Leading liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress (CAP), stands accused of sheltering sexual harassers and operating a toxic culture that made victims fear retaliation for speaking out.
A heavily-reported exposé by Buzzfeed News on Tuesday documented those allegations–made by 19 former and current employees and staffers with the organization.
One former junior staffer, who asked to be identified as Mary, left the organization by sending an exit memo to top CAP officials. This memo detailed sexual harassment she had experienced from a manager on her team named Benton Strong. Mary alleged that Strong’s harassment was well known within CAP’s upper ranks, that they did nothing about it, and that she was retaliated against for reporting the harassment in the first place. Mary’s emailed exit memo reads, in part:
[O]n several occasions, myself and others on the team felt as if reporting had been a mistake and that the retaliation, worsening of already tenuous team dynamics, and treatment by supervisors outweighed the seemingly positive act of reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.
At another point in her exit memo, Mary described “lewd and inappropriate text messages” from Strong which made her “uncomfortable being in the workplace around him.” One of those text messages–confirmed by multiple other CAP staffers at the time–was sent after midnight and expressed Strong’s desire to perform oral sex on Mary. Others included discussions of blowjobs, comments about her body and frequent entreaties to meet for drinks.
Two women–including Mary–at CAP filed complaints against Strong and he later took a job with the Seattle mayor’s office. CAP initially decided not to inform Strong’s new employer about his history–and even declined an official request from Seattle’s human resources department for records detailing the allegations against Strong. In the end, CAP provided the records to Strong himself, who then turned them over to the city.
Mary continued, noting, “CAP’s culture obscures its mission. All of this to say, I surely expected better out of an organization that housed a national campaign on sexual assault.”
CAP was described as a “training ground” for young Democrats looking for a toe-hold in party politics. As such, it is one of the major places idealistic progressives look to assert themselves in Washington, D.C. As one staffer noted, “You go along and you get along and they help you get a new job later.”
Going along to get along at CAP can apparently have disastrous consequences. A July 2016 memo written by CAP’s employee union catalogued “several incidents of sexual harassment against several members of our unit.” That memo alleged the following five key points about CAP’s alleged culture of sexual harassment, retaliation and looking the other way when abuse occurs:
(1) “Management failed to promptly take sufficient tangible employment action against the said employee for sexual harassment, thereby allowing the said employee’s behavior to escalate,”; (2) “Management has failed to present measures to correct the effects of the said employee’s sexual harassment, thereby perpetuating a hostile work environment,”; (3) “Management has failed to create a safe space upon which members of our unit — including those subjected to the said employee’s unlawful harassment — feel comfortable enough to report incidents of sexual harassment, among other forms of discrimination, without fear of retaliation or further harassment,”; (4) “Management has failed to take reasonable steps to prevent incidents of sexual harassment from occurring in the workplace,”; and (5) “Management has failed to adequately inform employees of what constitutes unlawful harassment in the workplace, how to report such incidents, and what kind of recourse is available under such circumstances.”
One former union member singled out CAP’s president Neera Tanden. In comments to Buzzfeed, they described an allegedly unproductive meeting with Tanden regarding sexual harassment at CAP:
Neera’s approach was maybe we can start hosting brown bags with HR so people will feel more comfortable coming out and doing things. So they had almost a do-nothing approach. … They said they would think about things that [the union brought up], and that was essentially it.
Tanden is a high-profile Twitter user, staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton and the former secretary of state’s longtime advisor. In response to Buzzfeed’s original report, CAP provided a statement to Splinter News defending Tanden and their actions taken in regard to Strong. This statement reads, in part:
Neera explicitly said in the meeting with the union that she was open to having a sexual harassment training. In fact we are working with current union leadership on developing that training now. At the beginning of the meeting, we learned that the union had not talked to the complainant who received the inappropriate texts. We also understood that they did not know all of the actions we had taken, though of course they knew Mr. Strong had suddenly left the office. We asked whether they were aware of any instances of inappropriate conduct that had not already been reported. They were not aware of any such instance.
After Buzzfeed’s report was published, various Tanden tweets have been ironically tweeted by left-wing Twitter users. Without comment, those tweets follow immediately below:
— Neera Tanden 🌊 (@neeratanden) May 16, 2014
Yes. Here’s an idea. Hire the more qualified woman and don’t assault her. https://t.co/BeDhwd9zNu
— Neera Tanden 🌊 (@neeratanden) April 7, 2018
— Neera Tanden 🌊 (@neeratanden) February 11, 2018
It’s amazing how your love for Trump allows you to overlook how he treats women (assault) and how he supports men (Moore, Porter) who assault them. Fascinating. Truly.
— Neera Tanden 🌊 (@neeratanden) February 10, 2018
I can’t imagine working in a White House that would shield a man who beat up his wives.
How do they – men and women- look themselves in the mirror? #alsoappliesto50otherthings
— Neera Tanden 🌊 (@neeratanden) February 8, 2018
[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]