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Aide to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand quit over "poor" handling of her sexual harassment complaint, report says

The woman said Gillibrand’s office failed to interview two other former employees who could corroborate her allegations

by Emma Ockerman
Mar 11 2019, 3:01pm

A female aide to New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — the stalwart, public supporter of sexual harassment victims and a 2020 presidential candidate — reportedly quit last summer over the handling of her complaints of sexual harassment by a colleague.

The woman, who wasn’t named in a Politico report on the allegations, said Abbas Malik, Gillibrand’s military adviser and driver, made inappropriate advances toward her and made sexist remarks about other women working with him.

Malik has worked with Gillibrand for several years, and Gillibrand officiated his wedding. He was dismissed from the office last week, according to Politico.

The woman complained to her superiors about Malik’s alleged behavior. She resigned less than three weeks later due to what she characterized as a “poor” handling of her claims in an email to Jess Fassler, the chief of staff for Gillibrand, Keith Castaldo, the general counsel, and Gillibrand herself. Additional former employees contacted by Politico also alleged Malik joked about sexual assault and made crude comments.

“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 the email obtained by Politico. The woman alleged that Gillibrand’s office failed to interview two other former employees who could corroborate her allegations, fast-tracked the investigation, and said she was told her allegations amounted to a “misinterpretation.”

“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,” Gillibrand, a Democrat, said in a statement to Politico. “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.”

At the time of her complaint, Malik was up for a promotion in Gillibrand’s office, according to Politico. He allegedly asked the woman if “it would have happened for us” if they met in a bar, and prodded her about whether she was flirting with him, outside of other comments he had made about the appearances of female colleagues, the woman alleged. The allegations were investigated internally, which is common among congressional offices — but that’s a process Gillibrand herself has derided as unfair to the accuser. Mailk lost his promotion but stayed with the office.

After Malik lost the demotion, the woman alleged that she was belittled by her superiors and told she had also committed fireable offenses for once offering Malik alcohol while he was on the job.

Gillibrand is one of the fiercest supporters of the #MeToo movement in Congress. She was the first senator to call on Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat, to resign after accusations of sexual misconduct.

Cover: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, listens as the panel holds a hearing about prevention and response to sexual assault in the military, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., recounted her own experience while serving as a colonel in the Air Force. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)