Armed Forces Retirement Home’s chief operating officer sexually harassed employees, IG finds


The former chief working officer of the Armed Forces Retirement House sexually harassed a few employees and retaliated versus one worker when she rejected his sexual improvements, in accordance to a report from the Section of Protection inspector general.

James M. Branham resigned from his position as the No. 2 formal at the Protection Department’s Armed Forces Retirement Property Nov. 9, 2021, in accordance to the report, introduced Wednesday. A new COO was appointed in December.

“We uncover his habits notably egregious given his situation as the AFRH COO and the authority he held in excess of the subordinate feminine workforce,” the investigators wrote.

Officers at the Armed Forces Retirement Dwelling declined to remark on regardless of whether any lawful action will be pursued versus Branham, citing coverage. The DoD investigators stated they will forward their report to Washington Headquarters Solutions for inclusion in Branham’s staff file.

The headquarters is a DoD discipline exercise that provide administrative and management aid to a number of DoD factors and armed forces departments in the Countrywide Cash Area.

“I commend the 3 staff who cooperated in this investigation and reported what was happening to them,” mentioned Armed Forces Retirement Dwelling CEO Stephen T. Rippe in an email to Military services Periods. “No 1 should really be harassed in the place of work — ever. This case is specifically troubling due to the fact it included the Home’s management. Our employees and residents should assume the very most effective from their leaders, who really should keep on their own to the maximum achievable standard.

“As this report will make very clear, that did not transpire in this case and I stand firmly by the report’s summary.” He noted that “despite this failure of management by an personal, the report did not fault the Home’s polices and procedures nor supply any suggestions for enhancement.”

Branham could not be arrived at for comment.

“Mr. Branham’s actions designed an intimidating, hostile and offensive get the job done natural environment that created these feminine staff uncomfortable or brought on them distress,” the DoD IG report stated. They also observed that he manufactured reprisals from a single of the staff, dealing with her otherwise from other individuals when it arrived to quarantining and staying allowed to telework all through the initial months of the pandemic.

Branham, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, started off as COO at the Armed Forces Retirement Residence in February 2018, in the midst of fiscal turmoil at AFRH. The former COO was fired in September, 2017 by a DoD formal who cited his unwillingness to shore up the finances of the agency’s two residences.

AFRH is open largely to certain retired and former enlisted customers and their spouses, with campuses in Washington, D.C., and Gulfport, Mississippi. Branham labored at the Washington campus.

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In addition to residents’ expenses, profits sharing and leasing agreements, donors and the AFRH rely on fund, the homes relies on the 50- -a-month paycheck deduction from lively-obligation enlisted customers and the profits from fines imposed on enlisted members for disciplinary violations.

The DoD hotline obtained a criticism from Branham Aug. 15, 2020, alleging he had sexually harassed subordinate woman personnel and took reprisal actions in opposition to one particular of the employees since she turned down his sexual advances. Soon after initiating the investigation on Nov. 10, 2020, the inspector common reviewed extra than 200,000 DoD data, which includes emails and connected documents and pictures, and interviewed the individual who submitted the criticism as properly as 8 other employees.

The investigators manufactured no recommendations with regards to any treatments for the personnel who suffered reprisals — determined as Staff 2 — mainly because she has left the business for another entire-time placement in other places.

Branham started courting a person of his subordinates in 2019, determined as Personnel 1, following he asked her to supper. Investigators reviewed many e-mails in between she and Branham, who used his formal federal government electronic mail. They also discovered 5 photographs that Branham forwarded from his individual electronic mail account to his authorities e mail account that appeared to be that employee “in many states of costume or undress.”

Investigators’ examination showed that Branham despatched the photographs from his mobile cellular phone to his authorities email deal with “within minutes or several hours of sending really sexually specific emails” to the employee. They finished their marriage in March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff 1 instructed investigators that soon after the actual physical marriage finished, she felt their individual and experienced connection was “awkward” and “weird” since of the preceding bodily connection.

Branham declined to be interviewed by investigators, but in his response to their preliminary conclusions, he agreed that he experienced engaged in an inappropriate romance with the staff, but disagreed with some of their conclusions, in accordance to the report.

“Mr. Branham considered that his marriage with Worker 1 was consensual and did not represent sexual harassment. We disagree,” the investigators wrote. “Mr. Branham initiated, pursued and engaged in an intimate partnership with a subordinate staff. The subordinate personnel instructed us that she felt awkward and awkward and did not believe she could say no.”

The employee described that relationship with Branham as inappropriate and improper, they mentioned.

Branham also agreed that his written communications to a second and third worker had been “unprofessional and regretted that the communications manufactured these employees experience not comfortable,” and that he should not have written the feedback, according to the report.

The investigators stood by their first conclusions. “Mr. Branham’s overall course of conduct interfered with the personal performance of subordinate female staff in his business and established an overwhelming, hostile and offensive perform surroundings that designed these female employees unpleasant or induced them distress,” they wrote.

The woman recognized as Worker 2 instructed investigators she continuously rebuffed or ignored Branham’s sexual harassment, in incidents between August 2018 and March 2020. That integrated shrugging his arms off her shoulders a number of occasions when he attempted to therapeutic massage her. Despite the fact that Branham instructed investigators that her actual physical gestures rejecting his sexual improvements “could not constitute a disclosure to him that he had engaged in an abuse of authority,” he is incorrect, they said.

That personnel alleged that Branham took four personnel actions towards her in reprisal, and investigators agreed with a few of her allegations. People allegations concerned him refusing to permit her to isolate and quarantine by teleworking, following exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or taking care of COVID-19 exposure in incidents in April, July and August 2020.

The investigators observed that in a number of identical conditions, other staff have been addressed in different ways. Branham himself self-quarantined and teleworked.

The employee was eligible for telework, and her occupation was not essential to the performing of the AFRH household treatment services, investigators found. “Branham sexually harassed Staff 2 frequently during her time, and taken care of her otherwise than other telework-qualified staff members when it came to teleworking all through the pandemic,” they wrote.

The investigators interviewed six other staff members at Armed Forces Retirement House five of whom had repeated call with Branham.

Four of the 6 employees mentioned the allegations shocked them. A different staff explained the allegations were being “hard to think,” and the sixth worker referred to as the allegations “preposterous.” Some of the workforce explained they listened to Branham tell jokes or make humorous opinions, but none read him convey to a joke that contained sexual innuendo.


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