Senators Introduce New Bipartisan Legislation To Combat Sexual Harassment And Discrimination In Congress, Bring Transparency And Accountability To Sexual Harassment Reporting Process
Bipartisan Congressional Harassment Reform Act Would Overhaul Current Reporting Process for Victims of Harassment and Discrimination in Congress, End Required Secrecy, and Require Members of Congress Found Liable for Harassment or Discrimination to Pay Settlements Out of Their Own Pocket
U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Cornyn (R-TX), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Rob Portman (R-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) today introduced new bipartisan legislation that would overhaul the current process that victims of harassment and discrimination in Congress must go through when reporting a claim. The current process for victims of harassment and discrimination in Congress lacks transparency and is difficult to navigate. This legislation, the Congressional Harassment Reform Act, would bring transparency and accountability to the current process by extending protections to interns and fellows, eliminating forced mediation, ending the current required secrecy in the process by allowing victims to speak publicly about their case, requiring Members of Congress found personally liable for harassment to pay settlements out of their own pockets, and improving systems to address harassment and discrimination in Congress.
“Congress should never be above the law or play by their own set of rules,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We should treat every person who works here with respect and dignity, and that means creating a climate where there is accountability, fairness, respect, and access to justice if sexual harassment takes place. There are real costs to sexual harassment in the workplace. We now know that many people quit their jobs because of it, or miss out on promotions or raises, all of which can throw off the entire trajectory in their careers. We must ensure that Congress handles complaints to create an environment where staffers can come forward if something happens to them without having to fear that it will ruin their careers. This bipartisan legislation would bring us much closer to that goal.”
“Sexual harassment is wrong. Every person, man or woman, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace,” said Senator Cruz. “In recent months, we've seen wave after wave of appalling sexual harassment and assault allegations -- from Hollywood, to newsrooms, to the halls of Congress. And powerful men who have abused their positions have been held to account. Congress is not above the laws, and secret settlements with taxpayer money to cover up harassment should no longer be tolerated. This legislation seeks to empower victims of harassment to report those crimes and to hold the perpetrators accountable."
“There cannot be tolerance for any type of sexual harassment or abuse in our society. Congress must lead by example and immediately improve upon how it addresses allegations of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination to make sure that those who have engaged in misconduct are held accountable and the victims are protected. This bipartisan legislation takes the necessary steps to provide victims with greater protections and choice, holds Members of Congress liable for their wrongdoings, and protects taxpayer dollars. Victims are coming forward and making their voices heard; it’s critical that we take action now to protect and defend them,” said Senator Ernst.
“We’re finally experiencing a cultural shift in this country to a place where sexual abuse and harassment will no longer be tolerated, and Congress needs to lead by example. For starters, that means requiring training to prevent harassment and discrimination, ensuring that no one is silenced or retaliated against, and increasing accountability regarding settlements. Every person—regardless of where they work—should feel safe. Our bill will enact important and necessary reforms as part of a much larger movement,” said Senator Feinstein.
“I am proud to join with a diverse bipartisan group of colleagues in proposing this comprehensive reform of congressional harassment policies. Quite honestly, I am appalled at the current policies and procedures in place regarding harassment claims in Congress and reports of settlement payouts. Looking back, Congress has been reluctant to apply basic civil rights protections to its own employees, and when it finally did, it included arduous requirements that seemed to protect the victimizer more than the victims. This is a significant piece of legislation which levels the playing field for victims, improves transparency, and holds members of Congress who use their positions of power in abusive ways personally liable to repay the government for the cost of their conduct. It is the strong medicine we’ve long needed to deter harassment in the congressional workplace and ensure that those who perpetrate it are held accountable. Every workplace should be a safe-haven for employees, free from any kind of harassment,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski.
“We urgently need accountability in the halls of Congress,” said Senator Shaheen. “Those who’ve experienced sexual harassment on Capitol Hill face a daunting struggle to reach any semblance of justice and often have egregious restrictions that prevent them from speaking out. And it’s galling that the taxpayer, rather than the perpetrator, is on the hook for paying settlements. Congress must not be resistant to the awareness and accountability that is sweeping the country. This legislation makes long overdue reforms and I’m very encouraged by the bipartisan support. I urge leadership to quickly begin consideration of this important effort.”
