WASHINGTON (CN) – A staff member of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe says her boss, Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings, sexually harassed her for years, and the Commission’s staff director threatened to fire her for complaining about it.
Winsome Packer sued Hastings, the Commission and its staff director Fred Turner in Federal Court, alleging discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment.
It’s another twist on a strange road for Hastings, who was a federal judge in South Florida until he was impeached for bribery and perjury in 1988, and convicted by the U.S. Senate in 1989. The Senate could have – but did not – bar him from seeking federal office again, and he was elected to Congress from South Florida in 1992, and has represented Florida’s 23rd District ever since.
In the new case, Packer, a Republican, says she lost her job with the Committee on Homeland Security in 2006, when the Democrats won control of Congress.
A year later, she says, Hastings offered her a job with the Commission on Security in Europe. She says that almost immediately, Turner “chastised” her for her political affiliation.
After a few months on the job, Packer says, Hastings offered her a “prestigious” position with the Commission in Vienna – and repeatedly told her “that once she had found and settled into her new apartment in Vienna, he would come to Vienna to stay with her for a week.”
Packer says her party affiliation kept her quiet at first, as she felt that her job might be more vulnerable than those of her Democratic colleagues.
Hastings “continued to pursue her romantically” once she had arrived at her post in Vienna, bringing her gifts, inappropriately hugging her and suggesting to her that he stay with her, Packer says. She says she eventually told Turner about Hasting’s behavior, and he “counseled” her on how to deflect the advances, but offered no effective help.
Hastings, meanwhile, continued to make lewd comments to Packer in Austria, asking her what kind of underwear she wore, and continued his pattern of inappropriate touching, she says. She claims he also intimated that her career would improve if she gave in.
The complaint states: “Mr. Hastings intention was crystal clear: he was sexually attracted to Ms. Packer, wanted a sexual relationship with her, and would help progress her career if she acquiesced to his sexual advances.”
Packer says she asked to be transferred back to Washington “to remove Mr. Hastings’ apparent sense of entitlement for sexual favors from Ms. Packer because he had given her the Vienna posting.”
The harassment affected her health, she says, bringing bouts of anxiety and stress that led to high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. She says she collapsed while visiting her family, resulting in a visit to an emergency room, and fainted again at a meeting where “emergency personnel informed her that her blood pressure was in the range where she could have suffered a stroke or a heart attack.”
Packer filed a formal complaint with the Office of Compliance, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation by Turner, but says that prompted further retaliation by Turner, who began excluding her from Commission correspondence and refusing her travel requests.
“As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful sexual harassment, Ms. Packer experienced insomnia, anxiety, depression, high-blood pressure, and developed symptoms of coronary artery disease. Ms. Packer has been prescribed medication and is under the care of a physician because of the severity of her heart problems,” states her complaint.
She seeks punitive damages for retaliation, sexual harassment, and gender discrimination,
She is represented by Paul Orfanedes of Judicial Watch.