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When Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office set out to discipline criminal division director Pat Magee over allegations of sexual harassment, it issued him a letter that said his behavior made others uncomfortable, but that his actions were “believed to have been joking in nature.”
But the sexual harassment training that all Louisiana state employees — including Landry and Magee — must take each year says that “joking” is no defense against a claim of sexual harassment.
It’s unclear to what extent Landry’s office relied on Magee’s claim that he was “joking” in the investigation the office commissioned from Baton Rouge law firm Taylor Porter. So far, Landry’s office has refused to release the results of that probe to the public, although the office has promised to release a partially redacted version soon.
According to the letter sent to Magee and made public by Landry, the investigation found that Magee has acted improperly but that his actions did not rise to the level of sexual harassment. But neither of the two office employees who filed written sexual harassment complaints against Magee believed Magee’s comments to be meant in jest. Even if they were offered in the spirit of humor, state sexual harassment training says it shouldn’t matter.
“A common excuse for those accused of sexual harassment is simply to dismiss their actions as playfulness or joking around,” says one of the state’s sexual harassment training videos reviewed by The Advocate | The Times-Picayune. “This common excuse for inappropriate behavior provides little in the way of a defense against sexual harassment allegations.”
In a letter to staff Monday, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry defended his handling of sexual harassment complaints against one of his t…
The training goes on to include a “true” or “false” question that asks: “it is not sexual harassment if the harasser was just joking.”
The correct answer is “false.”
Both Magee and Landry were up-to-date on their training, according to records from Louisiana State Civil Service. Magee completed “preventing sexual harassment” and “preventing sexual harassment for supervisors” courses on Jan. 21 and Jan. 22 of this year — the same week he returned to the office after his sexual harassment investigation.
Magee initially had his pay docked by about $20,000 and was ordered to undergo a number of training seminars. But he resigned a little over a month later as the initial complaint against him became public, and the second one, filed by a former subordinate, arrived at the Attorney General’s Office.
Landry’s office did not respond to questions about how it determined that Magee's comments were made in jest.
This year, Landry completed “preventing sexual harassment for supervisors” on Feb. 4. The next day, Landry he a lawsuit against a reporter for The Advocate | The Times-Picayune who had requested copies of the complaints filed against Magee and records of how Landry handled them.
A top aide in the Louisiana Attorney General's Office who was the subject of a sexual harassment complaint has submitted his resignation effec…
A month later, Landry lost his bid to keep those records sealed, and the details of the complaint emerged. It alleged that Magee had sexually harassed at least five women in his office, either by making demeaning remarks to them directly or by saying inappropriate things about them to other employees.
Magee resigned a few days later, after a former employee filed a second complaint against him and this newspaper was preparing to publish a story.
In Magee’s resignation letter, he denied that he committed or condoned sexual harassment. Landry has also defended his handling of the complaints against Magee.
"First and foremost, sexual harassment is wrong and it will not be tolerated in this office," Landry wrote in a recent letter to employees. "It does not matter your division, your job title, or your length of service; if you (are) found to be engaging in this type (of) conduct you will no longer be employed. Actions have consequences, and no one is above reproach."
But the complaints against Magee describe textbook examples of the type of sexual harassment the state-mandated training warns about. It’s still unclear — in part because the documents haven’t been made public — how Landry’s investigation determined that Magee did not sexually harass anyone.
The state training tells employees that sexual harassment can be more than a quid pro quo where an employee demands sex in exchange for someone keeping their job or receiving a promotion. The training says “hostile work environment sexual harassment” occurs when employees are no longer able to do their jobs properly because of intimidation or offensive behavior.
A sexual harassment complaint against a top aide for Attorney General Jeff Landry alleges that Pat Magee insisted that one woman should be dep…
The complaint filed March 9 alleges Magee committed that second type of harassment.
“The training(s) teach us that comments meant to be a ‘joke’ are not immune from being classified as sexual harassment — they should never be made to begin with,” that complaint says. “However, on a more practical note, in order for a comment to be considered ‘joking in nature,’ there must be an established relationship and rapport between the speaker and the receiver of the said ‘joke.’”
“Director Magee never made any attempts to establish a relationship with his subordinate employees, explain his apparently bizarre sense of humor, and no one who received or overheard any of these statements took them as a ‘joke,’” the complaint continued.
The state training says whether certain words or actions constitute “harassment” depends on how employees on the receiving end of them view them. In one example, the state training says that an employee hanging a calendar featuring shirtless firefighters could constitute sexual harassment if it makes other employees uncomfortable.
“Perception is the key component in how your words are received by others,” the training states. “In most court cases, the decisions have favored the victims, finding the way they perceive the jokes or offensive language is the standard, rather than the intent of the person using the language.”
The training also tells employees that if they are the subject of a sexual harassment complaint, they should never directly confront the accuser; instead, they should wait for the investigation to play out.
A Baton Rouge judge has ordered Attorney General Jeff Landry to release public records related to a sexual harassment investigation of one of …
“You should never approach the accuser in an attempt to explain your actions, or worse yet, ask them to reconsider pursuing the claim,” the training states.
But that’s exactly what the Nov. 20 complaint against Magee alleged he did. According to the complaint, an employee who had spoken up said Magee almost immediately confronted her.
“He proceeded to swear her to secrecy and then tried to get her to say that she was not offended by his comments regarding being replaced by someone who is more attractive than she was and that she was not currently as pretty as she was in law school at age 20,” the Nov. 20 complaint states. “She also stated how Pat remarked about how he liked the pants she was wearing yesterday.”
The training also teaches employees that sexual harassment can come in the form of “gender stereotyping.” It warns employees that pigeonholing employees into certain job duties based on their gender can be a form of discrimination. Among the examples the training offers: someone describing a female employee as “too girly to be a bus driver.”
The March 9 complaint against Magee describes him taking precisely those sorts of actions. The attorney who submitted it said she resigned from the Attorney General’s office in 2019 because of Magee’s fixation on certain duties being “good for women,” like writing briefs and researching cases. Magee preferred to assign men to cases involving serious crimes, the woman wrote.
“I certainly didn’t think that the comments made to me about jobs that were appropriate for women was a joke, that was confirmed to me by the types of jobs I was able to pursue,” the woman said.
Vicki Crochet, the Taylor Porter attorney who performed the investigation into Magee, billed $6,497 for her work, according to her billing records. Those records say Crochet interviewed witnesses in December and finalized her report in January, long before the second complaint against Magee was filed.
The billing records do not reveal how many employees Crochet interviewed, though some have raised questions about the narrow scope of the investigation. She billed for 20.5 hours of work.
“It is obvious that the investigation was not thorough, and that little to no effort was made to contact current or former employees to verify the allegations or share additional experiences or concerns,” wrote the woman who submitted the March 9 complaint.
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