Judicial Conference Receives Status Report on Workplace Conduct Review
Nearly 20 reforms and improvements have been implemented or are under development to help address workplace conduct concerns in the federal judiciary, James C. Duff, Chair of the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group, reported today at the biannual meeting of the Judicial Conference.
In introducing Duff before he delivered his report, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., who is the Conference's presiding officer, told the group, "I would like to reiterate what I stated in my year-end report. I have great confidence in the men and women who comprise the federal judiciary. I am sure that the overwhelming number have no tolerance for harassment and share the view that victims must have a clear and immediate recourse to effective remedies. The Work of this group will help our branch take the necessary steps to ensure an exemplary workplace for every court employee."
Duff, who is Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, by statute also serves as the Secretary to the Judicial Conference.
“Any harassment in the judiciary is too much,” Duff said in his report to the Conference. He told the Conference that the Working Group hopes to simplify and develop additional options, at both the national and local levels, for employees to seek assistance with workplace conduct matters.
Duff reported that the Working Group has held two meetings since its formation in January, and will meet again in early April. Representatives of current and former law clerks and a cross-section of current judiciary employees met with the Working Group at its most recent meeting and had what Duff described as "an informative and productive discussion."
The Working Group also is receiving input via a mailbox on uscourts.gov, through which current and former judiciary employees can submit comments relating to the policies and procedures for protecting all judiciary employees from inappropriate workplace conduct. Similarly, the Working Group has reached out to more than 250 current employees who serve on various groups and councils.
Duff wrote to Senators Charles Grassley, Chair, and Diane Feinstein, Ranking Member, of the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 8, 2018, and February 16, 2018, to provide them status reports on the Working Group and an in-depth explanation of the employee dispute and judicial conduct resolution procedures.
In addition, some circuits and districts have established similar initiatives, and the Working Group is coordinating closely with them.
All final recommendations will be made public. Some will be shared in the course of the Group's review. Others will be announced after the Judicial Conference considers and acts on them. It is anticipated that the Working Group will submit its report in May 2018.
The following either have been accomplished or are in progress:
- Provided a session on sexual harassment during the ethics training for newly appointed judges in February.
- Established an online mailbox and several other avenues and opportunities for current and former judiciary employees to comment on policies and procedures for protecting and reporting workplace misconduct.
- Added instructive in-person programs on judiciary workforce policies and procedures and workplace sexual harassment to the curricula at Federal Judicial Center programs for chief district and chief bankruptcy judges this spring and upcoming circuit judicial conferences throughout the country this spring and summer.
- Removed the model confidentiality statement from the judiciary’s internal website to revise it to eliminate any ambiguous language that could unintentionally discourage law clerks or other employees from reporting sexual harassment or other workplace misconduct.
- Improve law clerk and employee orientations with increased training on workplace conduct rights, responsibilities, and recourse that will be administered in addition to, as well as separately from, other materials given in orientations.
- Provide “one click” website access to obtain information and reporting mechanisms for both Employment Dispute Resolution (EDR) and Judicial Conduct and Disability Act (JC&D) claims for misconduct.
- Create alternative and less formalized options for seeking assistance with concerns about workplace misconduct, both at the local level and in a national, centralized office at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, to enable employees to raise concerns more easily.
- Provide a simplified flowchart of the processes available under the EDR and JC&D.
- Create and encourage a process for court employee/law clerk exit interviews to determine if there are issues and suggestions to assist court units in identifying potential misconduct issues.
- Establish a process for former law clerks and employees to communicate with and obtain advice from relevant offices and committees of the judiciary.
- Continue to examine and clarify the Codes of Conduct for judges and employees.
- Improve communications with EDR and JC&D complainants during and after the claims process.
- Revise the Model EDR Plan to provide greater clarity to employees about how to navigate the EDR process.
- Establish qualifications and expand training for EDR Coordinators.
- Lengthen the time allowed to file EDR complaints.
- Integrate sexual harassment training into existing judiciary programs on discrimination and courtroom practices.
- Review the confidentiality provisions in several employee/law clerk handbooks to revise them to clarify that nothing in the provisions prevents the filing of a complaint.
- Identify specifically the data that the judiciary collects about judicial misconduct complaints to add a category for any complaints filed relating to sexual misconduct. The data shows that of the 1,303 misconduct complaints filed in fiscal year 2016, more than 1,200 were filed by dissatisfied litigants and prison inmates. No complaints were filed by law clerks or judiciary employees and no misconduct complaints related to sexual harassment.
The 26-member Judicial Conference is the policy-making body for the federal court system. By statute, the Chief Justice of the United States serves as its presiding officer and its members are the chief judges of the 13 courts of appeals, a district judge from each of the 12 geographic circuits, and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade. The Conference meets twice a year to consider administrative and policy issues affecting the court system, and to make recommendations to Congress concerning legislation involving the Judicial Branch.