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 News Archive 2017

Congress has paid $15 million to settle sexual harassment and discrimination claims
by Nathan'ette Burdine: November 16, 2017 Updated-Nov.21, 2017

During a press conference on Tuesday, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) told reporters that over the last 20-years Congress has settled 260 sexual harassment and discrimination claims totaling $15 million.

Most of the claims filed have been filed by men and women staffers against former staffers.

The revelation about the sexual harassment and discrimination claims on Capitol Hill comes amidst a wave of sexual harassment allegations that have brought down Hollywood’s power players which includes Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis C.K.

Weinstein is being investigated by the LAPD, NYPD, and Scotland Yard for his alleged actions.

Some have questioned why is it that Hollywood’s power players are made to stand before the law but those who write the laws are not subject to the same civil or criminal judicial process.

Employment and Sexual Harassment Attorney Debra Katz, who represented a congressional male staffer, told MSNBC’s Craig Melvin that it is difficult to bring cases against congressional members and their staffers due to the law, Congressional Accountability Act, being designed to benefit the accused over the accuser.

Former Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) agreed with Debra Katz, noting that congress has “its own rules” to follow and are not subject to the laws that they’ve written for the general public.

Boxer told Melvin, “Congress doesn’t have to abide by the laws. They have their own rules.”

The process to file a complaint can be strenuous. The alleged victim must first go through the Office of Compliance (OOC) which has four steps the individual must complete before he/she can either have a hearing or sue in federal court.

The four steps to complete are counseling, mediation, administrative hearing or civil action, and the appeals process.

The counseling phase requires an alleged victim to make a written request to undergo counseling within a 180-day time period after the alleged incident occurred.

After the request has been made and process, the alleged victim will meet with an OCC counselor who will inform the alleged victim about his/her rights.

The counseling phase last for 30-days but can be shortened if the alleged victim ask that it be.

Mediation is the next step and it begins after a written request has been made within 15-days of receiving the notice that the counseling step was completed.

Mediation typically last for 30-days but can be extended at the request of those involved.

If both parties fail to reach an agreement during the mediation phase, the alleged victim has the option of taking either the administrative or civil action route.

The alleged victim will have a hearing or he/she will file a lawsuit in the district of the federal court where the alleged incident occurred.

The alleged victim cannot file both a request for an administrative hearing and a lawsuit in the federal court.

A written request for either an administrative hearing or a lawsuit in federal court has to be filed 30 to 90 days after the mediation process has ended.

The appeals process is the last step. If the alleged victim is not satisfied with the final decision, he/she has the option of appealing the hearing officer’s decision to the Board of Directors.

And if the alleged victim remains unsatisfied with that decision, he/she may appeal the Board of Directors’ decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

An alleged victim who files a lawsuit in federal court may appeal the judge’s or jury’s decision to the Court of Appeals within the federal district where the lawsuit was filed.

Due to the long drawn out process, some staffers, like former staffer Rebecca Weir, chose to quit their jobs instead of going through OCC or filing a lawsuit in federal court.

Rebecca Weir,who worked for former Congressman Gary Miller (R-CA), detailed her experience to CNN’s Brooke Baldwin.

Weir told Baldwin that Miller chose to give a male worker, who was working part-time and lacked the same education requirements as Weir, a raise over her because he was getting married and would be “the breadwinner.”

Weir said that it was not too long after her conversation with Miller about a raise that he had her to “twirl” in his office.

Weir told Baldwin that Miller said to her, “My God you just look amazing today, just really stunning. Would you mind twirling for me?”

Weir said that soon after the “twirl” incident she received a call from Miller’s Washington Office.

Weir relayed the conversation to Baldwin, “Well Rebecca congratulations! I don’t know what you did but Gary called and said that you needed to have a bonus immediately.”

Weir, who’s now an attorney, told Baldwin that she did not file a complaint against Miller because he was a powerful man and she had student loans and was “trying to make it on my own.” Miller denies the allegations.

Yamiche Alcindor and Katie Rogers, who also mentioned Weir’s story, cited other incidents of sexual harassments.

In one case, a senior male staffer pulled at a female staffer’s dress while asking her why she was “holding out.”

In another incident, a former congressional aide alleged that a congressman grabbed her rear-end.

Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and former Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) also described incidents of sexual harassment that they experienced.

The Huffington Post reported that McCaskill told NBC News that during the 1970s she stayed out of elevators because that is where a good amount of the sexual harassment occurred.

Boxer told Melvin that during the 1980s her congressional male colleagues made a comment that they wanted to associate with her in an intimate way and that she approached the chairman about the comment and explained to him why it was inappropriate and he said he understood.

On Tuesday during the Committee on House Administration hearing, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) described a recent incident in which a congressman exposed himself to a female staffer who brought some files over to his home.

Comstock stated that upon arriving at the congressman’s home with the files, the female staffer was greeted by the congressman at the door with nothing but a towel covering his lower region.

Once inside, the congressman dropped the towel, exposing all of his “personal.” Upon seeing that, the young woman haul tailed out of there and hasn’t return to the congressman’s home or Capitol Hill ever since.

There are two open sexual harassment cases, one against a democrat and the other against a republican.

It has not been revealed who the two congressmen are under investigation.

The concerns about the recourse victims have in filing complaints have also been due to the recent revelations about current Senator Roy Moore (R-AL) using his position of authority as an assistant district attorney in Alabama in order to silence then five teenage girls who accused him of sexually harassing them.

Roy Moore beat Luther Strange in a special election in order to win the senate seat left vacant by then Senator Jeff Sessions who is now the U.S. attorney general.

Moore has denied the sexual harassment allegations against him. However, his being ban from a mall and his comment that he’d always ask a girl’s parents if he could date her has caused his denials to fall on deaf ears with folks like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who have come out and said they believe the women are “credible” witnesses.

President Donald Trump has been silent on the matter and did not answer questions during a press conference about whether or not he supports Roy Moore.

Roy Moore is a Steve Bannon candidate. Donald Trump along with Mitch McConnell supported Luther Strange over Roy Moore.

Trump’s silence can be interpreted as both political and personal. Political in the sense that Trump’s trying to walk a fine line between his base’s support and him maintaining a workable relationship with the Senate Majority Leader McConnell.

Trump’s silence is personal in the sense that he has to deal with what many will interpret as his own hypocrisy due to the “grab ‘em by the pussy” comment to former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush and the 15+ women who’ve accused Trump of sexually assaulting them.

The congressional leadership has received a letter signed by approximately 1500 former congressional aides asking that the harassment training be updated and the Office of Compliance be over hauled.

The letter along with Congresswomen Speier and Comstock introducing legislation that will change how congress handles sexual harassment cases within congress has helped.

The Huffington Post quoted Paul Ryan as saying in a statement, “Going forward, the House will adopt a policy of mandatory anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and staff. Our goal is not only to raise awareness, but also make abundantly clear that harassment in any form has no place in this institution.”

The senate has approved a resolution requiring anti-harassment training for all senate employees, as well as a repeat of the training every two years.

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