$300k to settle sex discrimination claims against Congress
WASHINGTON — Nearly $300,000 in taxpayer funds has been spent to settle 13 claims against members of Congress or their offices since 2003 that include sexual harassment or sex discrimination, according to statistics released by a House committee on Friday.
The Committee on House Administration released a list of settlements stemming from claims against member offices between 2003 and 2007 that include three cases involving sex discrimination that total more than $27,000.
The new statistics add to a running list of settlements released last month to the committee by the Office of Compliance, an office created under the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act to deal with employment disputes on Capitol Hill. The office oversees the process of filing sexual harassment or discrimination complaints.
The statistics, released as part of a committee investigation into the process of filing complaints on the Hill, do not include any identifying information aside from settlement amounts and the basis for the claim; no names are provided.
Office of Compliance Executive Director Susan Tsui Grundmann said in a letter to the committee that the office only keeps track of settlements paid out of the Treasury account.
The most recent total is significantly smaller than totals for later years: From 2008-2012, the Treasury Fund paid more than $174,000 to settle eight cases that involved either sexual harassment, sex discrimination or both. And between 2013 and 2017, two cases involving sex discrimination or harassment were settled, totaling $91,000. One of those settlements, for $84,000, stemmed from a 2014 lawsuit brought against Rep. Blake Farenthold by a woman who was his former communications director.
Farenthold denied the allegations. But after the settlement was revealed late last year Farenthold pledged to pay the money back. Last week, spokeswoman Stacey Daniels said that the congressman is now “waiting to see what changes the House makes to the Congressional Accountability Act before repaying the funds.”
Farenthold, now under investigation by the House Committee on Ethics, announced in December that he won’t run for re-election.
He’s among a half-dozen lawmakers who have been forced to resign or abandon their re-election campaigns amid allegations of sexual misconduct, as the #MeToo movement continues to roil Hollywood, the tech and media industries, and Capitol Hill.
“As I have stated from the beginning of this review, one case of sexual harassment is one case too many,” said Committee Chairman Gregg Harper, R-Miss., in a statement. Harper, who has been chairman since January of last year, announced last week that he isn’t running for re-election.
The process of filing discrimination complaints on Capitol Hill came under fire last year for being opaque and largely unknown, and for requiring staffers to sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to begin the process of mandatory mediation.
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said House lawmakers are expected to introduce a bill next week that will likely overhaul the process, making it more transparent.
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