Navy belatedly acts on harassment

June 01, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Lt. Darlene Simmons was a successful Navy lawyer with an impeccable reputation and a promising future. That is, until she accused her boss of sexual harassment.

Since that moment two years ago, Lieutenant Simmons has been forced to undergo a psychiatric examination (in which she was found to be fit), given poor marks on her evaluations and scheduled to be discharged in August.

She says her superiors have greeted her pleas for help with retaliation. "I am regarded as a troublemaker with no future in the Navy," she told the House Armed Services Committee in March.

Now the Navy is trying to make amends. Navy Secretary John H. Dalton has apologized to Lieutenant Simmons, cleared her record and offered to extend her active duty Navy service by two years. "No one in our Navy or Marine Corps should be treated as you were," Mr. Dalton wrote Lieutenant Simmons in a letter May 12.

Mr. Dalton has also censured Lieutenant Simmons' former boss, Lt. Comdr. Arthur Catullo, for sending her a note offering to help advance her career in exchange for sexual favors. Commander Catullo retired last year.

In addition, Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, the chief of naval operations, has reprimanded two other officers, Capt. Willie J. Mead and Capt. Clyde J. Ihrig, for failing to act properly on Lieutenant Simmons' complaints.

Captain Mead is retired now. Captain Ihrig works for the Navy Department at the Pentagon.

Commander Catullo and Captain Mead could not be reached for comment yesterday. When reached at his home last night, Captain Ihrig said he had been "counseled by his chain of command," but he declined to comment further on the matter.

In a telephone interview yesterday from Mayport, Fla., where she is a Navy prosecutor, Lieutenant Simmons said: "I'm absolutely thrilled about the outcome of this. This definitely hasn't been an easy process, but I feel I have a new life."

The lieutenant's case is one of scores of sexual harassment complaints in the military, but senior Navy officials point to their handling of the matter, belated as it was, as a sign of the Navy's new commitment to eliminate sexual harassment in the wake of the Tailhook scandal. Scores of women were assaulted at the 1991 convention of the Tailhook Association, a private group for naval aviators.

Lt. Simmons, a 39-year-old Navy Reservist on active duty, said she had accepted the offer to stay at least two more years.

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