Leak of Employee Survey to Media Prompts DC Courts Investigation

May 23, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Leak of Employee Survey to Media Prompts DC Courts Investigation
District of Columbia Court of Appeals. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — The federal judiciary in Washington, D.C., is investigating how embarrassing results of an employee survey were leaked to the media recently.

The confidential survey revealed that some employees of the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals were bullied by judges, which has included gender discrimination and racial insensitivity.

The survey was given to The Washington Post by an unknown source, which prompted D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan to order an investigation.

Court administrators told employees the survey last year was intended to “better understand our employees’ workplace experiences, and employees who completed the survey did so on the understanding that their responses would be used only for that purpose and kept confidential.”


Srinivasan seemed outraged by the media report, saying in a statement, “The leak of a confidential document compiling the responses was a serious breach of that understanding and must be investigated.”

The leaked documents represent the second time in weeks that unauthorized disclosures by judicial employees have disgraced the nation’s highest courts.

The federal courts in Washington preside over claims against government agencies. They also are considered pipelines to the Supreme Court for judges.

In a separate incident, a draft opinion of the Supreme Court that would outlaw a federal right to abortion was leaked to the media. Although the court’s final decision has not yet been announced, the draft copy reported by the media this month has created protests nationwide.

It also compelled the Supreme Court to launch an investigation into who leaked the document, calling it a breach of public trust.

In the survey reported by The Post last week, many employees were afraid of filing workplace complaints out of fear of reprisal and job loss. They also said they did not trust self-policing of the judiciary.


The report coincides with a bill pending in Congress that would grant the nation’s 30,000 judicial employees the same protections under Title VII as other government workers. The Judiciary Accountability Act is intended to prevent discrimination and harassment of employees.

Members of the federal judiciary, including John Roberts, chief justice of the Supreme Court, are resisting it.

A letter from the House Judiciary Committee told D.C. federal court administrators the lawmakers wanted to see a copy of the survey and related information.

“While it is commendable that the D.C. Circuit has finally conducted a workplace climate survey, the results are further evidence of the culture of silence that allows judges and supervisors across the country to act with impunity,” says a statement from Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., both members of the House Judiciary Committee.

The Post’s report on the survey said, “One federal appeals court judge in D.C. has hired only male law clerks for the past two decades. Another judge allegedly refused to speak to a staffer for weeks after a child-care emergency caused the assistant to depart work early one day. Others are said to have reduced their employees to tears by yelling or making cruel comments about the quality of their work.”

The Post reported that 89% of respondents gave Washington’s federal courts a positive rating as workplaces.

Revelations about misconduct were based on 57 employee reports that they were subjected to problematic behavior. Another 134 said they witnessed misconduct or heard about it.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said in a statement that “keeping the promise of confidentiality to employees who take workplace surveys is critical.” The office administers the courts and keeps the records being sought by the congressional committee.

“Our employees’ trust in our commitment to maintaining their confidentiality is paramount to our success in addressing workplace concerns,” the office’s statement said.


The survey continues an effort that began with the #MeToo movement in 2017 to eliminate harassment and abuse of employees. Other courts also have surveyed employees about their workplace conditions.

Tom can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @tramstack.

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