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Employees sexually harassed and racially demeaned by Veterans Service Commissioner


A recent investigation conducted by the State Inspector General’s office found that Veterans Service Commissioner Mike Roby sexually harassed and demeaned employees of the state agency. Completed in September, the investigation found that Roby touched his secretary and forced her into uncomfortable hugs, while he gave her and other female employees “pet names.”

The report found that Roby, 68, used racist nicknames for Black and Latino workers and created a toxic workplace. Multiple witnesses told investigators that Roby referred to a group of Black female employees as the “Kunta Kinte Mafia”, while a former employee, of Cuban ancestry, said that Roby called him “stereotypically Hispanic” names including Jose, “Rico Suave, and “Latin Lover”. The report said Roby also told others in front of the employee that he had hired him from the parking lot of a Home Depot.

Roby’s illegal and inappropriate behavior was described in the report as a general pattern of harassing behavior by Roby toward women and minorities. “Roby’s conduct was derogatory, demeaning, and intended to insult, embarrass, belittle, or humiliate (the secretary) because of her sex,” the report concludes, adding that he “knew or should have known that his conduct … was unwanted and offensive.”

While conducting their investigation, the Inspector General found that Roby’s inappropriate behavior was an open secret and several high-level officials in the department warned him to stop and said they cautioned him many times over his years in office that his unwanted behavior would land him in trouble.

It was Roby’s personal secretary, newly hired after Roby’s prior secretary retired, who filed a complaint in August. Roby was placed on administrative leave by the department’s board after the complaint was lodged. In his attempt to explain his actions, Roby told the investigators that he is “a hugger” and defended his behavior as innocent. As the investigation proceeded, Roby retired before it could be completed. 

According to the final report, Roby called the secretary by pet names, sometimes adding his last name to her name as though they were married; Roby began hugging the secretary and demanding hugs in return, which she described as unwanted and “creepy;” and Roby told the secretary that she might be called on to stay late and work alone with him.  The secretary was “confused by the statement” because “the workload is light and … Roby did not seem busy.” The secretary said she “felt like she did not have an option to say no because he was her supervisor,” the report states.

Roby’s behavior was condemned in the detailed Inspector General report of the investigation. Although the investigation sustained the allegations against him, Roby will suffer no further consequences because he retired before he could be disciplined.

Roby worked for Veterans Service for 27 years and was appointed commissioner in 2015. Prior to working for the state, he served 22 years in the Army, rising to the rank of sergeant major. Earlier this year, he was inducted into the Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame.

Veterans Service Board Chairwoman Patricia Ross is set to replace Roby next month as head of the department, which helps veterans access government programs and benefits. Ross said Roby’s behavior was “very disturbing and unknown to the board,” but she said the investigation shows the process works.

Reforms enacted by Gov. Brian Kemp to crack down on sexual harassment in state government prompted the investigation. However, similar to others who have been found guilty of wrongdoing while serving in top state jobs, Roby will keep his state pension and any other benefits he earned, while taxpayer dollars will be shelled out to pay for claims as a result of his illegal and inappropriate actions against employees of that department. Kemp’s press secretary issues a statement saying, “The State Veterans Service Board worked closely with both the OIG and the Attorney General’s office to review the findings and move the agency forward so it can continue to reach and serve our state’s heroes.”

Some say what is missing from that statement is the governor taking proactive action to ensure that perpetrators of illegal actions at the highest levels of state government cannot benefit from their misdeeds such as holding on to their jobs or retiring with full pensions. They say Kemp’s reform needs “teeth” to truly be effective and hold violators accountable.

Unfortunately, this is not the first-time sexual harassment issues have risen within the Department of Veterans Service or other departments with little to no consequences to the offenders.


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