Coast Guard’s Grappling with Harassment and Discrimination Offers Lessons on Leadership Accountability

Lt. Cmdr. Kerry Karwan, a retired member of the Coast Guard and member of the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), attended the Dec. 11 joint congressional hearing by the U.S. House Oversight and Homeland Security Committees. The issue at hand was one she had personal experience with. “Righting the Ship,” the congressional report that informed the hearing, says Coast Guard leadership had failed to conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into allegations of discrimination, harassment and bullying in recent years.

After 24 years in the Coast Guard, Karwan was not promoted from an O4 Lieutenant Commander to an O5 Commander. Karwan screened for the O5 position in 2014 and from 2015–2017 she served in an O5 billet, but she was never officially promoted. In the Coast Guard, those who are not promoted to Commander after 20 years are honorably retired. Karwan retired June 1, 2017. She said in an interview with Fair360, formerly DiversityInc that she believes her lack of promotion and forced retirement were a result of her receiving in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments while trying to become pregnant and symptoms of her polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that impacts fertility.

“It was gender specific for me, I think,” Karwan said. “They considered getting IVF as an elective surgery. Getting a nose job or a boob job is an elective surgery.”

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