Outing Congressional Creeps Is a Must
Over the last 20 years, Congress has shelled out more than $17 million to cover claims against it members.
It has often been said that Washington, DC, is Hollywood for ugly people. As Americans are learning, looks are the least of it. Over the last 20 years, Congress has shelled out more than $17 million to cover sexual harassment, discrimination claims and other cases against its members. And in a double-dose of reality that reeks of Ruling Class privilege, the names of those engaged in wrongdoing remain under wraps — and their settlements are paid for by the American taxpayer, courtesy of a secret slush fund managed by the Office of Compliance (OOC).
“I have had numerous meetings and phone calls with staffers, both present and former, women and men who have been subjected to this inexcusable and often illegal behavior,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) stated during the House Administration Committee’s first hearing to review that chamber’s sexual harassment policy. “In fact, there are two members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, right now, who … have engaged in sexual harassment.”
Who are they? We may never know. In 1995, Congress passed the Congressional Accountability Act, creating the OOC and extending workplace protections to legislative branch employees, giving them the right to file complaints against members of Congress regarding various types of discrimination and sexual harassment. Yet whether by accident or design, the process is so convoluted and arduous, many complainants forego it altogether.
First, a written statement initiating a complaint must be made within 180 days of the incident. After that, victims must agree to go through a 30-day counseling period, during which one must meet with the OOC to learn about one’s rights and the required steps involved in pursuing a complaint. Another 30 days of mandatory “mediation” follows, during which the accuser and the accused, or their representatives, attempt to reach a settlement with a mediator’s help. After that, the complainant must wait an additional 30 days before filing a formal complaint with the OOC, or a lawsuit in Federal District Court.
While this orchestrated ordeal is occurring, the complainant’s employer will be notified, and the resolution of the dispute can only be made public if it is settled in the complainant’s favor.
Note that the resolution itself can be made public. The identity of the guilty legislator? He or she remains immune to public disclosure.
“The so-called process was clearly drafted to protect the institution rather than the most vulnerable,” Speier said in a statement. “Survivors have to sign a never-ending nondisclosure agreement just to start the complaint process, which is unheard of in the private sector, then continue to work in their office alongside their harasser.”
The process was apparently also designed to be obtuse. Because the OOC is not required to divulge information about the number of complaints, defendants, settlements or dollar figures, it’s almost impossible to discern the actual number of harassment reports.
The OOC insists that compiling statistics on settlements by specific claims remains problematic “because settlements may involve cases that allege violations of more than one of the 13 statutes incorporated by the (Congressional Accountability Act).” Moreover, between 40% and 50% of harassment claims are settled following the mediation phase and, according to Speier spokeswoman Tracy Manzer, as many as 80% of people who brought allegations of sexual misconduct to their office chose not to follow up with the OOC. Those who did follow up labeled the process a “nightmare,” and many of them abandoned their efforts midway through.
Alleged victims made political calculations as well. “I need these guys’ votes,” explained an unidentified congresswoman who said she has been sexually harassed by her male colleagues numerous times. “In this body, you may be an enemy one day and a close ally the next when accomplishing something. … So women will be very cautious about saying anything negative about any of their colleagues.”
Such dubious rationalizations resemble the choices made by Hollywood actresses willing to endure harassment in exchange for career advancement. The gigantic difference? Actresses are making movies. Congresswomen are making law.
Now that the Ruling Class’s dirty laundry has become public, both chambers of Congress have decided to “fix” it — beginning with a dose of political correctness. On Nov. 9, the Senate passed a resolution mandating sexual harassment training for senators, their staff and Senate interns. It must be completed within 60 days of the resolution’s passage, and each Senate office must present a certificate of completion for publication on the secretary of the Senate’s website.
Five days later, House Speaker Paul Ryan followed suit with a mandatory training program for House members.
Speier and Senate colleague Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who also claims she has been harassed by an unnamed male colleague, are following up with legislation to reform the process itself. Its provisions include waiving the current 30-day requirements for both counseling and mediation, creating an optional in-house counsel for complainants, eliminating the required nondisclosure agreements for filing complaints (while retaining them as part of any settlement), and creating an online system to initiate complaints.
All well and good, but ultimate reform remains hazy. While public disclosure of the employing office and the amount of a settled claim would be required, and lawmakers would be forced to pay out of pocket for any settled claim where they are identified as the harasser, “other claims” would still be underwritten by the taxpayer.
Moreover, there’s a gigantic element of reform conspicuously missing: naming names. Speier insists the two members of Congress guilty of harassment remain anonymous because the “victims are the ones who do not want this exposed.”
Really? Why? Just as it is with Hollywood, reality suggests the most plausible explanation is because victims believe there will be retaliation. And if a 2003 survey cited by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is even relatively accurate, there will be. It found that “75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.”
By the same token, it is not unreasonable to assume many allegations are either outright lies, attempts to game the system for political gain, or the outgrowth of a “guilty until proven innocent” feeding frenzy engendered on college campuses by the Obama administration, mercifully ended by current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Yet if Congress is really serious about ending this nonsense — on both sides of the equation — genuine accountability ought to prevail. If the allegations turn out to be false, those making them should be subject to job termination. On the other hand, if guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt, Congress, not the victims themselves, should be required to publish the names of the offending lawmaker and precipitate efforts to oust him or her from Congress.
For decades Congress has exempted itself from laws it imposes on the rest of the nation. And while some things government does should remain beyond public disclosure, outing congressional creeps isn’t one of them. Not by a long shot.