Congress Ethics chairs request more data to determine extent of sex harassment payouts
Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi says Michigan Rep. John Conyers, facing sexual misconduct allegations, should resign from Congress. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan echoed that call. (Nov. 30) AP
WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee has requested detailed records to determine the amount federal taxpayers have paid to settle lawsuits on behalf of members of Congress involving sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination.
The bipartisan committee chairs, Reps. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and Theodore Deutch, D-Fla., sent a letter on Friday to the Office of Compliance, a congressional department which is responsible for payouts that have stirred controversy since they come out of the U.S. Treasury.
The chairs are requesting “all records” related to “any claims of sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation or any other employment practice” prohibited by federal rules, the letter reads.
Previously, the Office of Compliance reported that it has paid victims more than $17 million since its inception in 1990. Yet that figure includes all settlements, not just related to sexual harassment.
Separately, the House Administration Committee released figures dating to 2013 that show a total of six settlements totaling $359,450 involving claims against six House member offices.
Of those, one claim for alleged sexual harassment was for $84,000. That 2015 settlement was reached by Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and a former aide who accused him of sexual harassment. Lauren Greene was Farenthold’s communications director until she was fired in July 2014. In December of that year, she filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing Farenthold of making sexually charged statements toward her and engaging in off-color behavior.
The other alleged incidents include one for $76,000 for age discrimination; one for disability discrimination for $37,250; and one for veteran status discrimination and retaliation for $15,000.
The efforts to provide for more information comes as the issue of sexual harassment is rocking major industries including Hollywood and broadcast news.
On Capitol Hill, there are open ethics investigations after accusations against Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who has been accused of unwanted sexual advances by a former staffer, and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who was photographed reaching to grab the breasts of a woman with whom he was traveling with the USO before he was elected to the Senate.
The revelations have prompted a flurry of legislative proposals intended to overhaul a process for reporting sexual harassment that critics say is too secretive and discourages victims from speaking out and receiving settlements.