Double Standards in Senator Durbin’s Office

book cover of For You, For You I am Trilling These SongsTwenty-nine-year-old Kathleen Rooney, a mid-level aide to Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin, recently published a book on her experience as a political insider in the windy city, entertainingly called For You, For You I am Trilling These Songs. Don’t you love that?

Durbin’s office certainly didn’t. Rooney was fired in early February after the staff caught wind of just how much she revealed in her series of essays. Particularly worrisome (shocker) was her explicit description of her relationship with the chief of staff. An excerpt:

Once upon a time there was a girl in unrequitable (but not unrequited) love with her boss. Every day she would dress up and every day he would compliment her on it…. He would place his hand at the base of her neck, or flick her earring, or twist a strand of her hair…. He would touch her shoulder, he would wander away. He ran the office this way — on the ragged edge of decency.

Rooney was fired, but the guy that ran the office “on the ragged edge of decency”–as she so beautifully put it–has suffered no consequences. The explanation from Durbin’s office is that Rooney “used her position for personal gain.” Okay. So maybe her contract stipulates that this sort of public disclosure isn’t allowed, and if Rooney signed it, it’s understandable that she would get canned. But you’d assume that the chief of staff also signed a contract that barred sexual harassment or other inappropriate workplace behavior, right?

Get the full scoop at the WSJ. I haven’t read this controversial little tome, but I look forward to doing so soon.

UPDATE: “Joe Shoemaker, a Durbin spokesman, said he became aware of Rooney’s book when he read a review in January. He said he read it, and came away “concerned she was describing a hostile work environment” in the Chicago office. Shoemaker said Durbin then read the book. The Senate employment counsel was consulted, the Chicago chief of staff was placed on administrative leave, and an investigation by Durbin’s office was launched, Shoemaker said. Interviews with the Chicago staff showed the chief of staff had shown bad judgment with regard to Rooney, but had not harassed her or anyone else in the office. He was reinstated as an aide, but stripped of supervisory responsibilities. When asked if she was willing to stop taking notes about the office’s inner-workings, Rooney “declined and chose instead to be terminated,” Shoemaker said.”

Join the Conversation

  • kat

    The original WSJ article states that Rooney was asked if she wanted to file a complaint, and that she said no. Then there is an update on the WSJ article, which perhaps you missed:
    “UPDATE: Joe Shoemaker, a Durbin spokesman, said he became aware of Rooney’s book when he read a review in January. He said he read it, and came away “concerned she was describing a hostile work environment” in the Chicago office. Shoemaker said Durbin then read the book. The Senate employment counsel was consulted, the Chicago chief of staff was placed on administrative leave, and an investigation by Durbin’s office was launched, Shoemaker said. Interviews with the Chicago staff showed the chief of staff had shown bad judgment with regard to Rooney, but had not harassed her or anyone else in the office. He was reinstated as an aide, but stripped of supervisory responsibilities. When asked if she was willing to stop taking notes about the office’s inner-workings, Rooney “declined and chose instead to be terminated,” Shoemaker said.
    Rooney says she wasn’t given the option of staying.”

  • Brittany-Ann

    The article does say when Durbin read the book, he put the CoS on administrative leave, and then he came back as an intern, with no supervisory responsibilities. Perhaps he would have been fired if she had chosen to file a complaint, but we don’t know.

  • Marc

    And this response is probably not going to get a lot of support.
    Forgive me – but what in the story indicated sexual harrassment?
    I am quite confused, actually. While I am all for curbing inappropriate behavior and sexual harrassment at work, this does not seem to constitute such, but rather, intimate and friendly touching between co-workers who work in obviously very close and intimate setting.
    I get the power dynamics, I get that he is her boss, but if she didn’t claim or imply sexual harrassment, why are we doing it for her? Does she not have her own voice, of what’s sexual harrassment and what’s not? In doing so, we take away her voice, and make her into the poster child of workplace sexual harrassment she did not ask to be.
    Further, we downplay the seriousness of sexual harrassment at the work place, when we make everything out to be such.
    This seems to me more about two people working together in intimate settings, and are on very different pages when it comes to defining the extent of their relationships.
    It sounds to me more like two people working together, with lots of sexual tension, more than anything else.
    As for her getting fired – especially when working for political organizations, one signs a privacy form that requires one not disclose information about said organization. This applies not just for books, but Twitter and Facebook and other social networking sites as well. She violated the very rule that she agreed to when she started working there, so she got fired.
    How is this a double standard?

