Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today urged Senate Leadership to take action to address sexual harassment in Congress by putting her bipartisan legislation, the Congressional Harassment Reform Act of 2017, on the floor for a vote or include it as part of the upcoming Omnibus Appropriations bill. Gillibrand’s legislation, which has over 25 bipartisan cosponsors, would require Members of Congress found personally liable for harassment to pay settlements out of their own pockets and would end the current required secrecy in the process by allowing victims to speak publicly about their case. This legislation 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.
“Elected officials should be held to the highest standards, not the lowest. We must change the status quo. The Congressional Harassment Reform Act of 2017 would bring much-needed accountability and transparency to the way Congress handles sexual harassment and discrimination complaints,” said Senator Gillibrand. “It would hold Members personally responsible for their own actions by requiring them to pay any settlements out of their own pockets instead of relying on a taxpayer-funded account. Something must be done. The House has acted, now it is time for the Senate to do its part. The more time that goes by without addressing this broken system, the more people suffer. Offices suffer from the lack of certainty about what is required of them. Staffers suffer when they feel as though they have no place safe to turn in the face of harassment and discrimination. The taxpayers suffer when they are required to shoulder the financial burden of our elected officials’ poor behavior.”
Specifically, the Congressional Harassment Reform Act does the following:
- 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.
- 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 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.
The full text of Gillibrand’s letter may be found here or below:
The Honorable Mitch McConnell
United States Senate
317 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
322 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510
Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer,
I am writing to respectfully request that the Senate take action to address sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. In the past weeks and months it has grown increasingly clear that Congress’s current system for handling discrimination and harassment is woefully inadequate and out of date. The House has already taken steps to reform this process by passing bipartisan legislation updating that process and the resources available to employees who have been victimized. Yet while a full quarter of the Senate has joined me from both sides of the aisle to introduce the Congressional Harassment Reform Act of 2017 (S.2236) there has yet to be a hearing or a vote. The changes that need to be made are simple and urgent and I ask that this bill either receive a vote on the floor in the next month or that the bill text be included within the upcoming Omnibus Appropriations bill that is due by March 23rd.
The Congressional Harassment Reform Act of 2017 would bring much needed accountability and transparency to the way Congress handles sexual harassment and discrimination complaints and create an environment where staffers can come forward if something happens to them, without having to fear that it will ruin their careers. My bill would modernize and streamline the process for sexual harassment victims to report within the Office of Compliance. It would create a designated person within the Office of Compliance to serve as a confidential advisor for victims of harassment. The bill would remove the daunting requirement that victims participate in mediation before filing a formal complaint against an assailant and it would require a climate survey to give a comprehensive analysis of the scope of this problem in Congress. The bill would give the interns in our offices access to the same resources as staff-members; and it would require that every office post notices that detail the rights and protections of our employees. Lastly, it would hold Members personally responsible for their own actions by requiring them to pay any settlements out of their own pockets instead of relying on a taxpayer-funded account.
Something must be done. The House has acted, now it is time for the Senate to do its part. The more time that goes by without addressing this broken system, the more people suffer. Offices suffer from the lack of certainty about what is required of them. Staffers suffer when they feel as though they have no place safe to turn in the face of harassment and discrimination. The taxpayers suffer when they are required to shoulder the financial burden of our elected officials’ poor behavior.
This issue is not going away, Congress needs to set a better example by creating a system where victims feel comfortable seeking assistance and justice. Thank you for your consideration and I urge you to pass the Congressional Harassment Reform Act of 2017 without delay.
United States Senator