Unseal the deals!!
Demands for answers have been shouted out almost every day since The Washington Post reported how the Office of Compliance for Congress has shelled out over $17 million for 264 settlements and award over various violations. This includes sexual harassment.
The Ethics Committee promised to get to the bottom of it as shouts of ‘unseal the deals’ rung out. They’re having trouble, though, because the Office of Compliance isn’t cooperating and withholding important details.
The exchange occurred during a hearing with the House Administration Committee “on Capitol Hill’s workplace harassment policies.” Now Congress wants to look into making changes to the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act. The committee “is reviewing potential proposals to hold lawmakers accountable and empower victims, including tracking every settlement made informally and formally.”
The Hill reported:
The chairwoman of the House Ethics Committee, Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), and the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Ted Deutch (Fla.), had asked the office tasked with handling workplace disputes on Capitol Hill to provide records about allegations of sexual harassment and other violations involving current lawmakers and staff.
Brooks expressed frustration that the Office of Compliance is not able to comply with the request from the Ethics Committee as a result of strict confidentiality limitations.
“So we’re not getting anything,” Brooks said at a House Administration Committee hearing on Capitol Hill’s workplace harassment policies.
Before the hearing took place, Office of Compliance Executive Director Susan Tsui Grundmann told the committee members “that she could only provide limited access to records for certain cases that resulted in hearings.” From USA Today:
The compliance office provided this answer by letter on Thursday: “All counseling and mediation conducted by the Office of Compliance is ‘strictly confidential’ and all administrative proceedings and deliberations are ‘confidential’.”
Susan Tsui Grundmann, executive director of the compliance office, said she could only release information if a case had gone to a hearing officer and if the complainant had been consulted. Many cases are settled before they reach the hearing stage.
“The law doesn’t allow us to release anything to your committee,” Grundmann told Brooks on Thursday. Brooks participated in Thursday’s hearing because she is the chairwoman of the House Ethics Committee, which could investigate sexual harassment allegations if it had the names of accused lawmakers’ offices.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has tried to persuade the Office of Compliance by asking them to just tell us which of those complaints are sexual harassment. He says this won’t violate privacy laws or rules, but the Office of Compliance officials may disagree.
Last month, BuzzFeed reported that Conyers settled a wrongful dismissal claim with a former female employee who claimed he fired her after she refused his sexual advances. The article also contained the grueling process the victims must go through.
Without a human resources department, an employee must report sexual harassment to the Office of Compliance within 180 days. This will lead “to a lengthy process involves counseling, mediation, and requires the signing of a confidentiality agreement before a complaint can go forward.”
Once that ends, the employee may opt to take the case to federal district court or it can go to “an administrative hearing, after which a negotiation and settlement may follow.”
Matthew Peterson, the law clerk that represented the woman and “listed as a signatory,” also spoke to BuzzFeed:
The process was “disgusting,” said Matthew Peterson, who worked as a law clerk representing the complainant, and who listed as a signatory to some of the documents.
“It is a designed cover-up,” said Peterson, who declined to discuss details of the case but agreed to characterize it in general terms. “You feel like they were betrayed by their government just for coming forward. It’s like being abused twice.”
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