As a strange prelude to Sexual Violence Awareness month (April), Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) apologized for continuing to keep one of her top aides employed for three months, even though she knew he had been accused of sexual abuse. Though she had at first said that she would not be resigning, Elizabeth Esty now says that she will not run for re-election when her term ends.
Even more incongruous than the timing of this revelation is the fact that Elizabeth Esty has been a vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement. She is the first female federal legislator during the #MeToo era to step down after a sexual misconduct scandal in her office was discovered.
Elizabeth Esty apologized on Monday to her constituents on Facebook: “Too many women have been harmed by harassment in the workplace. In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better…To the survivor, I want to express my strongest apology for letting you down. In Congress, and workplaces across the country, we need stronger workplace protections and to provide employees with a platform to raise concerns, address problems, and work to reduce and eliminate such occurrences, in the first place. In my final months in Congress, I will use my power to fight for action and meaningful change.”
One of Elizabeth Esty’s senior aides, Anna Kain, had accused Esty’s former chief of staff, Tony Baker, of sexually harassing her. Kain had dated Baker in 2013. In 2014, both were promoted, and Kain became Baker’s subordinate. During the time that Kain reported to Baker, Kain alleges verbal and physical abuse, including being punched in the back while at work. Kain eventually left Elizabeth Esty’s office for a consulting job.
On an evening in 2016, after a reunion party for former and current Elizabeth Esty staff, the Connecticut post reports that Baker called Anna Kain’s cell phone more than 50 times. During one of the calls, he left a voice message saying, “You better f—–g reply to me or I will f—–g kill you,” reports the Washington Post. This voice mail is what alerted Elizabeth Esty to the Baker’s behavior.
Tony Baker’s behavior and message bring to mind the workplace harassment videos that some people are required to watch when they start a new job. The sometimes cheesy dramatizations of someone leaving a threatening voice message for a co-worker end with instructions to contact the supportive workplace department or person if such a thing happens.
Yet, Elizabeth Esty learned of the phone calls and the threatening message the day after they occurred, and did nothing for months. She waited two months to start an investigation of Baker, and Baker stayed on Elizabeth Esty’s payroll one more month after that. When Baker left, the Washington Post reports, he received severance pay, and a job recommendation.
Though Elizabeth Esty now apologizes for not taking immediate action when she learned of Baker’s harassment and threats, it seems too little too late. It’s not hard to proclaim, “Me Too,” or “I’m with you,” or to wear a black evening gown to an entertainment awards show to demonstrate your support – as long as it’s convenient. Women who have suffered harassment and abuse in the workplace are often afraid to speak up and rock the boat. But when the woman in charge, the woman with the power to do something about it, like Elizabeth Esty, doesn’t act to protect them, “Me Too” doesn’t align her with the victims – it aligns her with the perpetrators.
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