  • supremepizza

    What’s the problem here? From the WSJ: “Interviews with the Chicago staff showed the chief of staff had shown bad judgment with regard to Rooney, but had not harassed her or anyone else in the office. He was reinstated as an aide, but stripped of supervisory responsibilities. When asked if she was willing to stop taking notes about the office’s inner-workings, Rooney “declined and chose instead to be terminated”
    She didn’t claim she was harassed, and no one else said they had been harassed. This was two consenting adults. While I think its professionally inappropriate (because its a conflict of interest) for a supervisor to involve themselves with their subordinates, its not harassment unless its unwanted. There’s no claim anywhere that this is the case…And calling your boss a windbag–as she did Sen. Durbin–is awfully likely to get anyone fired.
    Funny, when the David Letterman thing came, people here said it was ok for him to sleep with a slew of staffers because it was consensual (despite the obvious implications for women he didn’t so favor). Here, though, its called sexual harassment. This is a double standard.

  • R. Dave

    How is it sexual harassment? She says both parties were willingly engaged in the flirtatiousness. Inappropriate, perhaps, but not harassment.

  • hindeviola

    After reading the original article, I really don’t see any double standards. Rooney was asked if she wanted to file a complaint against the chief of staff, and said no, she didn’t. He was punished, though:
    “The Senate employment counsel was consulted, the Chicago chief of staff was placed on administrative leave, and an investigation by Durbin’s office was launched, Shoemaker said. Interviews with the Chicago staff showed the chief of staff had shown bad judgment with regard to Rooney, but had not harassed her or anyone else in the office. He was reinstated as an aide, but stripped of supervisory responsibilities.”
    I’m guessing being demoted from chief of staff to an aide is a pretty big punishment. Correct me if I’m wrong, though.

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    Marc,
    When a boss and a subordinate have a sexual relationship at work it’s called “quid pro quo sexual harassment” – because there is the implication that the subordinate would be punished if she/he didn’t go along with it.
    Also, that situation constitutes “hostile work environment sexual harassment” for all of the other subordinates who are not in a sexual relationship with the boss.
    And no, the worker having the affair doesn’t have to call it sexual harassment for it to be considered as such.
    I’m surprised you’d ask this question – aren’t you in the Army?
    I’m not up on my UCMJ law (I’m more familiar with US labor law and New York State human rights law) but don’t people get court martialed for subordinate-boss sexual relationships in the service (I believe it’s called “fraternization”)?

  • Marc

    John, it happens all the time. It’s only when you’re caught are you punished. Fact of the matter is we need to stop treating women as if they are always the victims. Heaven forbid women can make their own decisions on with whom they choose to flirt, or make themselves available to.
    The law exists for a reason, but we need to look at each situation on its on merits.
    Just because the Army has the law, and I am in it, doesn’t mean I agree with it. There’s a difference between being coersive and two people, two consenting adults, choosing to do adult things.

  • Athenia

    I’m actually kinda with you.
    I mean, what the HECK does this sentence mean?
    “Once upon a time there was a girl in unrequitable (but not unrequited) love with her boss.”
    To me this means, “We really liked each other but since we worked together we couldn’t get it on” not “I was being harrassed.”
    However, perhaps her book reveals a more hostile working environment than the excerpt reveals.

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    It’s Gregory, not John, and the UCMJ’s approach to sexual harassment is one of the few things I agree with the Pentagon about!
    When it comes to relationships between bosses and subordinates, there is no equality – the person who has the power to hire, promote, demote, grant raises, discipline and, above all, fire, always has the upper hand.
    In an unequal relationship like that, can we honestly say the subordinate has a whole lot of “choice”?
    There is something to be said for the idea of firing bosses who date their subordinates – because the power imbalance is just too great.
    I think that’s a principle that civilian labor and human rights law should adopt from the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

  • R. Dave

    It’s only quid pro quo harassment if the subordinate actually feels coerced and a person in his/her position would reasonably feel that way. Relationships between workplace superiors and subordinates are not strict liability offenses!
    As for the hostile work environment for others, that depends on how the two people involved conducted themselves in front of others and, again, whether a reasonable person would feel that conduct created a hostile environment. Simply knowing that two people are in a relationship or witnessing a moderate level of flirtatiousness aren’t likely to be sufficient for a cause of action.

  • nikki#2

    Exactly. From what we have to go on this done not seem like harrassment.

  • Comrade Kevin

    This stuff goes on all the time, but the virtues of workplace flirtation and/or romance is the real issue here.