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Two months after a female contract employee filed a sexual harassment complaint against her supervisor, D.C. Department of For-Hire Vehicles public information officer Neville Waters, the woman was fired. Waters was suspended for one day and continues to work for the agency, earning a salary of $126,000 a year.
Neither Waters, nor DFHV Director David Do responded to requests for comment. But the general counsel for DFHV, Nakeasha Sanders-Small, wrote in an email to the female complainant, obtained by City Paper, that her termination was “separate and apart from the sexual harassment claim she filed; any temporal connection is pure coincidence.”
The woman, who spoke with LL on the condition that he would not identify her by name, filed an official complaint against Waters in March for making repeated comments about her appearance, making sexual jokes, and soliciting and sharing information about his personal dating preferences. In one meeting in Waters’ office before she filed the complaint, the woman says she asked if her proposed deadline to complete a project was acceptable. Waters responded that it was, and asked “If you don’t finish it by then, what should I do? Spank you?” The woman says she wanted to projectile vomit. She responded that a “stern reprimand” would be sufficient.
Shortly after she filed the complaint, a sexual harassment officer in the District government emailed the woman a confidentiality notice “which we require you to sign and return immediately,” according to the email, which also requested that she schedule a formal interview and informed her that she would be separated from Waters. The woman signed the agreement, which says “we strongly recommend that you maintain an appropriate level of confidentiality regarding the details of your complaint and the investigation.” She says that when coworkers asked why she moved desks, she was told to say she had been “reassigned.”
As a contract copy editor, the woman, who is in her late 20s, edited content for DFHV’s website and its newsletters, ghost wrote blog posts for director Do, and helped with marketing materials. DFHV, renamed and restructured from the former D.C. Taxicab Commission, regulates taxis and ride-hailing services.
After she filed her complaint, the woman says, she was moved to a different desk on a different floor, per D.C. government policy, and had to abandon all of her uncompleted work. The woman says she was reassigned to other copy editing tasks, such as editing standard operating procedures, but “for the most part my duties were gone.”
By early May, the woman says, DFHV’s chief of staff Dory Peters told her that there was only enough work to keep her employed through the end of that month. On May 29, the woman met with Peters and a human resources representative for an exit interview, during which she received a two-page document affirming that Waters’ behavior violated the District’s sexual misconduct policy. Peters and the HR rep emphasized that the woman’s contract was not being terminated because of the complaint. Rather, the officials explained, her contract was ending six months early because they could no longer find work for her to do and the department was dealing with budgetary problems.
(LL has to wonder whether the “lack of work” has anything to do with the fact that the woman was separated from Waters, who was her supervisor, and could no longer work with him.)
“All I know for sure is that I was let go early after filing my complaint,” the woman says. “I am not there anymore, and he is still there with apparently no repercussions other than a one-day suspension, still representing the government, still releasing the podcast that he harassed me on, on behalf of the D.C. government.”
A memo outlining DFHV’s official findings says Waters “frequently made unsolicited comments about [the woman’s] appearance and the appearance of other female colleagues,” “solicited and shared information regarding his personal dating preferences or other information of a sexual nature,” and made sexual jokes in violation of the District government’s employee manual.
The memo specifically references a meeting on Feb. 12, 2019, in which the woman and other DFHV employees were offended by Waters’ sexual comments. The group met to talk about a marketing strategy, the woman tells LL, but Waters kept asking if Frederick Douglass and another 19th century black activist, Anna Julia Cooper, were “bumping uglies” and “doing the nasty.” One of the men in the meeting responded “Jesus, Neville,” the woman recalls. Waters also repeatedly asked in that meeting if Harriet Tubman was gay, the woman says.
The woman recorded several more examples of harassment in a five-page document that she submitted with her complaint and shared with LL. In the document and in an interview, the woman describes speaking with Waters in a November 2018 episode of DFHV’s podcast, the Weekly Drop-Off. Waters asked if she was old enough to drink and then turned to his co-host and asked “Was that a ‘Me Too’?”
