In a little noticed development, a former high-level official with the anti-gay Family Research Council has accused the group in a lawsuit of firing her in retaliation for complaining that her supervisor subjected her to sexual harassment.
News of the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in July 2011, was first reported last week by conservative journalist and commentator Evan Gahr in his blog Chimpstein.com.
Moira Gaul, who at the time of her dismissal served as the FRC’s Director of Women’s and Reproductive Health, charges in the lawsuit that the retaliation began in January 2009 after she filed a gender discrimination complaint before the D.C. Office of Human Rights against the supervisor.
The complaint says the supervisor, who is identified only as the director of FRC’s Center for Human Life and Bioethics, engaged in “inappropriate behavior” toward Gaul since he became her supervisor in March 2007.
“Examples of his behavior include, but are not limited to pressuring me to attend parties, referring to me as a ‘young, attractive woman,’ and emailing me ‘hi cutie,’” Gaul states in the OHR complaint.
“He also referred to the use of birth control pills by young women as ‘whoring around.’ His attitude toward me and other women was rude, belittling, and at times angry,” she said in the OHR complaint.
William J. Hickey, the lead attorney representing FRC in the lawsuit, did not respond to a request by the Washington Blade for comment. The FRC’s vice president for communications, J.P. Duffy, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Gaul’s attorney, Shannon L. Stokes, said neither she nor Gaul would comment on the case at the present time.
In a Sept. 2, 2011 court brief or “answer” to the lawsuit on FRC’s behalf, Hickey said FRC denies Gaul’s allegations that it engaged in discrimination or retaliation against her.
Hickey’s brief also says the lawsuit “fails to state a cause of action against defendant and should be dismissed.”
In a November motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the case, Hickey argues that Gaul dropped her gender discrimination case before the Office of Human Rights after a settlement was reached several months after she filed the complaint. He asserts in the motion that she and her attorneys could not raise allegations made in that complaint if her lawsuit goes to trial.
Although the attorneys on both sides have so far refused to discuss the matter with the media, Hickey appears to be referring to a decision by U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates granting an FRC motion for a “protective order” that places a “seal” on information and evidence related to Gaul’s OHR complaint about gender discrimination and allegations of sexual harassment by her supervisor.
Gahr, who broke the story on the lawsuit, reported that multiple media reports show that prominent anti-abortion attorney William L. “Bill” Saunders served as director of FRC’s Center for Human Life and Bioethics during the period Gaul alleges she was subject to sexual harassment.
Her OHR complaint says it was the director of that FRC center that allegedly committed the gender discrimination linked to the alleged sexual harassment against her.
Several papers authored or co-authored by Saunders on the right-to-life movement and efforts to overturn the Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortions in the country, are currently posted on the FRC’s website with the FRC logo printed above the title of the papers.
The FRC’s website, however, makes no mention of Saunders having worked for the organization.
A May 22, 2009 press release from Americans United for Life, one of the nation’s most prominent anti-abortion groups, announced that Saunders joined the group’s staff at that time as senior counsel. The AUL website currently shows that Saunders still holds that position.
A spokesperson for the AUL didn’t return a call from the Blade seeking comment on Gaul’s lawsuit and earlier complaint before the D.C. Office of Human Rights involving Saunders.
Saunders couldn’t be reached for comment.
A mediation process required by the court to determine whether Gaul’s lawsuit could be settled took place earlier this year, according to court records. But the filing of motions by both sides earlier this month seeking a summary judgment ruling in their favor indicates the mediation process has so far been unsuccessful.
Gaul’s lawsuit, which was filed July 7, 2011 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says Gaul continued to perform her job duties in what it calls a “hostile work environment” from the time her supervisor allegedly began hassling her in March 2007 through 2009, when she decided it was necessary to file the OHR complaint.
The lawsuit says stress created by her interaction with her supervisor aggravated her pre-existing chronic health problems, which FRC knew about at the time it hired her in 2005. The lawsuit says that prior to her filing the OHR complaint, FRC accommodated her special health needs, allowing her to take time off from work to seek medical treatment.
A flare up of one of her health problems required that she take a short-term disability leave from January 2009 to March 2009, according to the lawsuit.
Although FRC officials initially told her that her health insurance coverage would continue during her disability leave, she was informed in March 2009 that “FRC was retroactively cancelling her health insurance for the period she was on short-term disability leave,” the lawsuit says.
In February 2009, one month after she filed her complaint, FRC’s then executive vice president issued Gaul a formal reprimand for “insubordination” during the time she was on disability leave. It was the first time she had ever received a reprimand during her tenure with FRC, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says the retaliation against her continued upon her return to work when FRC personnel officials delayed the reinstatement of her health insurance. Due to her health problems, she contacted various staffers and managers to request a prompt reinstatement of her insurance.
“Rather than assist her, the FRC’s then executive vice president threatened to issue another reprimand for insubordination to Ms. Gaul if she attempted to raise the issue of her health insurance coverage again with FRC management or any other staff member in the D.C. office other than human resources,” the lawsuit charges.
In May 2009, according to the lawsuit, Gaul was formally reprimanded for “failing to submit time sheets on schedule.” It says Gaul is unaware of any FRC employee receiving a reprimand for submitting late time sheets.
Gaul was hopeful that the alleged retaliation would end when she reached a settlement with FRC over her OHR complaint on July 31, 2009, the lawsuit says.
But the lawsuit says her work environment “remained hostile” after the settlement over the next three months leading up to her dismissal on Oct. 22, 2009, which FRC called a “layoff,” the lawsuit says.
“Upon information and belief, other employees laid off in 2009 were given more than a month’s notice of their impending layoff,” it says. “Ms. Gaul, on the other hand, was told to clear her belongings by the close of business the next day.”
The lawsuit says a termination memorandum given to her by the FRC cited “political hostility” against the abstinence movement, on which Gaul devoted much of her work, and a reduction of federal funding for abstinence programs as the primary reason for her termination.
“The memorandum also stated that the FRC needed a person with a background in a variety of ‘life issue’ areas beyond abstinence, which the memorandum claimed that Ms. Gaul did not have,” the lawsuit says
“The reasons cited by the FRC in the termination memorandum were mere pretexts,” the lawsuit charges.
It says Gaul, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in public health, worked on a wide range of other issues and was highly qualified to continue as FRC’s women’s and reproductive health director.
“In January 2010 three months after Ms. Gaul’s termination, the FRC created a new position with duties similar to the ones previously held by Ms. Gaul,” the lawsuit says. “This new position was fully funded by the FRC budget.”
The lawsuit says up until the time of her dismissal, Gaul remained dedicated to carrying out FRC’s mission in the area of women’s health.
“Despite all of the problems in her work environment, Ms. Gaul continued to produce at a high level,” it says. “In August 2009, she was rated in the second highest quartile for contribution in the policy department. Ms. Gaul was promoted to the position of Fellow and Director of Women’s and Reproductive health that same month.”
The lawsuit adds, “In September 2009, the FRC released a report on Pregnancy Resource Centers co-authored by Ms. Gaul, which she then presented at a national conference. In October 2009, Ms. Gaul presented the Pregnancy Resources Center report and taught at an international pro-life conference in Hungary.”