Sexual Harassment Settlements In Congress Paid By Taxpayers

As sexual harassment and assault allegations spread across the US, one congresswoman is pointing the finger at America’s elected representatives.

Representative Jackie Speier, a democrat from California, testified in front of a Senate committee on Nov. 14 that at least two current congressmen have harassed women.

Speier also said that over $15 million had been paid by the federal government to compensate victims of harassment.

But to verify how much money has been spent to compensate victims of sexual harassment in Congress is not an easy task. The money comes from a tax-payer funded account managed by the Office of Compliance(OOC). The fund pays settlements and awards to federal government workers in cases of workplace discrimination or unjust working conditions, from ageism and ableism to sexual misconduct or gender-based discrimination.

Over the past 20 years, the fund paid over $17.2 million to settle workplace complaints, according to a document released (pdf, p.2) Nov. 15 by OOC executive director Susan Tsui Grundmann. Grundmann wrote in a letter that she had decided to share a report of yearly payments made by the fund due to “the volume of recent inquiries regarding payment of awards and settlements.”

The report shows two two outstanding figures in 2007 and 2012, with about $4 million paid in each case. The year 2012 stands out especially as a year when larger settlements were made: The 4 million dollars were divided between 12 cases, while in 2007 the same amount was divided across 25 of settlements.

But the report does not break down the amount paid per individual case, nor by type of claim. Grundmann explains in her letter that this is because some settlements cover more than one accusation. This makes it impossible to determine exactly how much money was spent for sexual harassment, and how much for other types of complaints.

Grundmann also says that “a large portion of cases originate from employing offices in the legislative branch other than the House of Representatives or the Senate,” though she does not give the percentage.

At the same House hearing on sexual harassment prevention, Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., said she was recently told about a staffer who quit her job after a lawmaker asked her to bring work material to his house, then exposed himself.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said the House will move ahead on legislation requiring anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and their staffs. The Senate has voted for mandatory training for senators, staff and interns.