By No Labels
How many sexual harassment cases have members of Congress settled? We don’t know — and Congress should fix that.
It was widely reported earlier this month that roughly $17 million in taxpayer money was spent to resolve sexual harassment and other workplace claims filed by employees of Congress since 1997. Congressional leaders should release the names of representatives who settled sexual harassment cases.
The reason is simple: The public’s business should be done in public. If taxpayer money was used to resolve these cases, information about the cases should be made public. To do anything less gives at least the appearance of protecting those in office.
Congress is grappling with sexual harassment in its own halls this week. Allegations of sexual harassment involving lawmakers continue to surface and criticism of how Congress handled claims in years past is growing fast.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday that the House Administration Committee will hold a hearing on the issue of settlements next week. “Sexual Harassment has no place in any workplace, let alone in the United States Congress,” he said.
Some say efforts should go farther. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a bill to disclose the settlements and prevent future sexual harassment cases from being settled using tax money.
“These are taxpayer dollars that are at issue here and there is no reason the taxpayer should be deprived of knowing where their tax dollars are going,” Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Florida Republican, told Roll Call.
A survey by Politico this week found that each lawmaker’s office has a different policy and that they can differ substantially. Some say that the House and Senate should implement a unified policy.
Meanwhile, the House voted Wednesday to require all lawmakers and staff to attend anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training at the start of every Congress, in a move similar to what the Senate did earlier this month. The measure drew bipartisan support, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Virginia Republican, and Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat. There was no opposition.
Speier, who has shared her own experiences publicly, has also introduced legislation to name lawmakers involved in settlements and make harassment cases in Congress more transparent. “Today’s bill is an important step in the right direction,” Speier said Wednesday. “But let’s not fool ourselves. It’s a baby step.”
Six out of every 10 women in America have experienced sexual harassment, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll earlier this month. For almost 70 percent of those victims, it happened at work. And that includes the U.S. Congress.