POLITICS

Official Who Settled Sexual Harassment Claim Tapped For Senior Homeland Security Job

Charles Cook denied accusations that he had harassed and retaliated against a government employee while at the Transportation Security Administration.

Charles “Chas” Cook, a Transportation Security Administration official who in 2015 settled a sexual harassment claim that a female federal employee made against him and has continued working for the federal government since, was named to a senior advisory role at the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, according to an email announcement obtained by HuffPost.

Cook will serve as the principal deputy assistant secretary in the department’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, according to an email announcement sent to agency staff by James McDonnell, the assistant secretary of the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office.

Cook, who currently serves as the deputy assistant director for flight operations at the Federal Air Marshal Service at TSA, is slated to start his senior adviser job on Aug. 12, the email says. Cook will assume the principal deputy assistant secretary position at the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office when the official who currently holds the role leaves later this year, according to the email announcement McDonnell sent Tuesday.

In 2015, Cook and the TSA reached a settlement in a lawsuit with Sonya Labosco, a former air marshal supervisor who accused him of sexual harassment, physical assault and retaliation, North Carolina TV station Fox46 reported in October 2018. The settlement was reportedly worth six figures, the station reported, but it did not require Cook, who denied the accusations, to admit wrongdoing.

In an interview with the station, Labosco claimed that Cook had “held his hands over his erection in his pants” at a party hosted by another TSA employee in 2009 and “put his hand behind my neck and tried to kiss me on the mouth.” Cook also “said he ‘has eight inches of c― waiting on you any time you want it,’” Labosco told the station. 

Labosco also alleged that Cook suggested he could help her “move up the ladder” in exchange for sexual favors and that he demoted her when she rejected his advances. Lobosco also said that Cook once “grabbed my arm, twisted it really hard, left fingerprints on my arm and tried to pull me out” of a meeting room because she didn’t leave quickly enough. 

“He told me to get the f― out of the room. I better get the f― out now,” she told Fox46.

Cook denied wrongdoing after Labosco filed a federal lawsuit and a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the TSA said that it investigated Labosco’s claims but found them unsupported, Fox46 reported last year. The agency did reprimand him for cursing and said it found those actions “unacceptable.” 

The EEOC, however, found that, “at a minimum, [Cook] placed his hands upon [Labosco] and grabbed her arm,” according to Fox46, which also reported that Labosco’s husband witnessed Cook’s attempt to kiss her.

A month after the claim was settled, Cook was promoted to a higher position inside the TSA, Fox46 reported. At the time, Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) called the promotion “outrageous” and said that people like Cook have “no business in our modern-day federal government.”

“TSA thoroughly investigated the allegations of physical misconduct when they were brought to its attention. TSA does not comment on personnel actions,” the agency told The Daily Beast in a statement last year.

On Wednesday, DHS said it could not comment on the TSA’s investigation.

“Mr. Cook is a DHS employee in good standing,” a DHS official said in a statement, adding that Cook was selected for the role “based on his expertise and experience at TSA.”

The position is filled on a “rotating basis” by senior officials from various areas of the department, the official said.  

Cook has previously served as an air marshal and a Border Patrol agent, and in various capacities across the federal government, including in Homeland Security’s counterterrorism units, according to McDonnell’s announcement email.

Soto, the Florida congressman, said Wednesday that he had referred Cook’s hiring to the House Committee on Homeland Security for review. 

“We shouldn’t be promoting individuals with a history of sexual harassment into leadership positions in our federal government,” Soto said in a statement sent to HuffPost.  

This story has been updated to include statements from DHS and Rep. Darren Soto. 

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