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

The former chief working officer of the Armed Forces Retirement Property sexually harassed three staff and retaliated from one particular worker when she rejected his sexual advancements, according to a report from the Office of Protection inspector standard.

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

“We uncover his habits especially egregious supplied his placement as the AFRH COO and the authority he held about the subordinate female personnel,” the investigators wrote.

Officers at the Armed Forces Retirement Home declined to comment on no matter if any authorized action will be pursued versus Branham, citing policy. The DoD investigators stated they will ahead their report to Washington Headquarters Expert services for inclusion in Branham’s personnel file.

The headquarters is a DoD subject activity that deliver administrative and administration support to numerous DoD parts and armed service departments in the Countrywide Money Location.

“I commend the 3 workforce who cooperated in this investigation and noted what was occurring to them,” mentioned Armed Forces Retirement Property CEO Stephen T. Rippe in an e-mail to Navy Periods. “No one should really be harassed in the office — at any time. This circumstance is in particular troubling mainly because it included the Home’s management. Our staff members and people ought to anticipate the very most effective from their leaders, who really should keep themselves to the maximum doable typical.

“As this report can make crystal clear, that did not take place in this scenario and I stand firmly by the report’s summary.” He noted that “despite this failure of management by an individual, the report did not fault the Home’s polices and methods nor provide any tips for enhancement.”

Branham could not be achieved for comment.

“Mr. Branham’s steps made an daunting, hostile and offensive work surroundings that created these female staff not comfortable or caused them distress,” the DoD IG report stated. They also found that he made reprisals towards a single of the employees, dealing with her in different ways from others when it came to quarantining and being authorized to telework throughout the 1st months of the pandemic.

Branham, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, begun as COO at the Armed Forces Retirement Dwelling in February 2018, in the midst of money turmoil at AFRH. The earlier 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 generally to certain retired and previous enlisted associates and their spouses, with campuses in Washington, D.C., and Gulfport, Mississippi. Branham labored at the Washington campus.

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In addition to residents’ charges, income sharing and leasing agreements, donors and the AFRH rely on fund, the properties depends on the 50- -a-thirty day period paycheck deduction from active-duty enlisted associates and the revenue from fines imposed on enlisted customers for disciplinary violations.

The DoD hotline been given a grievance towards Branham Aug. 15, 2020, alleging he had sexually harassed subordinate woman workforce and took reprisal actions towards a single of the workers because she rejected his sexual advancements. Right after initiating the investigation on Nov. 10, 2020, the inspector common reviewed a lot more than 200,000 DoD information, such as email messages and hooked up documents and shots, and interviewed the human being who submitted the grievance as nicely as 8 other staff.

The investigators created no tips with regards to any cures for the worker who suffered reprisals — identified as Worker 2 — since she has remaining the firm for one more comprehensive-time placement somewhere else.

Branham commenced dating a person of his subordinates in 2019, identified as Staff 1, right after he asked her to evening meal. Investigators reviewed quite a few e-mails between she and Branham, who utilised his official govt electronic mail. They also discovered five pictures that Branham forwarded from his particular e mail account to his authorities electronic mail account that appeared to be that worker “in various states of costume or undress.”

Investigators’ assessment showed that Branham despatched the pictures from his mobile mobile phone to his federal government e-mail tackle “within minutes or several hours of sending extremely sexually explicit emails” to the employee. They finished their partnership in March 2020, at the commencing of the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff 1 told investigators that right after the bodily connection finished, she felt their own and experienced relationship was “awkward” and “weird” simply because of the past bodily relationship.

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

“Mr. Branham considered that his marriage with Staff 1 was consensual and did not represent sexual harassment. We disagree,” the investigators wrote. “Mr. Branham initiated, pursued and engaged in an personal relationship with a subordinate staff. The subordinate worker advised us that she felt awkward and uncomfortable and did not assume she could say no.”

The personnel described that romance with Branham as inappropriate and completely wrong, they said.

Branham also agreed that his composed communications to a next and third personnel had been “unprofessional and regretted that the communications manufactured these workforce experience unpleasant,” and that he shouldn’t have written the opinions, according to the report.

The investigators stood by their original conclusions. “Mr. Branham’s in general course of conduct interfered with the particular person functionality of subordinate woman staff members in his business and established an scary, hostile and offensive get the job done ecosystem that made these woman workforce unpleasant or induced them distress,” they wrote.

The girl determined as Worker 2 explained to investigators she frequently rebuffed or disregarded Branham’s sexual harassment, in incidents among August 2018 and March 2020. That included shrugging his arms off her shoulders multiple moments when he attempted to massage her. Whilst Branham explained to investigators that her actual physical gestures rejecting his sexual developments “could not represent a disclosure to him that he had engaged in an abuse of authority,” he is incorrect, they stated.

That personnel alleged that Branham took four personnel actions against her in reprisal, and investigators agreed with a few of her allegations. Those people allegations associated him refusing to let her to isolate and quarantine by teleworking, following exhibiting COVID-19 signs or managing COVID-19 exposure in incidents in April, July and August 2020.

The investigators discovered that in a number of very similar conditions, other workforce have been addressed in a different way. Branham himself self-quarantined and teleworked.

The personnel was suitable for telework, and her position was not crucial to the working of the AFRH residential care facilities, investigators observed. “Branham sexually harassed Personnel 2 continuously during her time, and addressed her otherwise than other telework-qualified staff members when it arrived to teleworking in the course of the pandemic,” they wrote.

The investigators interviewed 6 other workers at Armed Forces Retirement Dwelling five of whom experienced recurrent contact with Branham.

Four of the six workforce explained the allegations amazed them. A different personnel reported the allegations ended up “hard to believe that,” and the sixth employee identified as the allegations “preposterous.” Some of the staff members stated they listened to Branham notify jokes or make humorous feedback, but none read him tell a joke that contained sexual innuendo.

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