A former aide to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has argued publicly for reforms to fight sexual misconduct in Congress and the military, has accused Gillibrand’s office of neglecting her complaint about harassment by an older male aide, Politico reported Monday. The female aide resigned in protest from her position when Gillibrand’s office failed to punish the more senior aide in a way she thought appropriate.
According to Politico, the aide, an unnamed woman in her mid-20s, has said she was repeatedly harassed over the summer by a staffer with a close personal relationship to Gillibrand. The staffer, Abbas Malik, allegedly made repeated sexually suggestive comments to the female aide and made misogynistic and sometimes cruel comments about other female colleagues or job applicants. After an internal investigation by the office, Malik was demoted but not fired, according to Politico.
Politico also reported that several former staffers who were not contacted during the internal investigation have said they remembered Malik making inappropriate comments—including a joke once that one woman “couldn’t get laid unless she was raped”— and rated the attractiveness of women who came in for interviews. After Politico reached Gillibrand’s office for comment, Malik was fired.
The female aide has accused Gillibrand’s office of being defensive of the accused staffer—a stance that differs from the senator’s public comments pushing for protections for victims. Gillibrand’s office has said it took the claims seriously, consulted with Senate lawyers, and punished Malik for inappropriate comments by revoking a planned promotion after finding through “a full and thorough investigation into the evidence” that “allegations did not meet the standard of sexual harassment.”
The woman said she had been told that her allegations amounted to a “misinterpretation” and that the case came down to a “he said, she said” situation. “Your office chose to go against your public belief that women shouldn’t accept sexual harassment in any form and portrayed my experience as a misinterpretation instead of what it actually was: harassment and ultimately, intimidation,” the woman wrote in an email to Gillibrand after offering her resignation.
Gillibrand, who is running for president, said in a statement that her office had handled the claim appropriately. “As I have long said, when allegations are made in the workplace, we must believe women so that serious investigations can actually take place, we can learn the facts, and there can be appropriate accountability,” she said. “That’s exactly what happened at every step of this case last year. I told her that we loved her at the time and the same is true today.”