December 6, 2022

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Armed Forces Retirement Home’s chief operating officer sexually harassed employees, IG finds

The previous chief working officer of the Armed Forces Retirement House sexually harassed a few employees and retaliated from a person staff when she rejected his sexual developments, according to a report from the Department of Protection inspector general.

James M. Branham resigned from his place as the No. 2 formal at the Protection Department’s Armed Forces Retirement Residence Nov. 9, 2021, according to the report, released Wednesday. A new COO was appointed in December.

“We discover his habits specially egregious given his placement as the AFRH COO and the authority he held above the subordinate feminine personnel,” the investigators wrote.

Officers at the Armed Forces Retirement Household declined to comment on whether or not any authorized action will be pursued against Branham, citing policy. The DoD investigators said they will forward their report to Washington Headquarters Expert services for inclusion in Branham’s staff file.

The headquarters is a DoD field exercise that provide administrative and management assistance to several DoD factors and military departments in the National Money Area.

“I commend the a few employees who cooperated in this investigation and noted what was going on to them,” stated Armed Forces Retirement House CEO Stephen T. Rippe in an email to Military services Instances. “No one particular really should be harassed in the workplace — at any time. This circumstance is especially troubling due to the fact it included the Home’s management. Our workers and inhabitants should expect the extremely best from their leaders, who should really keep on their own to the maximum probable standard.

“As this report tends to make very clear, that did not take place in this circumstance and I stand firmly by the report’s conclusion.” He observed that “despite this failure of leadership by an particular person, the report did not fault the Home’s polices and processes nor supply any recommendations for improvement.”

Branham could not be achieved for comment.

“Mr. Branham’s actions established an scary, hostile and offensive perform setting that manufactured these feminine personnel awkward or brought about them distress,” the DoD IG report stated. They also identified that he created reprisals in opposition to one particular of the workers, managing her in different ways from other individuals when it arrived to quarantining and becoming permitted to telework through the very first months of the pandemic.

Branham, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, began as COO at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in February 2018, in the midst of economical turmoil at AFRH. The prior COO was fired in September, 2017 by a DoD official who cited his unwillingness to shore up the funds of the agency’s two properties.

AFRH is open mainly to selected retired and previous enlisted associates and their spouses, with campuses in Washington, D.C., and Gulfport, Mississippi. Branham worked at the Washington campus.

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In addition to residents’ service fees, profits sharing and leasing agreements, donors and the AFRH trust fund, the homes depends on the 50- -a-thirty day period paycheck deduction from lively-obligation enlisted customers and the revenue from fines imposed on enlisted customers for disciplinary violations.

The DoD hotline acquired a criticism in opposition to Branham Aug. 15, 2020, alleging he had sexually harassed subordinate female employees and took reprisal actions against a single of the employees because she rejected his sexual advances. Following initiating the investigation on Nov. 10, 2020, the inspector normal reviewed a lot more than 200,000 DoD information, including email messages and connected files and photographs, and interviewed the man or woman who filed the complaint as properly as 8 other staff members.

The investigators produced no tips with regards to any solutions for the employee who suffered reprisals — determined as Employee 2 — due to the fact she has still left the group for yet another whole-time place somewhere else.

Branham started dating one of his subordinates in 2019, discovered as Personnel 1, immediately after he asked her to meal. Investigators reviewed quite a few emails involving she and Branham, who used his formal authorities email. They also located five images that Branham forwarded from his personalized electronic mail account to his govt e mail account that appeared to be that worker “in numerous states of dress or undress.”

Investigators’ analysis confirmed that Branham sent the images from his cellular cell phone to his authorities e-mail handle “within minutes or hours of sending highly sexually express emails” to the employee. They ended their relationship in March 2020, at the commencing of the COVID-19 pandemic. Worker 1 told investigators that soon after the physical connection ended, she felt their personalized and professional romance was “awkward” and “weird” since of the former physical romantic relationship.

Branham declined to be interviewed by investigators, but in his response to their preliminary conclusions, he agreed that he experienced engaged in an inappropriate marriage with the staff, but disagreed with some of their conclusions, according to the report.

“Mr. Branham considered that his romance with Employee 1 was consensual and did not represent sexual harassment. We disagree,” the investigators wrote. “Mr. Branham initiated, pursued and engaged in an intimate romance with a subordinate employee. The subordinate personnel told us that she felt uncomfortable and uncomfortable and did not believe she could say no.”

The worker described that partnership with Branham as inappropriate and incorrect, they said.

Branham also agreed that his composed communications to a 2nd and third worker were “unprofessional and regretted that the communications designed these staff members really feel awkward,” and that he should not have penned the comments, in accordance to the report.

The investigators stood by their original conclusions. “Mr. Branham’s all round course of conduct interfered with the individual general performance of subordinate female workers inside of his business and established an daunting, hostile and offensive get the job done setting that built these female staff members not comfortable or caused them distress,” they wrote.

The lady recognized as Staff 2 advised investigators she continuously rebuffed or dismissed Branham’s sexual harassment, in incidents involving August 2018 and March 2020. That involved shrugging his palms off her shoulders multiple moments when he attempted to massage her. Despite the fact that Branham explained to investigators that her physical gestures rejecting his sexual developments “could not represent a disclosure to him that he had engaged in an abuse of authority,” he is incorrect, they mentioned.

That employee alleged that Branham took 4 staff steps towards her in reprisal, and investigators agreed with a few of her allegations. People allegations associated him refusing to allow for her to isolate and quarantine by teleworking, after exhibiting COVID-19 signs and symptoms or managing COVID-19 publicity in incidents in April, July and August 2020.

The investigators observed that in a number of comparable circumstances, other staff were being handled in another way. Branham himself self-quarantined and teleworked.

The employee was suitable for telework, and her task was not necessary to the operating of the AFRH household care services, investigators located. “Branham sexually harassed Personnel 2 frequently during her time, and treated her in a different way than other telework-suitable workers when it came to teleworking during the pandemic,” they wrote.

The investigators interviewed 6 other workforce at Armed Forces Retirement Home 5 of whom had recurrent contact with Branham.

Four of the six workforce reported the allegations stunned them. An additional personnel reported the allegations were being “hard to imagine,” and the sixth employee named the allegations “preposterous.” Some of the personnel reported they read Branham convey to jokes or make humorous feedback, but none listened to him explain to a joke that contained sexual innuendo.