Washington, DC - Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) today announced the bipartisan passage of bicameral legislation to hold Members of Congress personally liable for harassment, including sexual harassment, and retaliation.
The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act was passed by unanimous consent in both chambers on Thursday. It also overhauls the dispute resolution process so survivors will no longer be subjected to mandatory counselling, mediation, and cooling off periods. Non-disclosure agreements are allowed only if the employee agrees to one. Interns and fellows will also now have the same rights as permanent staff.
“Congress finally joined together today to say, ‘Time’s Up!’ and sent a message to all members and staff that we will no longer tolerate sexual misconduct that denigrates employees and debases the institution,” Rep. Speier said. “All the members who fail to heed this warning do so at their own risk, because if they harass or retaliate against a staffer they will be paying out-of-pocket for any settlements or court-ordered awards. And resigning and slinking off into the dark won’t work because we’re going to garnish wages, Thrift Savings Plans, pensions, and Social Security payments until the US Treasury is reimbursed.”
A provision in the original House bill that required Members to be held personally liable for discrimination claims as defined by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was removed by the Senate, which also struck language requiring an investigation by an independent third party when a victim comes forward. Additionally, the Senate did not agree to adopt the House rule that passed in February and provides House staff with legal representation.
Congresswoman Speier and Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) worked together to draft the original House bill along with Committee on House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper (R-MS) and Ranking Member Robert Brady (D-PA). Congresswoman Speier and Congressman Byrne announced Thursday that will introduce new legislation in the 116th Congress to reinstate the provisions omitted or altered by the Senate.
“Having spoken with many survivors, it’s clear that the process of going up against a lawyer for the institution and the harasser was as traumatic, if not more traumatic, than the abuse they suffered. And the American public made it clear that taxpayers should never foot the bill for Members’ misconduct,” Congresswoman Speier said. “I’m proud to say that House Democrats and Republicans heard the survivors who came forward and remain focused on taking a system that was rigged in favor of the harassers and made it more victim-centric. We remain committed to offering survivors the tools they need to pursue justice. And I look forward to working with my colleague and friend, Bradley Byrne, to pass legislation in the next Congress to reinstate those provisions removed by the Senate for the House,” Congresswoman Speier said.