Three female former aides to U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence, a Democrat from Michigan, who recently introduced a bill to require congressional staffers to take a course on sexual harassment, have claimed that they endured sexual harassment from Lawrence’s own chief of staff.
The ex-staffers told POLITICO that they had told Lawrence that her chief of staff, Dwayne Duron Marshall, had treated women in the office differently than men and had made them uncomfortable. All three women, who remained anonymous out of fear of retaliation, said they cited Marshall as a reason for leaving Lawrence’s office. Lawrence has denied any knowledge of sexual harassment in her office, and asked that the former aides come forward to speak to her about their experiences. Marshall, who has since been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation following the publishing of the POLITICO story on Tuesday, has denied the accusations as “slanderous.”
The former aides alleged that Marshall regularly commented on women’s physical looks, including shaming them for not wearing makeup or high heels. Marshall also allegedly asked inappropriate questions about their dating lives, and engaged in unwanted physical contact such as impromptu shoulder massages and grabs. Another former employee said that Marshall touched her neck and complimented her hair while she tried to work at her desk. One aide who said she gave her notice after Marshall touched her just above her buttocks, said that Marshall had warned her that he could get her fired from her new job.
In a statement given to The Detroit News, the congresswoman said, “None of the concerns brought to my attention involved allegations of sexual harassment.”Lawrence added in the statement that “As in any office environment, there have been occasions when employees have brought workplace concerns to my attention and those concerns were promptly addressed. Had I been made aware of any concerns about sexual harassment in my office, those concerns would have been promptly investigated and appropriate disciplinary action taken, including termination of employment of any individual engaged in sexually harassing behavior.”
But the anonymous employees insist she was aware. “She’s complicit because she knows,” said a former staffer, who said she specifically told Lawrence that Marshall made “inappropriate” comments and physical contact. “She knows he makes comments. She knows he rubs the back and rubs the shoulders. … She’d say, ‘I know there are some problems, but he has his good points too,’ and ‘[the good] outweighs the other stuff.’”
Speaking to POLITICO, the former aides alleged a number of other disturbing incidents — including one case where Marshall followed an employee to her car.