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Employees Report Threatening Anti-LGBT Harassment, Retaliation at National Science Foundation

An outside investigator recently substantiated allegations that a career manager made sexually explicit jokes and bullied LGBT employees.

A union representing employees at the National Science Foundation demanded Monday that the agency take action to hold managers accountable for acts of bullying, sexual harassment and retaliation against LGBT employees in the Office of Integrative Activities.

For months, a career manager at NSF routinely made off-the-cuff comments about employees’ sexual orientation both to the employees and behind their backs, said David Verardo, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 3403.

“In June, a few NSF employees described to me what they believed to be harassing behavior, including bullying and intimidation, toward some because of their sexual orientation and to others because of their union membership,” Verardo said. “They spoke to a [Senior Executive Service] manager about these things, but nothing was being done, so they came to the union as a last resort.”

As an example of the remarks, Verardo said the manager has been accused of making explicit references to employees’ sexual orientations.

“For [one victim] the manager said, ‘So and so couldn’t make it because he was getting his ass pumped by his boyfriend,’ and the next, regarding [the other victim], ‘So and so would be here on time if she could just get her face out of her girlfriend’s pussy,’” Verardo said.

The union took the issue to NSF’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which hired a third-party lawyer to conduct an investigation. Although the investigator noted that some employees were “evasive” in their statements, they found evidence to substantiate the allegations, which last month were forwarded to the Office of Human Resource Management for further investigation.

“With regard to the claims of harassment, the investigator found there is sufficient evidence to conclude that Manager A has violated NSF’s policy prohibiting harassment based on sexual orientation and that Manager A engaged in serious misconduct, such as bullying, intimidation and inappropriate comments, in violation of the agency’s policy,” the Sept. 26 report stated. “ODI concurs with the investigator’s findings.”

Since the matter was sent to Human Resources for further investigation, witnesses have had to provide statements on the matter a second time, which has been a difficult ordeal, Verardo said. But to make matters worse, he said someone has since targeted those witnesses for further harassment.

On Oct. 1, employees found that on the cubicle nameplates of three of the witnesses, someone had wiped a clear “mineral oil” substance in the shape of a cross.

“Around 4:30 in the afternoon, I got a frantic call from our chief steward to please come up to OIA, because someone has put crosses on top of people’s nameplates,” Verardo said. “Sure enough, on three witnesses, who had just made witness statements for the ODI report, on the nameplates of their cubicles, someone had smeared with mineral oil the sign of the cross.”

That incident is also now under investigation, Verardo said, although he fears no one will be held accountable.

“You know, two years ago in a different part of the organization in the Education Directorate, we had several incidents [where] someone was writing crude sexual and racist comments on white boards,” he said. “Once again, it was the union that had to bring it to management, and there was some investigation, but no one was found to have done it . . . None of this shit ever gets addressed at NSF. This doesn’t just happen overnight, but it festers.”

In a statement, Amanda Hallberg Greenwell, head of NSF's Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, said the agency has “zero tolerance” for harassment.

“The National Science Foundation is conducting a thorough review of these allegations,” she said. “We cannot comment on specific personnel matters, but NSF has zero tolerance for harassment or discrimination of any kind, and is committed to maintaining a safe, productive work environment.”