Two Standards for Sexual Harassment

Two Standards for Sexual Harassment

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By No Labels

Two Standards for Sexual Harassment

Senator Al Franken said today that he would resign from the U.S. Senate, after dozens of colleagues urged the Minnesota Democrat to step down amid allegations of sexual harassment. But he did not say exactly when he would leave.

The resignation underlines a point: Lawmakers play by a different set of rules than leaders in the private sector when it comes to sexual harassment allegations. In the private sector, employers can force employees to resign. In Congress, lawmakers often determine their own fate.

Though the private sector is not always a model of how to deal with sexual harassment cases, many companies have proven this year that they are willing to part with high-profile employees. Matt Lauer. Charlie Rose. Glenn Thrush. Mark Halperin. Harvey Weinstein. Garrison Keillor. The list goes on.

In Congress, the result is not so uniform. For example, Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, resigned following allegations of sexual harassment. Others have not resigned, or have said they will wait until their term ends to leave. Franken, who disputes some of the allegations, chose to resign but said he would do so in coming weeks.

The call for Franken’s resignation is part of a growing demand for action on sexual harassment cases in Congress, but the result has so far been a patchwork of activity that leaves it unclear how cases will be treated.

For example, even after it was reported that roughly $17 million in taxpayer money was spent to resolve sexual harassment and other workplace claims filed by employees of Congress since 1997, a full list of lawmakers who settled harassment cases still has not been disclosed.

To date, only one such case has been made public, that of Rep. Blake Farenthold, the Texas Republican who has said he will pay back the $84,000 in taxpayer money used to settle a case. He did not resign.

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced to prohibit the use of public money for settlements in harassment cases and to disclose which lawmakers were involved in settlements. But it is unclear whether the bill will gain widespread support.

Congress has taken other steps. Both the House and Senate have voted to implement anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training, and the House Administration Committee will hold its second hearing today on the law that governs how sexual harassment claims are handled on Capitol Hill.

But there is no clear consensus on how cases should be treated, leaving members of Congress to treat each one individually.

As The New York Times reported, “lawmakers are struggling with how to respond to each charge, whether one case can be deemed less serious than another and what role politics can and should play in determining a member’s future.”

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