Judge David Hamilton of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has been appointed to chair a committee to review policies for reporting and handling harassment within the federal jurisdiction.
Chief Judge Diane Wood charged the special committee with examining the process for both how employees of the 7th Circuit can raise claims of harassment and how those claims are subsequently handled. The announcement was posted on the appellate court’s website Friday and does not indicate whether the committee will file a report or if its findings will be made public. The committee is tasked with examining the circuit’s procedures for reporting claims of harassment, including sexual harassment, and the procedures court employers must follow when responding to those claims.
Six others from across the 7th Circuit will serve on the committee with Hamilton. He will be joined by his appellate colleague Circuit Judge Diane Sykes and fellow Hoosier Southern Indiana District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt. Also on the committee is Northern Illinois District Judge Gary Feinerman; Southern Illinois District Judge Nancy Rosenstengel; Northern Illinois Bankruptcy Judge Jacqueline Cox; and Circuit Executive Collins Fitzpatrick.
The committee will review the current Equal Employment Opportunity Plan and Employment Dispute Resolution Plan of the United States Court of Appeals, which serves as a model for the federal courts in the 7th Circuit.
The plan prohibits sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, and allows for a three-step process to resolve discrimination complaints: counseling, mediation and hearings. In addition, the group will look at the procedures for filing a complaint against a judge for misconduct including sexual or other harassment.
Each phase of the dispute resolution process is governed by confidentiality provisions. However, final decisions can be made available to the public at the chief judge’s discretion.
In addition to reviewing the Equal Employment Opportunity/Employment Dispute Resolution Plan, the 7th Circuit committee will be tasked with reviewing procedures for filing a misconduct complaint against a judge under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980, 28 U.S.C. Sections 351-364. The committee’s creation comes as a deluge of sexual harassment accusations in multiple industries has forced industry leaders to review their harassment policies.
The judiciary has not been immune from the national conversation. Former Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski retired late last month after multiple former employees accused him of sexual harassment, including allegations of groping them and forcing them to watch pornography. Closer to home, former Huntington Circuit Judge Thomas Hakes retired on Dec. 31 as a sex-based harassment suit filed against him by a county probation officer plays out in the Indiana Northern District Court.
To address the problems on a federal level, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts announced a review of the judiciary’s sexual harassment issues as part of his 2017 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary.