‘Held responsible’

House of Representatives modifies rules governing sexual harassment claims

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) helped lead a push to change how Congress handles sexual harassment claims. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives changed its internal rules governing sexual harassment complaints and passed a bipartisan bill that would overhaul how both chambers of Congress treat victims. Under the House’s new rules, employees who file sexual harassment claims will be given legal support from a new office created by the resolution and members will be barred from using taxpayer funds to pay settlements.

The bill, which will have to be passed by the Senate before it can take effect, would speed the process of reporting complaints by eliminating mandatory waiting periods that female lawmakers have alleged were designed to discourage women from speaking out. The bill would further change current rules so that congressional employees are no longer required to return to work in the same office as the person they reported for harassment. Instead, employees would be allowed to work remotely while claims were investigated or litigated. The Office of Compliance, which currently oversees claims, would be replaced by a newly created Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, and Congress would be required to conduct “climate surveys” to gauge the full extent of sexual harassment in the legislative body. At the end of each year, the settlements paid by employees of congress would also be published.

“This bill empowers survivors,” said U.S. Representative Jackie Speier of California, who helped lead a call to action over the problem of harassment in Congress when she revealed that she had been sexually assaulted by a chief of staff when she was a young congressional staffer. “For years members of Congress have gotten away with truly egregious behavior. Members, yes, members are going to be held responsible for their bad behavior.”

Read the full story at Roll Call.


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