinate employee advised us that she felt awkward and awkward and did not think she could say no.”

The employee explained that romance with Branham as inappropriate and improper, they stated.

Branham also agreed that his penned communications to a next and third worker have been “unprofessional and regretted that the communications manufactured these workers sense unpleasant,” and that he should not have prepared the opinions, according to the report.

The investigators stood by their original conclusions. “Mr. Branham’s in general course of conduct interfered with the unique overall performance of subordinate female staff members in his group and designed an daunting, hostile and offensive work setting that created these feminine workforce unpleasant or brought on them distress,” they wrote.

The lady recognized as Employee 2 instructed investigators she continuously rebuffed or overlooked Branham’s sexual harassment, in incidents involving August 2018 and March 2020. That incorporated shrugging his fingers off her shoulders several moments when he attempted to therapeutic massage her. Though Branham advised investigators that her physical gestures rejecting his sexual innovations “could not constitute a disclosure to him that he experienced engaged in an abuse of authority,” he is incorrect, they stated.

That employee alleged that Branham took 4 personnel actions towards her in reprisal, and investigators agreed with 3 of her allegations. Those allegations included him refusing to let her to isolate and quarantine by teleworking, just after exhibiting COVID-19 signs or symptoms or controlling COVID-19 publicity in incidents in April, July and August 2020.

The investigators located that in various very similar circumstances, other staff ended up handled differently. Branham himself self-quarantined and teleworked.

The personnel was eligible for telework, and her task was not crucial to the operating of the AFRH residential care services, investigators discovered. “Branham sexually harassed Personnel 2 consistently in the course of her time, and treated her in another way than other telework-suitable employees when it came to teleworking all through the pandemic,” they wrote.

The investigators interviewed six other employees at Armed Forces Retirement Residence five of whom experienced frequent get in touch with with Branham.

Four of the 6 workers claimed the allegations amazed them. A further staff explained the allegations had been “hard to think,” and the sixth employee termed the allegations “preposterous.” Some of the employees stated they read Branham notify jokes or make humorous responses, but none listened to him inform a joke that contained sexual innuendo.