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Senators under pressure to stop NOAA nominee after sexual harassment revelations

Group argues the former AccuWeather CEO failed to disclose scale of sexual harassment at the family-run company.

Barry Myers (L), CEO AccuWeather, and Jon Kirchner, president of GeoOptics, appear before a House Science Subcommittee on Capitol Hill, May 23, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Barry Myers (L), CEO AccuWeather, and Jon Kirchner, president of GeoOptics, appear before a House Science Subcommittee on Capitol Hill, May 23, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

A government employee group is urging Senate leadership to halt the nomination of former AccuWeather CEO Barry Lee Myers to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The call was prompted by the release of a federal investigation document detailing a pervasive culture of sexual harassment at the family-run company.

A letter sent Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) by the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) states that Myers repeatedly failed to disclose the Department of Labor’s investigation into claims of harassment and discrimination at AccuWeather.

“I am writing you… to alert you to certain potentially materially false statements made under oath by Mr. Barry Lee Myers in his Nominee Questionnaire for his nomination to the position of Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” Timothy Whitehouse wrote.

The letter was also sent to Senate Science Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA), along with Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather Chairman Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Ranking Member Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

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As PEER explains, Myers first submitted his questionnaire in October 2017. After the full Senate failed to confirm Myers that year, the questionnaire was resubmitted “in substantially identical form” when President Donald Trump re-nominated him in 2018. Trump nominated Myers to the position for the third time in January after the Senate once again failed to vote on his nomination.

Throughout the nomination process, Myers has faced scrutiny over ethical concerns and potential conflicts of interest should the Senate confirm him to lead NOAA. When he was first nominated, Myers was still the CEO of AccuWeather and held shares in the company, which has lobbied to effectively privatize NOAA’s weather service. Between his second and third nomination, Myers resigned from the company and sold his shares. But it was also during this time that the company settled its sexual harassment claims.

As part of his nomination, Myers submitted a sworn statement in response to the committee questionnaire, which asked whether Myers or his business was ever involved in “an administrative proceeding, criminal proceeding, or civil litigation.”

Myers’ response was stated in one line: “AccuWeather has been involved in routine civil and administrative actions such as contract disputes and employee claims for unemployment compensation, workers compensation, and other personnel matters.”

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However, late last week, it was reported that between March 2017 and January 2018, the Department of Labor conducted a federal workplace investigation into allegations of sexual harassment at AccuWeather. As a letter summarizing the investigation’s findings obtained by ThinkProgress revealed, AccuWeather had a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination that included unwanted touching and kissing by a male executive.

Women who engaged in sexual relationships with senior male managers were rewarded with “job-related perks,” according to the January 2018 letter from the agency’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). Many women resigned rather than submitting to the harassment, while others feared being “blacklisted” if they filed complaints.

Although they were aware of the issue, AccuWeather officials “did not take reasonable action to prevent and remedy harassing conduct,” the letter states.

AccuWeather, a government contractor subject to the federal Civil Rights Act, ultimately settled with the Labor Department, agreeing in June 2018 to pay $290,000 in claims to more than 35 women, as the Center Daily Times revealed in February.

Although it is unclear how much Myers was involved in or aware of the sexual harassment described by the Labor Department, he was head of the company when the incidents allegedly occurred and when the company agreed to pay the hefty settlement. As part of the settlement agreement, AccuWeather pledged to create a workplace culture that did not tolerate harassment or discrimination.

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“Such an investigation held the potential to jeopardize AccuWeather’s substantial government contracting revenue streams, and thus its overall valuation, as well as its reputation, and by extension the reputation of Barry Myers and the Myers family, which holds over 90 percent of AccuWeather’s corporate equity,” Whitehouse wrote in Wednesday’s letter.

During the entire Labor Department investigation, Myers was chief executive of AccuWeather, Whitehouse continued. “As such it is not plausible that Myers lacked knowledge of the investigation at the time when he submitted his Nominee Questionnaire seven months after it began.”

The letter concludes with a request for the senators to contact Myers “to resolve the discrepancy in his written statement to the Senate about this subject and return his nomination to committee until he can be called to testify about the OFCCP Investigation.”

If Myers is unable to clarify the discrepancy, Whitehouse wrote, his nomination should not be approved and should instead be referred to the Justice Department for investigation.

Earlier this month, Myers’ nomination was approved in a rushed, party-line vote by the Senate Commerce Committee. Senators were not given a chance to debate his nomination despite fresh ethics concerns and news of AccuWeather’s sexual harassment settlement coming to light.

It is now up to McConnell to call a floor vote; the full Senate typically does not question nominees once committees have approved them.