Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), chairman of the House Administration Committee, revealed Tuesday that $115,000 in taxpayer money was secretly spent between fiscal year 2008 and 2012 to settle at least three claims. Five additional cases of sex discrimination were also settled during that period.
The figures were unveiled as part of the committee's review of how sexual harassment claims are dealt with in Congress.
The largest sexual-harassment settlement cost taxpayers $85,000, while the other two cases of sexual harassment and retaliation were settled for $10,000 and $20,000. The sex discrimination settlements ranged from $8,000 to $15,225. In all, $342,225.85 worth of settlements were paid between 2008 and 2012. (TIME)
The disclosure comes as several lawmakers have announced in recent weeks their resignation or intent to not seek reelection because of allegations of sexual misconduct. These members include: Blake Farenthold (R-Texas); Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.); Representative John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.); Representative Trent Franks (R-Ariz.); and Representative Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.).
The data given by the Office of Compliance to the congressional committee did not include names, or specific information about the complaints and claims largely because of a 1995 law regarding how complaints are handled.
“The way the law is written, the strict confidentiality not only binds the parties, but it specifically binds our office from discussing those claims,” Susan Tsui Grundmann, the office’s executive director, said during a hearing earlier this month on how to reform the law.
Grundmann said that because there are no “charging documents” created during the mandatory counseling period that victims are required to undergo, there is no documentation on the specific complaints that employees raised during the follow-up mandatory mediation period.
In addition, Grundmann said, because settlements are conducted under strict non-disclosure provisions the Office also does not know what led to the settlement or why the parties agreed to settle in the first place. The OOC has traditionally treated sexual harassment claims as a form of sex discrimination, Grundmann said, and has not necessarily separated claims of harassment from other forms of sex-based mistreatment like pregnancy discrimination. In some instances all forms of discrimination were labeled as “civil rights” cases.
“As I have stated from the beginning of this review, one case of sexual harassment is one case too many,” Harper said in a statement. “We must create a culture within our Capitol Hill community that instills in every employee and employer, new and old, that there is no place for sexual harassment in the halls of Congress.”