Female Gillibrand aide resigned over handling of her sexual harassment complaint: report

A former staffer to Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandRules for first Democratic primary debates announced Juan Williams: Warren on the rise 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the first Democratic showdown MORE (D-N.Y.) reportedly resigned last summer in protest of Gillibrand's handling of her sexual harassment complaint against one of the senator's top aides.

Politico reported Monday that the unidentified female staffer said the older male aide repeatedly made unwanted advances and sexist comments about other women in the office.

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The accusations that her office mishandled a sexual harassment complaint could cast a shadow on Gillibrand, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who has been a vocal defender of sexual harassment victims and a leader in "Me Too"-related reform efforts on Capitol Hill.

According to Politico, the former staffer said in a letter to Gillibrand, her chief of staff and her general counsel that she filed a formal complaint alleging sexual harassment by Gillibrand’s special assistant, Abbas Malik, who worked as the senator’s driver and military adviser.

The staffer reportedly wrote that the investigation was quickly completed and that staffers handling it told her it “was a series of misinterpretations and too much of a ‘he said she said’ situation.”

In the letter, which Gillibrand or other staff never responded to, according to Politico, the woman wrote that she offered her resignation “because of how poorly the investigation and post-investigation was handled.”

“Your office chose to go against your public belief that women shouldn’t accept sexual harassment in any form and portrayed my experience as a misinterpretation instead of what it actually was: harassment and ultimately, intimidation,” she reportedly wrote in the letter.

Gillibrand defended her office’s handling of the situation in a statement to The Hill.

“As I have long said, when allegations are made in the workplace, we must believe women so that serious investigations can actually take place, we can learn the facts, and there can be appropriate accountability,” Gillibrand said. “That’s exactly what happened at every step of this case last year. I told her that we loved her at the time and the same is true today.”

A spokesperson for the senator said in a statement to The Hill that the office conducted a “full and thorough investigation” and found “employee misconduct that, while inappropriate, did not meet the standard for sexual harassment.” 

“Senator Gillibrand is committed to ensuring allegations are handled seriously, investigated, and followed by appropriate punishment, which is why she helped pass stronger sexual harassment protections in Congress and prioritizes proper harassment training to better prevent these occurrences and encourage future reporting,” the spokesperson said.

Gillibrand’s office also told Politico that the female staffer’s letter “contained clear inaccuracies and was a major departure from the sentiments she shared with senior staff in her final days in the office” and that the senator did not respond because the matter was “already settled.”

Malik was reportedly not fired after the original incident, but Gillibrand’s communications director told Politico that the office took “strong disciplinary action” against him due to “unprofessional behavior.” The female staffer who resigned noted in her letter to Gillibrand that Malik had been demoted.

Politico reported that he was dismissed from the senator's office this month after the news outlet, which reached out to more than 20 former Gillibrand staffers, found additional allegations of inappropriate misconduct, including making a rape joke, and presented them to her office.

The woman who resigned told Politico that she was “belittled” by Gillibrand’s office when she spoke up about the alleged harassment.

“[Gillibrand] kept a harasser on her staff until it proved politically untenable for her to do so,” she said in an interview.

The woman did not make any claims of physical harassment, according to Politico, but alleged Malik regularly made inappropriate comments and at least four unwanted advances. She added that the harassment began after Malik received a promotion that he said put him “in charge” of her position.

The former staffer said that she went to the congressional Office of Compliance to bring a complaint outside of the senator’s office, but “found it unhelpful,” according to Politico, and did not want to go through the required 30 days of mediation.

She ultimately resigned after she said Malik retaliated against her for filing the complaint by making her job more difficult, the news outlet noted.

Gillibrand has advocated for sweeping reforms in Capitol Hill’s handling of sexual harassment claims and has positioned herself as one of the Me Too movement’s strongest allies on Capitol Hill.

Last year, she faced criticism for being the first Democratic colleague to call for the resignation of then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who was facing multiple accusations of unwanted groping.

Malik did not respond to Politico’s request for comment.

Updated at 8:16 a.m.