By EVAN GAHR
Exclusive: The Family
Research Council has quietly settled, quite possibly for money, a lawsuit
brought by a woman who they fired after she complained about sexual harassment
by her supervisor, William Saunders, a prominent anti-abortion lawyer. He pressured her to attend parties and frequently
opined that young women who use birth control pills are “whoring around.”
embarrassment: after the Family Research Council dismissed Moira Gaul she
unsuccessfully sought employment with three different GOP bigwigs, including
The settlement, which
has not been reported anywhere, ends a more than four year legal odyssey for
Gaul, a longtime conservative activist, who had thrived at the Family Research
Council until she allegedly suffered sexual harassment.
The Family Research
Council hired Gaul in March 2005 as an abstinence coordinator. She was later
promoted to Director of Women’s and Reproductive Health. Although her main
focus was abstinence education Gaul was frequently quoted by the media about
abortion and the HPV vaccination for young girls, which the Family Research
Council and most other social conservatives strongly oppose.
According to Gaul, a prominent anti-abortion lawyer named Bill Saunders was
harassing her even before he became her direct supervisor in early 2007. The
harassment then “escalated,” Gaul alleged.
An internal FRC memo,
which I found after going through hundreds of pages of court documents, says
that Gaul complained to the Family Research Council in 2007 that Saunders was
“verbally abusive” towards her. (Click for larger view.)
The June 2, 2008 memo
from FRC Vice President for Policy Peter Sprigg to the HR department says that
the FRC “disciplined” Saunders after Gaul complained about him.
But much to her
chagrin, Gaul was forced to continue to report to him.
In January 2009, Gaul
filed a gender discrimination complaint--you can not file for sexual
harassment--with the District of Columbia Human Rights Commission in January
2009.(Click for larger view.)
In that complaint, which
I obtained by going through hundreds of pages of court documents, Gaul says that the Family Research Council’s
Director of the Center for Human Life and Bioethics “pressured me to attend
parties,” sent her mails addressed “hi cutie” and “referred to the use of
birth control pills by young women as ‘whoring around.’” In general, “his
attitude towards me and other women was rude, belittling and at times angry.”
According to multiple news accounts, the Director of the Center for Human Life
and Bioethics during the time that the sexual harassment was alleged to take
place was Bill Saunders
Saunders did not
respond to repeated emails.
claimed that the Family Research Council quickly retaliated against Gaul after
she filed a complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights about him.
In January 2009, Gaul
who had a number of health problems that the Family Research Council previously
had gone out of its way to accommodate was forced to go on short term
“The Family Research Council’s Vice President of Administration assured her
that her health insurance would continue through her short-term disability
leave,” the lawsuit says.
But following her
complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights “FRC’s Vice President of
Administration informed Gaul that the Family Research Council was
retroactively canceling her health insurance for the period she was on short
When she returned to the work and the Family Research Council failed to give
her health insurance against Gaul, desperate for coverage, “contacted various
members of management and Human Resources for help.”
A top FRC official
then “threatened to issue another reprimand for insubordination if she
attempted to raise the issue of her health insurance again.”
Gaul has previously received two excellent reviews at the FRC and no
reprimands. But after she filed the complaint the FRC hit her with three
reprimands. One concerned turning in a time sheet late; the second was about
missing a radio interview due to a miscommunication and a third was for insubordination.
Her sexual harassment complaint was settled on July 31, 2009 but the hostility
continued, the lawsuit says.
Finally, on October 23, 2009, the Family Research Council fired Gaul.
According to her
lawsuit, the stated reason was a “reduction in federal funding to the
abstinence movement” and the need for a person in the position “with a
background in a variety of ‘life issue’ areas beyond abstinence, which [FRC]
claimed that Ms. Gaul did not have “
(Wow! Who knew that
the Family Research Council, scourge of big government, was actually on the
On July 26, 2011,
Gaul filed a federal lawsuit against the Family Research Council, alleging
illegal retaliation under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
This non-blog blog broke the
story of the lawsuit in December 2012. It was then picked up by the Huffington Post, TalkingPointsMemo, Wonkette, ThinkProgress and
the Washington Blade.
The lawsuit says the stated rationales for Gaul’s dismissal were really just
excuses for retaliation. There was funding available and Gaul had experience in
many areas beyond abstinence.
“Federal funding for
abstinence education continued after Ms. Gaul was terminated, and, three months
after her termination, the FRC created a new position with duties substantially
similar to those previously performed by Ms. Gaul.”
In its motion for summary judgment the FRC asserted that Gaul had no right to
claim retaliation based on the complaint because on her sexual harassment
complaint because it was settled and therefore legally moot. “Plaintiff can not
show that her position was eliminated in response to any protected activity she
engaged in or that the Defendant exhibited unlawful or otherwise prohibited
In other words, the
Family Research Council wanted to pretend like the sexual harassment never
In May 2013, both
sides had mediation with Federal Magistrate Judge Alan Kay in Washington, DC.
The case was settled on July 25, 2013. It is impossible to tell from the
publicly available documents about the settlement what the terms were.
employment lawyers interviewed all said they believed it was very likely the
Family Research Council paid to settle the case.
Rich Cohen, an
employment lawyer, told this reporter that, “It would appear to me there is a
very strong possibility money was paid” to settle the case.
exclusively represents employers, says cases like this lawsuit, with its
extended legal wrangling and an unsuccessful attempt by the defendant to obtain
a summary judgment in its favor, are often settled for money.
He says another
reason to believe that there was a monetary settlement is that the case was
settled shortly after both sides had mediation before a federal magistrate.
“That would militate in favor of the conclusion that the mediator was able to
broker a deal.”
It certainly sounds
from Gaul’s reaction to the settlement that the Family Research Council paid
money to make its sex scandal go away.
Jeffrey Landis, the
lawyer for Gaul, told this reporter that “Ms. Gaul is very pleased and
satisfied with the outcome.”
According to her
legal papers Gaul tried dozens of times to find work with conservative
organizations but was unsuccessful.
Besides John Boehner,
Senator Saxby Chambliss and House Republican Deputy Whip Kevin Brady, she was
turned away by Concerned Women for America, a Christian Right mainstay,
Americans United for Life, and the American Life League.
Landis says that Gaul
finally obtained full employment in December 2012. But he refuses to say where
she works or if her employer is a conservative organization.
Bill Hickey, the
lawyer for the Family Research Council, did not respond to repeated emails.
supervisor, Bill Saunders who had worked at the FRC for years left the
organization shortly after Gaul filed a complaint with the DC Office of Human
Rights in about him.
He decamped to the
Americans United for Life, which is tied to prominent conservative thinkers in
the country, such as Weekly Standard contributing editor Yuval Levin, a leading
Republican Party intellectual.
Americans United for
Life head Charmaine Yoest did not respond to repeated requests for comment
Evan Gahr, a former press critic for
the late New York Post editorial page editor Eric Breindel, has written for almost every major conservative publication. He recently broke the
story of a race discrimination lawsuit against the Washington Post.