The DoD Hotline received a complaint against Mr. James M. Branham, former Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH), on August 15, 2020. The complaint alleged that Mr. Branham sexually harassed subordinate female employees and reprised against a female employee because she rejected his sexual advances. The DoD Office of Inspector General (DoD OIG) initiated an investigation into the allegations on November 10, 2020.
We substantiated the allegation that Mr. Branham sexually harassed female employees and reprised against a female employee because she rejected his sexual advances. Specifically, we determined that Mr. Branham engaged in an overall course of conduct in which he sexually harassed subordinate female employees at the AFRH. We determined that Mr. Branham initiated and engaged in an intimate, personal, “physical” relationship for several months with a subordinate female employee (Employee 1). Employee 1 described feeling awkward and uncomfortable when Mr. Branham asked her out on a date because she did not think she could say no. Employee 1 said that she discussed this issue with Mr. Branham, who told her that it was not a problem for him. In contrast, Employee 1 described her relationship with Mr. Branham as inappropriate and wrong because Mr. Branham was ultimately her boss.
Separately, Mr. Branham made several sexually harassing comments to two subordinate female employees (Employee 2 and Employee 3), including telling one, “We should go to a remote island and have crazy, wild sex” and telling the other, “I bet you just want to kiss me right now.” In addition, on multiple occasions, Mr. Branham rubbed Employee 2’s and Employee 3’s shoulders without their permission. Mr. Branham also sent texts to Employee 2 containing sexual or flirtatious innuendos that made her feel uncomfortable. Employee 2 told us that Mr. Branham’s actions and comments were weird, and made things very difficult for her in the office. Employee 3 stated that Mr. Branham’s actions and comments made her feel terrible and grossed out.
Mr. Branham’s comments to and interactions with subordinate female employees created an intimidating, hostile, and offensive work environment that made them uncomfortable or caused them distress. Accordingly, we concluded that Mr. Branham engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment toward three subordinate female employees.