A federal workplace investigation found rampant sexual harassment and retaliation at AccuWeather, a federal contractor, including groping, touching and kissing of subordinates without consent. AccuWeather’s chief executive at the time of the allegations and investigation, Barry Myers, was tapped by President Trump to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The detailed results of the investigation, not previously reported, were compiled last year by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and obtained by The Washington Post. It determined that AccuWeather, under Myers, fostered a culture ripe for sexual harassment, turned a blind eye to allegations of egregious conduct and retaliated against those who complained.
According to the report, the investigation was prompted by a complaint filed Sept. 6, 2016, alleging a “hostile work environment and termination based on sexual orientation and sex.” Many other complaints from AccuWeather employees followed.
“Over two dozen witnesses spanning many different departments and in positions ranging from administrative support to senior management described unlawful sexual harassment that occurred at the company,” the report says. “This sexual harassment was so severe and pervasive, that some female employees resigned.”
The investigation, which began in March 2017, also found that AccuWeather was “aware” of the sexual harassment but took no action to correct it, despite the company’s claims that it was not privy to any harassing activity.
Myers, tapped by Trump in 2017 to lead NOAA, became Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather’s chief executive in 2007 and stepped down Jan. 1, agreeing to divest himself of any company ownership in accordance with an ethics pledge to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, according to the company. His brother, Joel Myers, is founder and president of AccuWeather.
A Senate committee fast-tracked Myers’s nomination on April 3, voting without debate to advance him to the full Senate for a floor vote. The committee vote broke along party lines, 14 to 12, with Republicans supporting Myers. It was the third time his nomination had advanced out of committee but not been scheduled for a floor vote.
A spokesman for the White House declined to comment. Barry Myers did not respond to an email requesting comment.
The report lists numerous, alarming examples of the alleged harassing behavior.
Multiple witnesses claimed a “high-profile male employee” in the Digital Media Content and Operations department hugged, touched and kissed female employees on the mouth without their consent. AccuWeather’s vice president for human resources expressed shock to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the allegations and claimed to have no knowledge, despite several witnesses’ telling investigators they had reported the misconduct to that executive.
Investigators found the claims of “no knowledge” by the vice president for human resources to be incredible, citing the volume of contradicting witness statements and documentary evidence. When one of the complaints against the male employee was investigated by human resources, no action was taken, according to the report.
Moreover, “several” senior male managers, including at least one executive, participated in sexual relationships with subordinate employees. Women in these relationships received career opportunities and job perks not made available to those who did not engage in them, investigators found. A woman was overheard by the vice president for human resources complaining about these relationships, then was fired days later, according to the report.
One woman alleged that an AccuWeather executive used “profane and sexually explicit name-calling” and “obscene references” to sexual orientation in communication with employees.
The investigation also found AccuWeather “did not take reasonable action to prevent and remedy harassing conduct.” The report cites a policy manual that directs concerned employees to file a complaint with the company’s “Ombudsman Committee” — which the investigation determined “did not exist and had not been active for over two years.”
“When employees did complain to their supervisors or HR, no remedial action was taken,” the report said. “Some employees . . . were subjected to retaliation based on their complaints. Multiple witnesses described being fearful that they would be terminated and blacklisted if they complained about sexual harassment.”
Rhonda Seaton, director of marketing communications at AccuWeather, said the company “continues to deny the allegations and claims” detailed in the report.
“We determined it was much more productive and effective to use this opportunity to partner with the OFCCP voluntarily to further enhance our strong programs to promote workplace inclusion and diversity rather than spend time and money needlessly on protracted legal negotiations,” she said.
The report indicates AccuWeather cited its internal complaint process and harassment-avoidance policy, which all staff is required to follow. Employees are also required to receive anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training when they join the company.
The Post previously reported on AccuWeather’s agreement to pay $290,000 as part of a settlement, detailed in a conciliation agreement published in June. That agreement included a letter that was sent to former employees who worked at AccuWeather between Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 21, 2017, who were notified they were eligible to receive at least $7,250 as part of the settlement.
At least four women had received payment by the time the agreement was signed by Joel Myers, and the agreement indicates at least 35 other women had an opportunity to receive money in the settlement. The company promised to institute a number of changes — including mandatory in-person training for managers on identifying and preventing harassment. The company was also asked to hire a third party to “receive and investigate complaints of harassment, intimidation, threats, retaliation and coercion against employees throughout 2018.”
NOAA administrators have expressed concern about Myers’s nomination. Two of them said he had conflicts of interests that should disqualify him, as The Post previously reported. His controversial nomination was highlighted by the fact that he is a business executive and lawyer, not a scientist. The Post’s Jason Samenow reported in October 2017 that every past NOAA administrator but one, attorney Richard Frank, who served from 1977 to 1981, held a science degree — though advocates argue that Myers brings private-sector experience that will help advance the organization.
NOAA oversees the National Weather Service, which compiles data used by AccuWeather. Samenow reported that AccuWeather has previously supported measures to limit what the Weather Service can make public, granting private companies a chance to create their own value-added products using the same information.
Myers’s nomination stalled in the Senate in 2018. However, GOP leaders have sought to renominate him without a hearing, despite ethics concerns raised the first time he went through this process.
Barry and Joel Myers donated money in 2005 to then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who introduced legislation aimed at curtailing government competition with private weather services. Myers and his brothers also pressed the government on weather-related programs that could affect AccuWeather’s finances, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Post.
“Barry Myers defines ‘conflict of interest,’ ” Ciaran Clayton, communications director at NOAA in the Obama administration, told The Post in 2017. “He actively lobbied to privatize the National Weather Service, which works day in and day out to protect the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans, to benefit his own company’s bottom line.”
Angela Fritz contributed to this report.