“Harassment must not be tolerated in any workplace, especially in Congress. This legislation will institute stronger policies and procedures to deter reprehensible behavior in the first place, and when it does occur, ensure just outcomes for victims,” Blumenthal said. “While comprehensive, mandatory training is a straightforward and common-sense step to begin addressing workplace harassment on Capitol Hill, it is not sufficient. Allowing employees access to counseling, mediation and confidential advice will give survivors of harassment the resources and peace of mind they deserve in resolving the misconduct of employers and supervisors.”
“We need to make major changes here in Congress and get our house in order. The current process for victims of sexual harassment or discrimination on Capitol Hill is difficult to navigate and lacks transparency. This needs to change and Senator Gillibrand’s bipartisan legislation will reform the current process so it works better for victims of sexual harassment or discrimination and provides more transparency to the public," said Senator Baldwin.
“Sexual harassment in the workplace is a pervasive, persistent problem across the country and across industries, and Congress is certainly no exception,” said Senator Booker. “The current system for reporting sexual harassment in Congress is archaic, discourages justice, and focuses on protecting members and offices at the expense of survivors. This bipartisan bill is a much needed step toward creating a reporting system in Congress that puts the rights of survivors first and provides much needed accountability. The survivors of sexual harassment and assault have carried the burden of congressional inaction for far too long. It’s vital that Congress send a clear message to survivors that they are heard and supported, and to those who commit these atrocious acts that there’s no place for their behavior anywhere in our society.”
“Sexual harassment and assault can leave lifelong scars on victims—which can be compounded by an arduous system of reporting,” said Senator Sullivan. “All of those in Congress must be respectful towards one another. I’m glad to cosponsor this bill that will mandate a much-needed overhaul in our reporting system. Victims and survivors need to know we’ll do all we can do in Congress to make sure that they are protected and that those who abuse their employees are held accountable.”
“Over the past few months, our country has experienced a much-needed transformation when it comes to listening to courageous women share their stories about harassment. No one should be forced to work in an environment where they are made to feel uncomfortable or intimidated. Let me be extremely clear: sexual harassment and workplace misconduct has no place in America, and certainly has no place in the United States Congress,” said Senator Gardner. “I’m proud to join Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and my other colleagues on both sides of the aisle, to introduce this bipartisan legislation that reforms the way Congress deals with harassment. This legislation ensures we have an open, transparent process that does not leave the taxpayers on the hook for Members of Congress’ misconduct. I’m proud to introduce this bill today and call on each of my colleagues to support this important proposal.”
"We know that the system in Congress for dealing with sexual harassment is broken, and we must continue working to empower all women and do everything we can to prevent sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault from occurring in the first place," Senator Hassan said. "This bipartisan bill is critical to those efforts, and I will keep working across the aisle to move this important measure forward and to help ensure a safe work environment for all."
Specifically, the Congressional Harassment Reform Act would do the following:
- Extends protections to interns and fellows.
- Requires everyone working on Capitol Hill, including Members, to take the Office of Compliance training.
- Changes the name of the Office of Compliance (OOC) to the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.
- Puts victims in the driver’s seat by allowing them to choose how to resolve their complaint (e.g. counseling and mediation are both no longer mandatory) and protecting their option to discuss their claim publicly.
- Establishes a Confidential Advisor to consult, on a confidential basis, with any employee who has alleged harassment or discrimination; and assist any employee who has an allegation under Title IV in understanding the procedures, and the significance of the procedures.
- Gives OOC’s General Counsel the authority to conduct interviews and gather evidence regarding complaints of covered harassment and discrimination filed under this section, including interviews with former employees.
- Allows individuals to work remotely without penalty throughout proceedings.
- Improves tracking of complaints and procedures by implementing an online platform.
- Requires that if a Member of Congress is found to be personally liable for harassment or discrimination, they will be responsible for the cost of any settlement.
- Requires that if a Member of Congress is found to be personally liable for harassment or discrimination, any settlement must be approved by the Senate or House Ethics Committee.
- Requires that all settlements will be publicly disclosed unless the victims choose to keep them private.
- Requires offices to post notices with information about employees’ rights and how to contact the Office of Compliance.
- Provides for a climate survey to identify the pervasiveness of the problem and what gaps continue to exist in its resolution.