Exclusive: Family Research Council Hushes Up Sex Scandal
By EVAN GAHR
Exclusive: The Family Research Council has quietly settled, quite possibly for money, a lawsuit brought by a woman who they fired after she complained about sexual harassment by her supervisor. He allegedly pressured her to attend parties and frequently opined that young women who use birth control pills are "whoring around."
How can Republicans and conservative media personalities plausibly argue that there is no GOP war on women when the Family Research Council, which is so closely tied to the Republican Party, recently settled a federal lawsuit by someone they dismissed after she had the temerity to take exception to millions of sexually active women being called whores?
Another embarrassment: after the Family Research Council dismissed Moira Gaul she unsuccessfully sought employment with three different GOP bigwigs, including John Boehner.
In any event, it is well to note that Herman Cain's ascendant battle for the GOP presidential nomination quickly imploded after news broke that his employer settled sexual harassment complaints against him.
Should the Family Research Council face similar opprobrium?
The settlement, which has not been reported anywhere, ends a more than four year legal odyssey for Gaul, a longtime conservative activist, who had thrived at the Family Research Council until she allegedly suffered sexual harassment.
The Family Research Council hired Gaul in March 2005 as an abstinence coordinator. She was later promoted to Director of Women's and Reproductive Health. Although her main focus was abstinence education Gaul was frequently quoted by the media about abortion and the HPV vaccination for young girls, which the Family Research Council and most other social conservatives strongly oppose.
According to Gaul, a prominent anti-abortion lawyer named Bill Saunders was harassing her even before he became her direct supervisor in early 2007. The harassment then "escalated," Gaul alleged.
An internal FRC memo, which I found after going through hundreds of pages of court documents, says that Gaul complained to the Family Research Council in 2007 that Saunders was "verbally abusive" towards her.
The June 2, 2008 memo from FRC Vice President for Policy Peter Sprigg to the HR department says that the FRC "disciplined" Saunders after Gaul complained about him.
But much to her chagrin, Gaul was forced to continue to report to him.
In January 2009, Gaul filed a gender discrimination complaint--you can not file for sexual harassment--with the District of Columbia Human Rights Commission in January 2009.
In that complaint, which I obtained by going through hundreds of pages of court documents,Ý Gaul says that the Family Research Council's Director of the Center for Human Life and Bioethics "pressured me to attend parties," senther mails addressed "hi cutie" and "referred to the use of birth control pills by young women asëwhoring around.'" In general, "his attitude towards me and other women was rude, belittling and at times angry."
According to multiple news accounts, the Director of the Center for Human Life and Bioethics during the time that the sexual harassment was alleged to take place was Bill Saunders
Saunders did not respond to repeated emails.
Gaul's lawsuit claimed that the Family Research Council quickly retaliated against Gaul after she filed a complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights about him.
In January 2009, Gaul who had a number of health problems that the Family Research Council previously had gone out of its way to accommodate was forced to go on short term disability leave.
"The Family Research Council's Vice President of Administration assured her that her health insurance would continue through her short-term disability leave," the lawsuit says.
But following her complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights "FRC'sVice President of Administration informed Gaul that the Family Research Councilwas retroactively canceling her health insurance for the period she was on short term disability."
When she returned to the work and the Family Research Council failed to give her health insurance against Gaul, desperate for coverage,"contacted various members of management and Human Resources for help."
A top FRC official then "threatened to issue another reprimand for insubordination if she attempted to raise the issue of her health insurance again."
Gaul has previously received two excellent reviews at the FRC and no reprimands. But after she filed the complaint the FRC hit her with three reprimands. One concerned turning in a time sheet late; the second was about missing a radio interview due to a miscommunication and a third was for insubordination.
Her sexual harassment complaint was settled on July 31, 2009 but the hostility continued, the lawsuit says.
Finally,on October 23, 2009, the Family Research Council fired Gaul.
According to her lawsuit, the stated reason was a "reduction in federal funding to the abstinence movement" and the need for a person in the position "with a background in a variety of ëlife issue' areas beyond abstinence, which [FRC] claimed that Ms. Gaul did not have "
(Wow! Who knew that the Family Research Council, scourge of big government, was actually on the federal dole?)
