Shaheen and Hassan Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Combat Sexual Harassment in Congress, Bring Transparency and Accountability to Sexual Harassment Reporting Process
**Congressional Harassment Reform Act would overhaul current reporting process for victims of harassment in Congress, end required secrecy and require Members of Congress found liable for harassment to pay settlements out of their own pocket**
(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) helped introduce bipartisan legislation that would overhaul the current process that victims of harassment in Congress must go through when reporting a claim. The current process for victims of harassment 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. 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), 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), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) are original cosponsors of this legislation.
“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.”
"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:
- Extend protections to interns and fellows.
- Require everyone working on Capitol Hill, including Members, to take the Office of Compliance training.
- Change the name of the Office of Compliance (OOC) to the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.
- Put 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.
- Establish 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.
- Give 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.
- Allow individuals to work remotely without penalty throughout proceedings.
- Improve tracking of complaints and procedures by implementing an online platform.
- 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.
- If a Member of Congress is found to be personally liable for harassment or discrimination, any settlement must be approved by the appropriate Senate or House committee.
- Require that all settlements will be publicly disclosed unless the victims choose to keep them private.
- Require offices to post notices with information about employees’ rights and how to contact the Office of Compliance.
- Provide for a climate survey to identify the pervasiveness of the problem and what gaps continue to exist in its resolution.