The impeached former federal judge and current Florida Congressman Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) is on the hot seat again–this time for his alleged sexual harassment of a female government employee, Winsome Packer.
Last week, we announced the filing of a lawsuit against Hastings on behalf of Ms. Packer, who was repeatedly subjected to “unwelcome sexual advances,” “unwelcome touching” and retaliation.
The alleged harassment and retaliation began in 2008 when Hastings served as Chairman of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and Ms. Packer as his employee. The Commission is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, along with the Commission’s former staff director, Fred Turner.
Needless to say, given the serious nature of these allegations, JW’s announcement earned a barrage of press coverage. (Here are some links to stories in The Hill, The Wall Street Journal, and CNN, to give you an idea of national interest in this story.)
And what did Hastings do to warrant all of this negative attention? The following is a quick squib from our complaint detailing the allegations, but I highly recommend you read it in its entirety to get a full sense of Hastings’ disgusting and abusive behavior.
For over two years, from January 2008 through February 19, 2010, Ms. Packer was forced to endure unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments, and unwelcome touching by Mr. Hastings while serving as the Representative of the Commission to the United States Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Although Ms. Packer repeatedly rejected Mr. Hastings’ sexual attention and repeatedly complained about the harassment to the Commission Staff Director, Fred Turner, Mr. Hastings refused to stop sexually harassing her. Rather, Mr. Hastings and Mr. Turner began to retaliate against Ms. Packer–including making threats of termination–because she continued to object to Mr. Hastings’ conduct. Ms. Packer was particularly vulnerable to such threats because she was a Republican working for the Democratically-controlled Commission, a point that both Mr. Hastings and Mr. Turner used to threaten and intimidate her. Eventually, the emotional distress, anxiety, and humiliation caused by the sexual harassment and retaliation caused Ms. Packer to suffer severe health problems and forced her to leave her prestigious position.
According to our complaint, “Mr. Hastings’ intention was crystal clear: he was sexually attracted to Ms. Packer, wanted a sexual relationship with her, and would help progress her career if she acquiesced to his sexual advances.”
These advances included: Making multiple demands that Ms. Packer allow Rep. Hastings to stay in her apartment while she served as the Commission’s lead staff representative overseas; subjecting Ms. Packer to unwanted physical contact, including hugging her with both arms while pressing his body against her body and his face against her face; inviting her on multiple occasions to accompany him alone to his hotel room; making sexual comments and references to Ms. Packer, and asking Ms. Packer humiliating and inappropriate questions in public, such as “What kind of underwear are you wearing?”
After Ms. Packer repeatedly rebuffed these advances and reported them to her superior, Mr. Turner, and other officials, including Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Hastings allegedly scolded her for not being a “sport” and for rejecting him after he had “come to [her] as a man does a woman.” He said he was very upset she had reported his behavior to Mr. Turner: “How dare you complain about me! You had better forget about being Republican.”
Moreover, Hastings and Turner then allegedly took retaliatory actions against Ms. Packer by repeatedly threatening her job at the Commission, by refusing to allow her to return from overseas to her position as Policy Advisor in Washington, D.C., and by intentionally marginalizing her from her colleagues. Hastings also pressured Ms. Packer to buy him personal gifts and make a campaign contribution to him.
As a direct result of Mr. Hastings’ sexual harassment, Ms. Packer experienced some significant health problems, including insomnia, anxiety, depression, and high-blood pressure. She also developed symptoms of coronary artery disease. At one point, these symptoms were so severe Ms. Packer collapsed and was rushed to the emergency room. Ms. Packer has been prescribed medication and is under the care of a physician because of the severity of her heart problems.
For his part, as reported by the New York Daily News, Alcee Hastings says he is “insulted” by our allegations: “When all the facts are known in this case, the prevailing sentiment will be, ‘How bizarre!'”
Hastings’ behavior was certainly bizarre. But that’s not the first word that comes to mind: outrageous, reprehensible and offensive are more like it. Is Congress so far gone that its members think they can get away with the most base sexual harassment of staff!?
For two years Hastings subjected Ms. Packer to a never-ending barrage of unwanted sexual advances. And when Ms. Packer tried, time and again, to put a stop to it, he resorted to threats and intimidation in order to force her compliance. Even after Hastings’ behavior caused Ms. Packer’s physical collapse, he would not relent. Needless to say, we are looking forward to holding Alcee Hastings and the other defendants accountable for their unlawful behavior in court. You can be sure that Ms. Packer is grateful for the legal support of Judicial Watch (which is made possible, of course, with your support!). Here’s what Ms. Packer said at the press conference:
“I’m thankful for Judicial Watch’s support and legal representation. Cong. Hastings’ behavior has caused me great damage and anguish. But I’m also upset by the failure of the Commission and his colleagues in the House and in the Senate to hold to him to account and protect me. What happened to me was no secret. I followed all the rules and complained repeatedly and in writing about Cong. Hastings’ conduct. Yet, I was let down by the Commission and Congress. The laws against sexual discrimination and harassment apply to members of Congress like they do to everyone else. But Cong. Hastings thought the laws didn’t apply to him. This lawsuit will remind him otherwise. Thank you.”
As I alluded to earlier, this is not the first time Hastings has gotten himself into serious trouble. As a federal judge, Hastings was impeached by the House and, after a trial, removed from the bench by the U.S. Senate in 1989 for accepting bribe money and perjury. He was only the sixth federal judge in the history of the U.S. to be removed from the bench by the U.S. Senate.