WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee, announced legislation to reform the process to pursue claims of sexual harassment or other workplace discrimination experienced on Capitol Hill passed the Senate. The bipartisan legislation, which has more than 40 original co-sponsors in the Senate, reforms the dispute resolution process, protects workers, increases transparency and holds Members of Congress accountable.
“All members of the U.S. Senate stood together today in making sure the men and women who work for the Congress will be respected. Harassment of any kind will not be tolerated and perpetrators will be held accountable,” Blunt said. “Hardworking taxpayers should not foot the bill for a Member’s misconduct, and victims should not have to navigate a system that stands in the way of accountability. Today, 40 senators joined Sen. Klobuchar and me as cosponsors of a bill the Senate passed unanimously to give more rights to victims and personal responsibility to Members of Congress.”
“For too long victims of sexual harassment in the Senate have been forced into a process that is stacked against them – today is a major step towards rectifying this wrong,” Klobuchar said. “Our bipartisan legislation – which passed with unanimous support in the Senate – will help bring accountability and transparency to a broken process, ensure victims can immediately seek justice, and hold Members of Congress accountable.”
This legislation would change the way harassment claims are handled in Congress by eliminating the required 30-day “counseling” period, the required 30-day mediation phase, and the 30-day “cooling off” period. The legislation would allow a victim to immediately pursue an administrative hearing or file a civil action. It would also hold Members of Congress personally liable by requiring them to reimburse the Treasury for awards and settlements stemming from acts of harassment they personally commit, including Members who leave office.
In addition, the legislation would:
· Provide employees with access to a dedicated advocate who will provide consultation and assistance regarding proceedings before the Office of Compliance.
· Require public reporting of awards and settlements, including identifying if a Member of Congress was personally liable.
· Require awards or settlements to be automatically referred to the Committee on Ethics for claims against Members of Congress and senior staff.
· Extend protections under the Congressional Accountability Act to unpaid staff, including interns, detailees and fellows, and other Legislative Branch Staff.
· Provide opportunities for employees to work remotely or request paid leave without fear of retribution.
· Require a survey of staff each Congress to examine the workplace culture on Capitol Hill.
· Provide additional support for state, district and regional Legislative Branch staff to ensure they have the same access to Office of Compliance resources, training opportunities, guidance and advice as Washington D.C. based legislative branch workers.
· Require the Office of Compliance to establish an electronic system for taking in claims by victims, tracking those claims throughout the process, and generating reports on various details of claims.