Sexual harassment claims are commonly made in the military. Each military department, including the Coast Guard, has established procedures for investigating and processing complaints of sexual harassment. These procedures are similar among all branches of the military.
If you believe you have been sexually harassed, or if you are accused of sexual harassment, it is important that you seek legal advice immediately, whether through military counsel or a knowledgeable civilian lawyer. It is not uncommon for members complaining of sexual harassment to experience retaliation and other adverse actions. Members who believe they have been sexually harassed or are accused of harassing someone have procedural rights that the military must observe. Those rights include freedom from retaliation, a fair and thorough investigation, and the right to present evidence in support or defense of the allegation.
If a member is found to have committed sexual harassment, a command may take several courses of action, which include processing for elimination from the service. Other actions include negative evaluations, relief from command, letters of reprimand, promotion/advancement delays or denials, and UCMJ charges. Competent legal assistance is extremely important in defending against a claim of sexual harassment.
A member who complains of sexual harassment and who is retaliated against must take extra care in addressing the situation. The member may be falsely accused of misconduct, sometimes of a sexual nature. Again, it is vitally important that a complaining member seek out competent legal services, especially if retaliation or other adverse actions occur.
As with sexual harassment complaints, complaints of discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, language, and religion are frequently made in the military. Each military department has clear guidelines prohibiting such discrimination. These guidelines are only as effective as the individuals and units that enforce them. A service member complaining of discrimination or accused of discrimination must take great care to ensure that the proper complaint and investigation procedures are followed.
It is not uncommon for the military to make errors in the complaint and investigation processes. Such errors can severely prejudice the complainant or the subject of the complaint. The service member who complaints of discrimination may be retaliated against by his or her command.
As in sexual harassment cases, a member who is experiencing discrimination or who is accused of discrimination should obtain qualified, independent legal advice, whether from a military or civilian attorney.