After WBRZ report, governor's office to review policies dealing with sexual harassment claims
BATON ROUGE – High-ranking state prison officials offered to make a sexual harassment complaint “go away” if the employee alleged to have committed wrongdoing resigned, WBRZ learned through audio recordings of the discussion released to the station's Investigative Unit.
Among the promises made during a more than ten-minute conversation were positive references given to future employers and a clean, prior state work history.
The deal was offered to Dr. Raman Singh, the one-time top doctor for the Louisiana Department of Corrections. Offering the deal were the department's undersecretary, Thomas Bickham, and harassment investigator Col. Joel Odom.
When Singh refused to resign, he was later fired. The entire situation is now the focus of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Singh by Baton Rouge attorney Jill Craft. WBRZ previously reported on the lawsuit Tuesday.
"Basically, (we're) giving you the opportunity that you can resign and have all this stuff go away," Bickham was recorded saying. "I give you my word, there will be nothing in your folder, and you can use me as a reference."
Bickham is offering a clean sweep of a claim that, while attending an out-of-town conference at a casino, Singh put his arm around a colleague and told her he “loved her.” Singh denies any wrongdoing.
Craft, the doctor's attorney, finds the recorded conversation troubling. She likens the presumed deal to public records being illegally amended.
"If someone were to file a subpoena for an investigative report, it does not exist," Odom is heard saying.
Craft, after listening to the recording, told WBRZ Chief Investigator Chris Nakamoto Wednesday: "I'm horrified that I have high-ranking officials in Department of Corrections – the police of the police in this state – and they are saying even if someone issues a subpoena for records regarding this complaint about you, Dr. Singh, there will be nothing there," Craft said. "How is that possible?"
Bickham and Odom claimed the complaint filed against Singh was informal and promised nothing would be placed in Singh's file if he left his job.
"If the complaint doesn't exist, you have no reason to clear your name," Bickham said referring to how it would vanish if Singh stepped down. "That complaint goes away if you resign. That's what I'm telling you and that's the offer on the table."
"You can use me as a reference, and I'll tell them you're the best damn medical director we ever had," Bickham said. "And I won't be lying. It's the truth."
Frustrated with how the conversation between the doctor and his bosses went, the governor's office made a rare decision to get involved late Wednesday.
In a statement released after the original WBRZ report on the 6 o'clock news, the state's lead spokesperson said there will be policy reviews from top to bottom dealing with sexual harassment allegations. In other high-profile cases, the governor's office has talked about its serious, zero tolerance policy on such complaints.
> WATCH: See the original 6 o'clock news report HERE
After the Department of Corrections failed to respond to a request for comment or interview before the news, Governor John Bel Edwards' Deputy Chief of Staff intervened.
“Currently, attorneys within the state’s human resource office who are experts in employment law are reviewing policies regarding sexual harassment statewide to ensure proper protocols are followed,” Carbo said in a statement released ahead of the 10 o'clock news Wednesday.
Carbo said the governor's office understands that a “thorough” investigation was conducted and more will be released Thursday.
But, Dr. Singh maintains his innocence. He said immediately after the allegations were levied, he requested video recordings from the casino where the conference was hosted. He was told because the matter is not being investigated criminally, the casino would not release them to him personally.
Craft said she issued a letter to the casino, asking recordings be saved and is frustrated over the situation.
"If it's a legitimate complaint and it's a quote 'serious issue' and you're going to take a man's job and his livelihood, don't you think you would want a record of that?" Craft asked.
"The only thing we are going to leave for our kids is honor," Singh said. "We are going to fight to the last breath to save our honor. Because I have not done it."
The entire statement from Carbo reads: “The governor takes these accusations seriously and has been kept up to date on this issue as the investigation was conducted. Currently, attorneys within the state’s human resource office who are experts in employment law are reviewing policies regarding sexual harassment statewide to ensure proper protocols are followed. Sec. LeBlanc and his team have conducted a thorough investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against Dr. Singh. While the governor’s office has not seen the final report, it will be released (Thursday) and decisive action will be taken should allegations of wrongdoing be substantiated.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated a few hours after its original post to reflect a statement from the Governor's Office and new information about policy reviews.