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Justice Department Considers Criminal Action Against NRC Inspector

April 3, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Justice Department on Wednesday was reviewing its decision to defer filing criminal charges against the chief inspector of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The review follows the reinstatement last Thursday of Sharon R. Connelly, director of the NRC’s Office of Inspector and Audit, who went on administrative leave Jan. 28 after being accused of mishandling a sexual harassment complaint. The commission found that the allegations were unsubstantiated and the commission said it retains full confidence in Connelly.

Days before the NRC reinstated her, the Justice Department sent the commission a letter saying that it had found evidence of improprieties in the way Connelly handled the complaint filed by a subordinate.

″We have decided to defer institution of criminal charges until we can assess whether administrative action to be taken against Ms. Connelly satisfies the interests of justice,″ Lawrence Lippe, chief of litigation for the Justice Department’s criminal division, told the NRC in the March 22 letter.

John Russell, a criminal division spokesman, said Wednesday the department is ″reassessing″ its position in light of the reinstatement. He did not say how long it would take to decide whether to pursue criminal charges.

Connelly’s attorney, August Bequai, said Lippe’s letter ″has the making of a potentially good novel.″

The letter says that on Sept. 11, 1985, Connelly reviewed the personnel and security files of Lisa Shea, a former auditor in her office who the previous day had filed an equal employment opportunity complaint against Connelly and Connelly’s deputy director, George Messenger. In addition to the sexual harassment accusation, Shea also said she was a victim of sex discrimination in being denied a promotion.

Under the Privacy Act, Lippe said, ″records may not be pulled for an improper purpose,″ such as ″a privately conducted fishing expedition ... to discredit″ someone filing an equal employment opportunity complaint.

Bequai said his client did not know the complaint had been filed when she examined the records. Bequai disagreed with Lippe’s interpretation of the Privacy Act, saying Connelly would not have been doing anything improper even if she had known the complaint had been filed.

Messenger, who was reassigned to the NRC’s Office of Human Factors on Jan. 15, says there was no foundation to the complaint against him.

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