In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Massacre, John Adams – who would go on to help craft the Declaration of Independence and serve as our second US President, put his reputation in the cross-hairs by representing the British soldiers who had been accused of firing, unprovoked, into a crowd of colonists. His political and ideological advocacy was no secret.
248 years later, it would have been nice if The Washington Post had identified its preferred expert, former-assistant US attorney Kevin E. Byrnes – a partner at the Virginia law firm of Fluet, Huber, & Hoang, as not only a survivor of an abuse highlighted in the story but also a past litigant against one its main players.
In 2018, Peggy McGlone of The Washington Post penned an article titled, “Guards at National Gallery of Art Complain of Hostile Environment,” reporting on allegations of a chronic hostile work environment fostered by managers including sexual harassment, favoritism, discrimination, and retaliation. But while Ms. McGlone did, in fact, cover the majority of the story with vigor and accuracy, her editors should have suggested that she identify one of her quoted experts as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and a former litigant against the federal government in a wrongful termination suit.
In The Post article, McGlone writes:
“In 2017, gallery employees reported 17 incidents to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, of which five continued as formal complaints, according to Guthrie. Several employees told The Washington Post that they think the number would be higher but that supervisors discourage them from filing. ‘That’s possible,’ said employment attorney Kevin E. Byrnes, who represented a gallery worker in a lawsuit against Powell. Although not a federal employee, Powell was defended by an assistant US attorney, according to court documents.
“‘The government is supposed to be the model employer under EEO law, but the model is broken,’ said Byrnes, who emphasized the difficulty of winning these cases. ‘Current federal employment law, and the manner in which it is enforced, is both a steeplechase and a minefield. As an employee, you have to clear all the hurdles, and they have to clear one.’”
The Post’s delinquency in identifying Byrnes as a sexual abuse survivor and a former assistant US attorney omits both his motivation to work with those who suffered sexual harassment abuse at the hands of the National Gallery’s Office of Protection Services supervisors and his intimate experience with sexual harassment.
In 2018, Byrnes was one of several panelists to give testimony during an event at Georgetown University titled, “Confronting a Moral Catastrophe: Lay Leadership, Catholic Social Teaching, and the Sexual Abuse Crisis.” The event focused on the path forward for Catholics who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the clergy.
During his testimony, Byrnes labeled himself as “damaged goods” and “the broken one,” and shared his childhood experience of being repeatedly sexually abused by one of his parish priests starting at the tender age of eight.
Byrnes closed the Georgetown event by addressing the boilerplate response to the abuse scandal by the church hierarchy that some may be using the scandal as a pretext to purposely damage the whole of the Catholic faith by saying, “You told us we were liars and maybe, given that, I’m not sure you should survive as an institution.”
Given Byrnes’ willingness to come forward about his experience with sexual harassment, why wouldn’t The Post have mentioned his personal experience of the subject to qualify his opinion in part?
Then we have Byrnes’ intimate knowledge of how the US Department of Justice responds to accusations of “unreasonable discrimination” and managerial malfeasance.
In 2000, Mr. Byrnes served as an Assistant US Attorney for the Central District of Illinois, that is until September of that year when the US Department of Justice chose to terminate Byrnes’s employment. Byrnes, believing his termination was “unreasonable” and “discriminatory”, appealed the ruling to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which also held up the termination.
Byrnes filed suit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that both the MSPB and the DoJ executed an act of employment discrimination under Title VII and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which resulted in a settlement agreement that stipulated the government would identify and remove several documents pertaining to Byrnes’ termination from his personnel file, replacing them with documents that indicated Byrnes’ departure was a “voluntary resignation” rather than a “termination.”
The agreement also stipulated that the “adverse action” that had caused the initial 2002 decision by the MSPB would have “no force and effect.” But after almost a year, the DoJ and the MSPB had yet to abide by the agreement.
Byrnes readdressed the issue through litigation again but, again, failed to achieve relief. The court ruled that even though the MSPB and the DoJ agreed to replace the official designation of Byrnes’ departure as a voluntary resignation instead of a termination, the wording wasn’t pinpointed accurately in its legalese and thus the spirit of the agreement meant nothing.
Whether or not Mr. Byrnes deserved to be terminated for whatever reason is irrelevant. What is relevant to The Post’s story is that Byrnes is fully versed in how disingenuous the DoJ can be in pursuing a defense of their department and federal employees in good standing. Isn’t this knowledge and experience an important qualification to attribute to an expert in quoting him for a story about harassment, discrimination, and employer retaliation?
We exist in an era when journalists and media outlets place more importance on the emotional aspects of a story than on actually reporting the intimate details of why a story is important; the facts of a story. Qualifying those utilized as experts to any given story point provides authority to the matter and credits the journalist and the publication with the ethics of transparency.
The Post failed on both counts in omitting Byrnes’ first-hand relationships with the subjects of sexual harassment and battling the government over discrimination and the story about the harassment of the employees at the National Gallery suffers because of it.
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