Lawmaker cites victims, declines to ID members in harassment
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A lawmaker who testified that two sitting members of Congress have engaged in sexual harassment said Wednesday she isn't identifying them because the victims don't want the lawmakers named publicly.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said she is barred from identifying one member because of a non-disclosure agreement, and isn't identifying the second lawmaker at the victim's request.
During a news conference introducing a bill to overhaul the process of reporting sexual harassment, Speier said she has not confronted the members and isn't naming them because "the victims are the ones who do not want this exposed."
Speier added, "I am here to protect the victims."
Currently, victims are required to undergo counseling, mediation and a 30-day "cooling off period" before filing a formal complaint with the Office of Compliance.
The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would eliminate non-disclosure agreements as a condition of initiating mediation and mandate that offices that have complaints be publicly listed. The bill would also protect interns and fellows, make mediation and counseling optional, rather than required before a victim can file a lawsuit or formal complaint, and require members of Congress who settle discrimination cases to pay back the Treasury for the amount of the award.
The bill does not apply to staff members who settle lawsuits; Gloria Lett, counsel for the Office of House Employment Counsel, said the vast majority of complaints are against staffers rather than lawmakers themselves.
"Abusers and sexual predators have thrived in the shadows in our current system, where all the power is deliberately taken away from the survivor," Speier said. "For all intents and purposes, a staffer in the Capitol is powerless and gagged."
The bill comes one day after House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that all members and their staffs will soon be required to undergo anti-sexual harassment training, which is also a provision of Speier and Gillibrand's bill. Last week, the Senate adopted a similar resolution to require training for members and staff.
The changes come amid a wave of revelations of sexual harassment in entertainment, business and most recently, politics.
"There are real costs to sexual harassment in the workplace," Gillibrand said. "We know many people quit their jobs because of it, which can throw off the entire trajectory of their careers."
Speier on Wednesday said roughly $15 million in taxpayer money has been spent settling about 260 cases stemming from workplace discrimination in Congress, including sexual harassment, over the past 20 years. It is unclear how many of those settlements involve sexual harassment complaints or pay disputes or other discrimination.
During a Committee on House Administration hearing on Tuesday, Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., told a story about a staff member who left Capitol Hill after a current Congress member exposed himself to her. Comstock said she doesn't know the identity of that lawmaker.
At the same hearing, Speier mentioned the sitting lawmakers, one Democrat and one Republican, who have engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior. Speier has become the poster child for the fight for sexual harassment awareness on the Hill after sharing her own story of being assaulted by a high-level aide while she was a staffer.