Lawyers for a former Federal Emergency Management Agency official accused of sexual misconduct said Thursday that he was maligned after a flawed internal investigation, even as the agency’s watchdog confirmed that it received a stream of complaints about the official in the past three years.
Corey Coleman, FEMA’s former personnel chief, was investigated over allegations that he created an atmosphere of widespread sexual harassment, including suggestions he hired women as possible sexual partners for himself and male colleagues, according to FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long.
In their first comments since Long made the charges in an interview this week with The Washington Post, lawyers for Coleman denied the claims and said investigators reached false conclusions based on “rumor and innuendo.” They said that FEMA officials chose to “demonize” Coleman, who resigned in June, by identifying him in the interview.
“Mr. Coleman has never previously been accused of wrongdoing, let alone the sort of gross violations now being alleged,” Jonathan Jeffress and Emily Voshell of Kaiser Dillon said in a statement.
“At a minimum, he has earned the right to due process. Instead, for reasons we cannot fathom, current FEMA leadership has chosen to demonize Mr. Coleman in the media based on an obviously unreliable and faulty investigation. . . . While nothing can undo the harm already done to Mr. Coleman’s reputation, we will clear his name based on the facts, instead of the rumor and innuendo relied upon by FEMA,” the lawyers stated.
The lawyers made the statement on Coleman’s behalf as the inspector general’s office for FEMA’s parent agency detailed for the first time its involvement in the matter. It said it received complaints about illegal hiring practices and sexual misconduct in the central human resources department led by Coleman. Coleman started at FEMA’s Office of the Chief Component Human Capital Officer in 2011 and resigned on June 18.
The Department of Homeland Security inspector general, which is tasked with policing waste, fraud and abuse at FEMA and other agencies, said it received complaints in 2016 and 2017 that Coleman was hiring unqualified candidates and bypassing normal procedures to give jobs to favored applicants. The office said it then received complaints this year about Coleman demanding sex in exchange for jobs and promotions. Coleman’s attorneys denied the allegations.
The inspector general said the office referred the first set of complaints back to FEMA because they fell into the category of “prohibited personnel practices.” FEMA officials have been unable to determine whether any complaints were investigated internally before this year.
The inspector general said it called FEMA about complaints of alleged sexual misconduct and was told they were already under internal investigation by the agency.
A spokeswoman for the inspector general said the office received the results of FEMA’s internal investigation and will be “reviewing it closely.”
“Based on our preliminary assessment, we believe that there are likely further areas for the Inspector General’s office to review. These could include allegations of individual misconduct, as well as broader systemic issues,” Erica Paulson said in a statement.
The summary of the FEMA investigation provided this week by the agency said that Coleman had sexual relationships with at least two subordinates, including one who said she was denied a promotion when she refused his advances. The women’s names were redacted in the copy of the summary provided to The Post.
The summary stated that when the second woman said she wanted to leave the agency, Coleman created a new position for her for which she told investigators she was unqualified.
Coleman’s lawyers declined to comment on his personal relationships during his tenure but said he “is not aware of and has not been informed of any complaints by women of inappropriate behavior.” They said FEMA investigators did not ask Coleman for an interview as part of their probe.
FEMA officials have also alleged that Coleman hired friends and college fraternity brothers, as well as women specifically chosen for their attractiveness and desirability to potential colleagues.
Coleman’s lawyers denied these claims and downplayed his hiring power within FEMA, saying it was limited to his 400-person division. They called for the agency to release the full report on its investigation.
FEMA declined to release that report when asked by The Post.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.