ATLANTA (AP) — An investigation finds the now-retired leader of Georgia's veterans agency sexually harassed his secretary, part of a general pattern of demeaning behavior toward women and minorities.
The state inspector general's report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that Veterans Service Commissioner Mike Roby touching his secretary and forced her into uncomfortable hugs, while applying “pet names” to her and other women employees.
The inquiry said Roby also including using racist nicknames for Black and Latino workers, with one employee describing the workplace culture as “a thickness on the floor.”
Roby defended his behavior as innocent, telling investigators he is “a hugger.” He retired as the investigation was completed earlier this fall.
The report quotes several officials in the Department of Veterans Service as saying they had warned Roby repeatedly about his behavior.
“Roby’s conduct was derogatory, demeaning, and intended to insult, embarrass, belittle, or humiliate (the secretary) because of her sex,” the report concludes, adding that he “knew or should have known that his conduct ... was unwanted and offensive.”
The investigation was required after Gov. Brian Kemp enacted new policies during his first week in office to prevent sexual harassment.
“From the outset of his administration, Gov. Kemp prioritized making sure that state government is a safe, welcoming place for employees,” Kemp spokesperson Katie Byrd told the newspaper. “The state Veterans Service Board worked closely with both the OIG and the attorney general’s office to review the findings and move the agency forward so it can continue to reach and serve our state’s heroes.”
The newspaper previously reported that state agencies often didn't respond effectively to harassment complaints.
Veterans Service Board Chairwoman Patricia Ross is set to take over department, which helps veterans access government programs and benefits. Ross said Roby’s behavior was “very disturbing and unknown to the board,” but she said the investigation shows the process works.
Roby’s personal secretary, who had been hired earlier this year, filed the complaint in August, prompting the department’s board to place Roby on administrative leave.
The report found Roby called the secretary by pet names, sometimes adding his last name to her name as though they were married. Shortly thereafter, Roby began hugging the secretary and demanding hugs in return. She described the hugs as unwanted and “creepy.”
The secretary said she “felt like she did not have an option to say no because he was her supervisor,” the report states.
Roby told the secretary that she might be called on to stay late and work alone with him. The report states the secretary was “confused by the statement” because “the workload is light and ... Roby does not seem busy.”
According to the report, Roby used racist language when referring to some employees. One former employee whose family was from Cuba said Roby called him “any name that was stereotypically Hispanic,” including Jose, “Rico Suave, and “Latin Lover” and told others in front of him that he had hired him from the parking lot of a Home Depot. Multiple witnesses said Roby referred to a group of Black, female employees as the “Kunta Kinte Mafia.”
In an email to the Inspector General’s office, Roby said he was “sorry that it came to this” and he “never meant for any thing (sic) like this to ever happened (sic).”
Roby, 68, worked for Veterans Service for 27 years and was appointed commissioner in 2015. He earlier served 22 years in the Army, rising to sergeant major. Earlier this year, he was inducted into the Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame.
Roby will suffer no further consequences because he retired before he could be disciplined.
“Our hands were tied as far as taking any sort of action,” Ross said.