Investigation finds Georgia veterans agency chief harassed workers
An investigation reveals that the now retired head of Georgia’s veterans agency sexually harassed his secretary, as part of a general pattern of demeaning behavior towards women and minorities.
The State Inspector General’s report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that Veterans Service Commissioner Mike Roby touched his secretary and forced her into uncomfortable hugs, while him applying “nicknames” as well as to other employees.
The investigation said Roby was also using racist nicknames for black and Latino workers, with one employee describing the workplace culture as “thick on the floor.”
Roby defended his behavior as innocent, telling investigators he was “a hug”. He retired after the investigation was completed earlier this fall.
The report cites several Department of Veterans Services officials who said they repeatedly warned Roby about his behavior.
“Roby’s conduct was derogatory, humiliating and intended to insult, embarrass, demean or humiliate (the secretary) because of her gender,” the report concludes, adding that he “knew or would have must have known that his conduct … was undesirable and offensive.
The investigation was necessary after Gov. Brian Kemp adopted new policies during his first week in office to prevent sexual harassment.
“From the start of his administration, Governor Kemp made it a priority for the state government to be a safe and welcoming place for employees,” Kemp spokeswoman Katie Byrd told the newspaper. âThe State’s Veterans Services Board worked closely with the OIG and the Attorney General’s Office to review the findings and move the agency forward so it can continue to reach and serve the heroes of our state. “
The newspaper previously reported that state agencies often did not respond effectively to harassment complaints.
Veterans Services Board President Patricia Ross is about to take over from the department, which helps veterans access government programs and benefits. Ross said Roby’s behavior was “very disturbing and unknown to the board,” but said the investigation shows the process is working.
Roby’s personal secretary, who had been hired earlier this year, filed the complaint in August, prompting the department’s board to put Roby on administrative leave.
The report revealed that Roby had called the secretary by nicknames, sometimes adding her last name to her name as if they were married. Soon after, Roby started hugging the secretary and demanding hugs in return. She described the hugs as unwanted and “scary”.
The secretary said she “felt like she didn’t have a chance to say no because he was her supervisor,” the report said.
Roby told the secretary that she might be called upon to stay late and work with him on her own. The report states that the secretary was “confused by the statement” because “the workload is light andâ¦ Roby does not appear to be busy”.
According to the report, Roby used racist language when referring to certain employees. A former employee whose family was from Cuba said Roby called him “any stereotypical Hispanic name” including Jose, “Rico Suave and” Latin Lover “and told others in front of him that he l ‘had hired in the parking lot of a home depot. Several witnesses testified that Roby called a group of black female employees “Kunta Kinte Mafia”.
In an email to the Inspector General’s office, Roby said he was “sorry this has come to this” and that he “never wanted something (sic) like this- ci happen (sic) “.
Roby, 68, worked for the veterans service for 27 years and was appointed commissioner in 2015. He had previously served 22 years in the military, becoming a sergeant major. Earlier this year, he was inducted into the Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame.
Roby will not suffer any further consequences as he retired before he could be sanctioned.
âOur hands were tied until we took any kind of action,â Ross said.