Sorry, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, your gender does not give you permission to abuse your office staff. And, no, it is not viewed as inappropriate because you are female; it is viewed as inappropriate because rudeness to an employee is never appropriate. No. Mistreatment of staff is not something the press would ignore by a male member of Congress. Just ask your former Minnesota colleague, Senator Al Franklin.

I’ve worked with rude and abusive male and female supervisors in my career. Both are unpleasant and both are inappropriate. I’m tired of hearing that abusive female supervisors are being held to a different standard than male supervisors. They are not. Abusive behavior is observable and measurable. Abusive behavior by a woman looks, sounds, and feels exactly like abusive behavior by a male.


I’ve listened to several female correspondents on television say that Klobuchar’s mistreatment of her staff would not be an issue if she were a male. Really? Then why does she, according to Politico, have the highest turnover rate of any senator between 2001 and 2016? Are employees leaving her office because she is a female? Why aren’t other female senators having this problem? According to multiple current and former staff members from Klobuchar’s office, they leave because she is difficult to work with, rude, and abusive. And Klobuchar admitted there was a problem when she told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that “I also know I can do better and I will.”

If Klobuchar were a male receiving this kind of feedback from congressional staff, the same female correspondents would be asking for his resignation. Klobuchar’s gender should not be an excuse for inexcusable behavior.

I don’t know if Klobuchar has been or is abusive to some of her staff. But it is important to know. If true, it is a disqualifying personality trait for a president. We already have an insecure bully in the White House. We don’t need four more years of the same. The question of whether we should believe the accusations by former staff members begs the question: If these were female former employees making claims of inappropriate behavior of a male candidate, we certainly would be required to take them seriously. The same standard should hold for Klobuchar.

Zirpoli: Lessons of the line item veto

Presidents have always wanted to tweak Congressional budgets. President Donald Trump’s effort to move money from some projects to fund a wall along the Mexican border is an example of this and reminds me of the history of the line item veto which was ruled unconstitutional in 1998.

Matt Flegenheimer and Sydney Ember of The New York Times interviewed over two dozen former aides and reviewed many office emails from Klobuchar that I would consider rude, at best. In their well-documented report, they found that the senator “was known to throw office objects in frustration, including binders and phones, in the direction of aides.” Aides told them of being “berated,” treated in a “dehumanizing” way, and that she would “complicate the future job opportunities of some staff members who sought to leave” according to former aides.

In response, Klobuchar says that she is “hard-driving,” “a tough boss sometimes,” and that she has “pushed people too hard.” How is this a defense? Many supervisors are hard-driving and tough, and able to treat their employees with dignity and respect at the same time. They don’t yell and scream, and they certainly don’t throw things. Any supervisor who throws things at his/her employees should be charged with assault.

Some former staff members have come forward to defend the senator. Good for them and we should be inclined to believe them, too. But positive feedback from some or even most of her employees does not mean that the senator has not been inappropriate toward others. Former staff interviewed by Flegenheimer and Ember said they had worked with both male and female members of Congress. Abusive behavior towards staff, they said, “should not be dismissed as gender bias.” I agree.

Klobuchar’s office policies have also earned some attention. For example, as outlined in an employee handbook, staff were required to pay back money earned during parental leave if they left before they worked three times as many weeks as they were on leave. When this policy was pointed out to Klobuchar’s office, her spokeswoman, Elana Ross, stated that they would “be changing that language in the handbook.”

Professor Rebecca Greenbaum of Rutgers University’s school of management and labor relations found that “we just can’t find any upside” to abusive leadership. She noted in her research that “bullying bosses tend to undermine their own teams. Morale and company loyalty plunge, tardiness increases and sick days are more frequent.” Over time, says Greenbaum, “the performance of the staff or team deteriorates, and people quit.” According to the data, people quitting seems to be an issue in Klobuchar’s office.

Abusive behavior is abusive behavior. Whether it comes from a male or female supervisor should not be a variable in how we respond. Let’s call it what it is, as we observe it, regardless of the gender of the voice.