Donald Trump’s campaign CEO Stephen Bannon and an associate were accused of sexual harassment in a 1990s court case.
The suit was related to Bannon’s time as director of Biosphere 2, a research facility located in Oracle, Arizona, that aimed to simulate the surface of Mars. Then a Los Angeles–based investment banker, Bannon worked as a consultant trying to cut ballooning costs related to the ecological research center at behest of Texas billionaire Edward Bass, the project’s financial backer.
The suit, filed by Biosphere 2’s former director Margret Augustine, named Bass as the primary defendant. Bannon and a fellow banker, Martin Bowen, were also named and accused of having acted as his agents.
Augustine accused Bass of having used his agents to dissociate her from the Biosphere project in breach of an earlier agreement. She also accused him of using Bannon and Bowen to slander her by saying she had stolen from the Biosphere gift shop and the project’s construction fund. Soon after filing the complaint, she dropped a claim that Bannon and Bowen had invaded her privacy by deleting messages from her answering machine and opening her mail, saying that she would only press charges for incidents that occurred before April 1, 1994. The claims provoked a counter-suit from Space Biosphere Ventures, the company that controlled the project, accusing Augustine of having engaged in self-dealing and stealing from the company.
But the most explosive allegations were that Bannon and Bowen, had made sexually suggestive remarks and lewd remarks toward her, and had disparaged female employees of the research facility.
Both Bannon and Bowen denied the sexual harassment at the time. An affidavit from Bannon said he “did not undertake any sexual harassment towards Margaret Augustine.” On Monday, a spokeswoman for Bannon told BuzzFeed News, "The Bass Organization sued Ms. Augustine for fraud for embezzling $800,000. She then sued two representatives of the Bass Organization having never complained about any behavior. Subsequently, she dropped her legal action. Ms Augustine was removed as CEO in a corporate restructuring in 1993.”
In her complaint, Augustine said, “Both Bowen and Bannon were insulting to the plaintiff and other females employees of Biosphere 2, and in their presence, and against their will, made lewd remarks, told offensive off-color stories, made disparaging remarks about females, made sexually suggestive remarks, discussed females they had known in a lewd and derogatory fashion and in general acted with total indifference to the feelings of the plaintiff and other female employees of Biosphere 2.”
Augustine claimed specifically that Bannon once commented the problem with an employee she “was a woman in a man’s job.”
She claimed that during a trip, “Steve Bannon and Martin Bowen made comments as women walked by about the size of women’s breasts and body parts in lewd tones and language. Martin spoke about a centerfold in Playboy magazine who was born in a town he went to school in or grew up in, in Texas on 5 separate occasions, discussing the size of her ‘boobs,’ ‘titties,’ etc.”
She said at company party she danced with Bannon and he “held my wrist tightly and told me that once I’d done it with him I’d never want to do it with anyone else.”
On another occasion, she said Bannon yelled at her, citing another employee’s performance.
“Steve Bannon started shouting at me that the whole ‘Goddam problem was that I let Larry Pomatte get his swinging dick in here.’ I stood up and said I would not continue a meeting being spoken to in that manner. Steve said, ‘You will Goddam well will sit the fuck down and…’” She said she was shaken and ended the meeting.
Augustine added in the complaint she contacted Bass about the behavior to advise him about the conduct but not action was taken. As a result, she alleged, Bannon “continued to make the same sort of lewd, suggestive, rude, and insulting comments to the plaintiff and other female employees of Biosphere 2.”
She said as a result she “suffered severe mental distress and anxiety” that required “the help of medical care practitioners and the incurring of medical and hospital bills as a result thereof.”
Bass had sued Augustine just a day before her case was filed. His suit claimed that Augustine “allegedly paid a company she owned nearly $800,000 in unaccounted-for Biosphere funds,” according to a report in the Tucson Citizen.
Bass accused her of “diverting funds for her personal use, including having SBV pay to remodel her house, thefts from the six gift shops, kickbacks, and apparent sweetheart deals with subcontractor,” according to author Jane Poynter in The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2.
The judge ruled in favor of the defense on Augustine’s allegation that Bass had dissociated her from the project and Augustine ultimately dropped her slander claims, in addition to her claims that her privacy was invaded. The sexual harassment count, along with the counter-suit against Augustine, was ultimately settled.
Augustine’s lawyer was not immediately available to discuss the case. Augustine did not return a request for comment on the matter. Bowen did not return a request for comment. Neither Bass, nor his publicist, immediately returned a request for comment.
According two books on Biosphere 2 and newspaper accounts, Bannon had originally been brought into bring costs under but was not allowed by the current management, including Augustine, to audit the project’s records with accounts conflicting as to why. Bass got a court order take control of the project and an order to bar the current management employees from the premise, and that’s when Bannon was given control.
On Friday, Mother Jones reported on a separate trial related to Biosphere where Bannon said in testimony that he had called one of the plaintiffs a "self-centered, deluded young woman" and a "bimbo." The “bimbo” comment came after the plaintiff had compared a atmospheric breach into the closed research center to the space shuttle Challenger explosion, according to a report in the Arizona Daily Star.
Bannon would eventually leave the project and Columbia University would take over Biosphere 2.