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Air Force fires an EEO director for mishandling sexual assault, discrimination claims

388th Fighter Wing's F-35 elephant walk at Hill Air Force Base. (R. Nial Bradshaw/U.S. Air Force)
December 28, 2020

The director for the Equal Opportunity Office (EEO) at Hill Air Force Base in Utah has been removed from her position after three whistleblowers reported she improperly handled their complaints alleging sexual assault and discrimination.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) disclosed the EEO director’s removal in a notice last Tuesday. The OSC report did not identify the EEO director in question, but Air Force Times identified her as Lori K. Grimes, and a 2019 archived link to Hill Air Force Base’s equal opportunity office lists Grimes as an EEO director at the base.

An investigation by the Air Force’s Material Command Office of Inspector General substantiated the claims of the three whistleblowers, that the Air Force EEO director discouraged employees from filing claims, including telling one whistleblower that her sexual harassment claims against her supervisor “wouldn’t carry weight” and “wouldn’t go anywhere” when she initially tried to file her complaint. The whistleblower’s allegations in that case were later substantiated, despite the EEO director’s advice to the whistleblower.

The OSC report also found the now-removed EEO director illegally modified and rejected EEO complaints, gave employees misleading information about the EEO process, including illegally denying a whistleblower the right to remain anonymous. The EEO director also failed to disclose conflicts of interest during EEO mediation processes, including one instance where she allowed a senior official accused of wrongdoing in a whistleblower’s EEO filing to serve as the sole settlement authority for that whistleblower’s EEO mediation.

An initial investigation concluded in December of 2019, that the EEO director in question had been “merely negligent” in her actions, but found no abuse of authority or gross mismanagement at Hill AFB’s EEO office. The OSC subsequently reviewed the case and recommended the EEO director in question be removed from the base’s EEO office, and remaining EEO employees be retrained. According to a September 2020 letter, the Air Force Mobility Command’s director of manpower, personnel and services reviewed the recommendation to remove the EEO director and found it appropriate.

The OSC notified President Donald Trump and Congress of the EEO director’s removal.

“I commend the whistleblowers for bravely coming forward to identify the violations of law, gross mismanagement, and abuses of authority at Hill Air Force Base,” said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “Sexual harassment and discrimination cannot be tolerated on American military bases, and whistleblowers who come forward deserve fair treatment and due process. While this case exposed numerous legal violations and other egregious conduct, I am encouraged that the agency is taking steps to restore the integrity of its EEO process.”

The OSC’s report on the removal action against the Hill AFB EEO director comes as the U.S. military has given added scrutiny to other issues of sexual harrassment in recent months.

In November, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, known as SHARP, “hasn’t achieved its mandate to eliminate sexual assaults and sexual harassment” and “it is abundantly clear, we must do better.” Weeks later, 14 leaders at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas were relieved or otherwise suspended after an independent review of the base’s command climate found a base culture that was “permissive of sexual harassment and sexual assault.”