“Inside I was screaming,” the woman says. “Like that’s not what the movement is about. Oh my god. But I didn’t say anything.” The episode is still live on DFHV’s website, and the “Me Too” comment appears to have been edited out.
In another incident, while giving the woman a ride to the Metro, Waters told her about his idea for a screenplay. She says his story focused on main characters who were young “horny” men “not looking for Miss Right, looking for Miss Right Now.” After that, the woman says she stopped accepting rides from him.
In January, she says, Waters asked for her personal email address, which she gave him, so he could send her something he thought would make her laugh. The email read “Res[t]. Enjoy. Digest. Discuss…” and included a link to a 2006 Washington Post Date Lab article featuring Waters.
Waters’ date recalled that he said he “liked younger women.” When she prompted him for more details, “he confessed the last person he dated was 21. I’m not lying!” she told the Post.
“She good-naturedly chided me about that,” Waters is quoted as saying. “I’m not offended. I know who I am. A year ago, I went to Budapest with a woman who I’ve never seen again. I’m all about life’s adventures. But she wasn’t clicking on my humor.”
Waters, who was 49 at the time, told the Post his type is “young, cute, and skinny,” and that on his best date ever he “hooked up with a former intern after 15 years, went to an art exhibit, had drinks and a late dinner, then stayed the night at her place.”
Waters asked the employee on three separate occasions if she’d read the article and what she thought about it, she says.
Other examples of Waters’ harassment include comments about the woman’s hair, clothes, and shoes. One day, she wore a new pair of pants into the office. Waters commented that she looked “particularly fetching,” she says. “That’s basically weird old man code for ‘nice ass,’” she says. “And it’s so unsettling.”
She says she felt targeted to the point where she would occasionally work from home. On days when she would go into the office, the woman says, “I would look in the mirror and check my appearance and my outfit to make sure there was nothing he could comment about.”
During her exit interview, the woman says, she asked how the department would ensure Waters didn’t continue with similar behavior. She says Peters and the HR rep declined to share many details beyond Waters’ one-day suspension, saying it was a “personnel matter.”
In 2017, Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered all 30,000 District employees to go through sexual harassment training by February 2018. A spokesperson for the mayor says Waters was not exempt from the training and that he completed it, but could not immediately provide documentation.
The pervasiveness of sexual harassment within the D.C. government is also a bit murky because no single agency is tasked with tracking complaints and settlements.
Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Denise Krepp, who has tweeted about Waters’ harassment, began requesting information on sexual harassment in the D.C. government shortly after Bowser’s 2017 order. In response to her requests for data on complaints and settlements, the Office of the Attorney General provided Krepp with a spreadsheet listing nine cases that settled between 2015 and January 2019. The cases span five agencies and the payouts total $2.1 million.
OAG senior counsel William J. Chang notes in the email to Krepp that the list is likely not exhaustive and only includes cases handled by his office. Many District agencies defend their own cases, he writes. The Office of Human Rights also provided Krepp with information showing a total of 122 “sex-based discrimination settlements,” totalling $1.3 million from fiscal year 2015 through August 2018.
When Krepp specifically inquired about the DFHV employee’s case, Chang told her in a separate email that he could not determine whether the woman was fired in retaliation for her complaint.
“I encourage [the woman] to consult with an attorney if she has additional questions about her legal rights,” Chang writes. “I also want to add that, should [the woman’s] claim end up in litigation, OAG would represent the District in that litigation.”
In April, D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson notified Krepp that she was planning to begin an audit of settlements and judgments across D.C. agencies. Patterson writes that the idea for such an audit “arose in local reporting on the ‘Me Too’ movement in fall of 2017 when it was apparent that local journalists had difficulty securing information on whether sexual harassment had been an issue for the District as an employer.”
Krepp has railed on social media against what she sees as apathy among local pols around sexual harassment. “Tax dollars are being spent to settle these agreements and the D.C. Council keeps appropriating money for them instead of doing oversight,” she tells LL. “I’m more than frustrated. I’m angry, and I’m unwilling to let the status quo of inaction continue, so I’ll do the oversight.”
As for the woman who was fired from DFHV, she says she’s had a few interviews but so far hasn’t found another job.