Lawrence: Probe reported no harassment allegations

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence says an investigation within her congressional offices turned up no allegations of sexual harassment, despite accusations that led last fall to the resignation of her chief of staff.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield

“It was completed, and I did not find a single employee of mine who made an allegation of sexual harassment,” Lawrence said in a Wednesday interview.

The Southfield Democrat would not say who conducted the independent inquiry, only that she did not conduct it herself.

In November, Lawrence placed her chief, Dwayne Duron Marshall, on leave after POLITICO published allegations from unnamed former staffers that Lawrence had kept Marshall on the payroll despite complaints by female aides about his behavior. Marshall later resigned, while denying what he called “slanderous, faceless” allegations.

Lawrence said Wednesday she had spoken to former employees, but “I have not gotten a single allegation of sexual harassment.”

“So, whoever this anonymous person is or persons, they are still anonymous. They have not come forward,” the second-term lawmaker said.

Duron Marshall

“I have moved on. I have a new chief, and we are building a strong team and continuing to serve the people of the district.”

Ryan Hedgepeth has been hired as her new chief, and he started this week, Lawrence said. Hedgepeth last worked for U.S. Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, as chief of staff for several months last year, according to salary data compiled by the website Legistorm. He also previously was chief to former Rep. Brad Miller, D-North Carolina.

In a statement Wednesday, Marshall said he was vindicated by the outcome of the inquiry, while “personally and professionally injured,” saying that prospective clients and employees will find his name linked online to “what we now know is (a) faux sexual harassment claim.”

“This has been an unfortunate situation that played out in the court of public opinion, allowing so-called former, unidentified employees to be given a platform without responsibility,” Marshall said.

“The investigation and its completion illustrated my position all along – that no sexual harassment took place in Congresswoman Lawrence’s office or with me in my capacity as chief of staff.”

After Marshall resigned, Lawrence said she would initiate an assessment of her Washington and Michigan offices “focused on the current and future climate of our workplace environment.”

“No employee should ever be made to feel intimidated, harassed or otherwise discriminated against in their place of work,” she said in a statement at the time.

Three former female aides to Lawrence had told POLITICO that they had personally brought complaints to her about Marshall inappropriately touching them or commenting on their appearances.

The aides said they did not use the words “sexual harassment” in their complaints to Lawrence, but they did raise concerns about Marshall’s alleged behavior.

The aides also reported that Lawrence was aware of Marshall’s conduct in the office, with two saying they told Lawrence that Marshall’s behavior was the reason they were quitting.

A source with knowledge of Marshall’s behavior told The Detroit News last fall that Lawrence had a difficult time retaining employees because of Marshall. The source wished to remain unnamed for fear of retaliation.

In the wake of the accusations, Lawrence maintained that she wasn’t aware of concerns about Marshall’s behavior, and would have addressed them had they been brought to her attention.

Lawrence is the former mayor of Southfield who worked for the U.S. Postal Service for decades and was certified by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as a harassment complaint investigator.

Before the allegations against Marshall surfaced, she had introduced a bill to require congressional staffers to take an online course on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sexual misconduct scandals in recent months prompted the resignation or early retirements of at least six members of Congress, including former U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Detroit, in December.

The controversies led the U.S. House and Senate to revise their own policies to require anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and staffers.

Lawmakers have also been working to overhaul the internal system that Congress has in place to handle harassment and other misconduct by members and aides in the workplace.

The House passed a bill in February that aims to reform the complaint process on Capitol Hill, boost transparency and improve support for victims and whistle blowers. The Senate has not yet acted on the legislation.

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