House Passes Legislation to Protect Victims, Increase Transparency & Hold Members Accountable for Sexual Harassment

Feb 6, 2018
Press Release

 

CONTACT:

Peter Whippy (202) 225-3072

 

House Passes Legislation to Protect Victims, Increase Transparency & Hold Members Accountable for Sexual Harassment

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 4924 and H. Res. 724, the Congressional Accountability Act Reform Measures to better protect Congressional employees, streamline and strengthen the dispute resolution and reporting processes for sexual harassment and discrimination claims, hold Members personally responsible for any sexual harassment award or settlement, and increase transparency.

Led by Committee on House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Ranking Member Robert Brady (D-Pa.), the bill was cosponsored by Committee on House Administration Democrats Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), as well as Representatives Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Mark Walker (R-N.C.), Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).

The reforms to the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA), as well as to the House of Representatives, will make for a safer and more productive work environment in the House and across the Legislative Branch.

“By passing this proposal, the Congress will take a much needed first step in changing how we do business,” said Brady. “We eliminate counseling. We eliminate the cooling off period. We make mediation optional. We change the system so that we protect the victim, and not the perpetrator. We require more transparency with regular reporting that has meaningful information. And we hold Members accountable for their behavior by referring every case to the Ethics Committee. This is long overdue, and I thank Chairman Harper and Representative Jackie Speier for their exemplary leadership in this bipartisan effort to make meaningful change in how Congress operates.”

“These bills will bring much-needed reforms to the process available to congressional employees for filing workplace complaints and will ensure a more equitable and transparent process for victims and the American public,” said Lofgren. “They are the culmination of bipartisan work on the part of House Administration Chairman Harper and Ranking Member Brady, and my fellow members of the Committee, as well as the leadership of my colleague Jackie Speier, who has championed the issue of fighting sexual violence on the Hill.”

“These two bills show how Congress can make dramatic progress on a bipartisan basis when we listen to the people – specifically the #MeToo movement against workplace discrimination and harassment that has swept America into the 21st century by demanding equality and dignity in the workplace for all women, as well as all men,” said Raskin. “As the Representatives of the American people we have a compelling obligation to lead America to a culture of zero tolerance for sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. These bills are the critical reforms we need to end sexual harassment and discrimination in the Congress, and I am glad that we are being a part of this great paradigm shift in the culture of America.”

Prior to introducing reform measures last month, the Committee on House Administration undertook a comprehensive review of the laws, procedures, and resources relating to sexual harassment in the House, including two public hearings, roundtable meetings, and extensive consultation with industry experts and member outreach.

The Congressional Accountability Act Reform Measures:

  • Strengthen the Dispute Resolution Process and Protections of Employee Rights under the Congressional Accountability Act
  • Holds Members Personally Responsible and Increases Transparency of Member Conduct, Awards, and Settlements through the Office of Compliance (OOC)

 

Protects employees:

  • Provides House employees with immediate access to a dedicated advocate who will provide legal consultation, representation, and assistance in proceedings before the OOC and Committee on Ethics;
  • Provides opportunities for employees to work remotely or request paid leave without fear of retribution;
  • Ensures confidentiality of processes;
  • Directs the OOC to conduct climate survey of employees every two years that would include surveying attitudes on sexual harassment in the workplace; and
  • Ensures every House Office has an anti-discrimination/anti-harassment policy.

Streamlines and strengthens the dispute resolution and reporting processes:

  • Eliminates the mandatory counseling and mediation provisions allowing an employee to proceed to an investigation or to file in federal court;
  • Directs the OOC General Counsel to make one of three findings: 1) reasonable cause for claim; 2) no reasonable cause for claim; and 3) no findings of reasonable cause can be made before any hearing on the merits can be held; and
  • Maintains opportunities for the employee to engage in mediation.

Members held personally responsible for any sexual harassment award or settlement:

  • Holds Members personally accountable for their conduct and requires awards or settlements to be repaid by the Member to the Treasury account within 90 days;
  • Ensures Members who leave office will still be responsible for repaying the Treasury, including garnishing annuities to ensure full repayment;
  • Requires claims to be automatically referred to the Committee on Ethics when there is a final award or settlement reached against a Member or a Senior Staffer; 
  • Ensures due process by allowing a Member to protect their interest; 
  • Clarifies that Member-on-Member harassment is a violation of the Official Code of Conduct; and   o Requires the Member or Employing Office to certify that no Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA) or official House funds are used to pay a settlement in connection with conduct prohibited under the Congressional Accountability Act.

Strengthens transparency:

  • Requires the OOC to report and publish online every six months information on awards and settlements. Reports must include: the employing office; the amount of the award or settlement; the violation claim(s); and, when a claim was issued against a Member, whether the Member has personally repaid the Treasury account.
  • Requires the OOC to publish within 30 days all settlements and awards, the amount, and the public funds used for all section 201(a) claims.

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Congress Number: 
115th Congress