On July 26, 2011, Gaul filed a federal lawsuit against the Family Research Council, alleging illegal retaliation under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
This website of the lawsuit. It was then picked up by the Huffington Post,Ý TalkingPointsMemo, Wonkette, ThinkProgress and the Washington Blade.
The lawsuit says the stated rationales for Gaul's dismissal were really just excuses for retaliation. There was funding available and Gaul had experience in many areas beyond abstinence.
"Federal funding for abstinence education continued after Ms. Gaul was terminated, and, three months after her termination, the FRC created a new position with duties substantially similar to those previously performed by Ms. Gaul."
In its motion for summary judgment the FRC asserted that Gaul had no right to claim retaliation based on the complaint because on her sexual harassment complaint because it was settled and therefore legally moot. "Plaintiff can not show that her position was eliminated in response to any protected activity she engaged in or that the Defendant exhibited unlawful or otherwise prohibited behavior."
In other words, the Family Research Council wanted to pretend like the sexual harassment never happened.
In May 2013, both sides had mediation with Federal Magistrate Judge Alan Kay in Washington, DC. The case was settled on July 25, 2013. It is impossible to tell from the publicly available documents about the settlement what the terms were.
But several employment lawyers interviewed all said they believed it was very likely the Family Research Council paid to settle the case.
Rich Cohen, an employment lawyer, told this reporter that, "It would appear to me there is a very strong possibility money was paid" to settle the case.
Cohen, who exclusively represents employers, says cases like this lawsuit, with its extended legal wrangling and an unsuccessful attempt by the defendant to obtain a summary judgment in its favor, are often settled for money.
He says another reason to believe that there was a monetary settlement is that the case was settled shortly after both sides had mediation before a federal magistrate. "That would militate in favor of the conclusion that the mediator was able to broker a deal."
It certainly sounds from Gaul's reaction to the settlement that the Family Research Council paid money to make its sex scandal go away.
Jeffrey Landis, the lawyer for Gaul, told this reporter that "Ms. Gaul is very pleased and satisfied with the outcome."
According to her legal papers Gaul tried dozens of times to find work with conservative organizations but was unsuccessful.
Besides John Boehner, Senator Saxby Chambliss and House Republican Deputy Whip Kevin Brady, she was turned away by Concerned Women for America, a Christian Right mainstay, Americans United for Life, and the American Life League.
Landis says that Gaul finally obtained full employment in December 2012. But he refuses to say where she works or if her employer is a conservative organization.
Bill Hickey, the lawyer for the Family Research Council, did not respond to repeated emails.
Meanwhile, Gaul's supervisor, Bill Saunders who had worked at the FRC for years left the organization shortly after Gaul filed a complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights in about him.
He decamped to the Americans United for Life, which is tied to prominent conservative thinkers in the country, such as Weekly Standard contributing editor Yuval Levin, a leading Republican Party intellectual.
When I asked Levin about Saunders he hung up on me.
Americans United for Life head Charmaine Yoest did not respond to repeated requests for comment about Saunders. Or his apparent belief that sexually active young women are whores.
Although, it's well to note that many anti-abortion activists oppose birth control
But if party leaders do not want people to think Republicans are waging "a war on women," maybe it's not particularly prudent to have one of your constituent organizations employ someone who allegedly staged his own personal insurrection at his last job?
This whole spectacle is profoundly embarrassing to Republicans and their acolytes among conservative intellectuals.
Last September, the conservative Independent Women's Forum, which is about as independent of the Republican Party as Pravda was of the Kremlin, sponsored a conference with National Review intended to show the War on Women is a liberal myth concocted by biased reporters in cahoots with a coven of Democrats and feminists.
I signed up to attend the conference, which was open to the public, and received an automated confirmation. But I was barred from the conference after I told IWF executive director Sabrina Schaeffer, a former spokeswoman for Republican Jewish Coalition, that I wanted to ask about the FRC lawsuit.
National Review publisher Jack Fowler told me that my questions would interfere with the conference's "agenda."
The settlement of the lawsuit by the Family Research Council, a major Republican party power brokeróGOP presidential candidates always flock to the FRC's annual Washington conference to seek the group's benedictionóis an embarrassment to Republicans and for good reason could impede their efforts to make inroads among female voters.
Evan Gahr, a former press critic for the late New York Post editorial page editor Eric Breindel, recently broke the story of a race discrimination lawsuit against the Washington Post. ÝHe has written for almost every major conservative publication.