Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), Co-Chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, joined Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, as well as Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; Norma Torres (D-CA) and Nancy Mace (R-SC), in introducing the Judiciary Accountability Act of 2021, which would ensure the more than 30,000 employees of the federal judiciary have strong statutory rights and protections against discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and other forms of workplace misconduct.
Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Senate companion bill.
Federal judicial branch employees are not protected by the foundational federal statutes — such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — that prohibit discrimination and retaliation. They are not protected by the federal civil rights statutes that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), national origin, age, and disability. The federal judiciary has also faced sustained criticism for its approach to preventing, investigating, and redressing sexual harassment and discrimination by judges and other high-level judicial branch officials.
“Almost four years ago, as the #MeToo movement began to gain momentum, I shared my personal experience with being subjected to sexual harassment in Congress as a staff member for the first time. My hope was that my story would help create a better working environment for the current and next generation of staffers and Members. By the end of the next calendar year, both chambers of Congress unanimously passed the bill I worked on with my Republican colleagues and advocates. Shockingly, however, the employees of the Judicial Branch, the very people charged with interpreting and enforcing that law and all antidiscrimination laws in the United States, are provided no protection from workplace harassment, discrimination, and retaliation,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, Co-Chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus. “This is insanity and it’s past time it changed. I’m proud to work with Reps. Johnson, Nadler, Torres, and Mace and Sens. Hirono, Whitehouse, Durbin and Murray to right this glaring wrong. I urge my colleagues to join us in passing this bipartisan, bicameral bill.”
“All workers deserve and should expect basic workplace rights that protect them from harassment, discrimination and other forms of misconduct,” said Rep. Johnson. “The fact that federal judiciary employees are denied these basic rights is just flat wrong and must be remedied. The irony is the judiciary metes out justice but there is no justice for judiciary employees. This isn’t about punishing judges it’s about protecting workers and offering them the same basic workplace rights we all enjoy. The Judiciary Accountability Act of 2021 helps get us there.”
“As story after story emerged in the wake of the #MeToo movement, it sadly became clear that our laws have failed to protect employees from workplace misconduct,” said Rep. Nadler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “While numerous institutions – including Congress– have taken action to address these issues, the federal Judiciary has failed to take effective steps to protect their employees from harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and other misconduct. The Judiciary Accountability Act will provide an overhaul of accountability on these issues by promoting protections for Judiciary employees and protecting the integrity of our Judicial Branch. I thank Subcommittee Chairman Johnson for his leadership on this issue, and I look forward to working with all Members to advance this bipartisan, bicameral legislation.”
“Judicial branch employees should not be forced to stay quiet about a hostile workplace environment in fear of retaliation,” said Rep. Norma J. Torres. “I’m proud to co-lead the Judiciary Accountability Act of 2021 to ensure that every employee that comes forward after being a victim of sexual harassment has statutory protections and anti-discrimination rights. Our nation’s federal judiciary should be a model of accountability when it comes to sexual harassment, and the reforms in this bill will make that a reality.”
“Our third branch of government, the Judiciary, charged with enforcing our laws, must abide by the same workplace standards as the rest of government,” said Rep. Mace. “Employees of our courts should not be afraid of workplace retribution from powerful judges. This bipartisan bill corrects this injustice and I thank my colleagues for their dedication to correcting this injustice.”
“Workplace harassment, discrimination, and retaliation should never be tolerated,” said Sen. Hirono. “Yet employees of the federal judiciary lack even the most basic workplace rights and protections. The events of the last few years—with multiple claims that federal judges harassed their clerks and other staff—show that it is long past time to right this wrong. The Judicial Accountability Act takes the long overdue step of extending to judicial branch employees the same anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws other government employees and private sector workers have had for decades. We must swiftly pass this bipartisan, bicameral bill to right this wrong.”
“All federal judicial branch employees deserve to feel safe at work, which is why we need to strengthen protections against sexual harassment and workplace misconduct,” said Sen. Whitehouse. “I’m glad to cosponsor this bill to expand the rights of judicial branch employees and implement more rigorous prevention and reporting policies.”
“Nobody should ever have to face sexual harassment or discrimination at work—full stop. It’s absolutely beyond the pale that judiciary branch employees don’t have the same workplace protections that other employees depend on, and we’ve got to fix this without any further delay,” said Sen. Murray. “I’m so proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan, bicameral bill, and I urge all my colleagues in the Senate to support our effort. Everyone deserves to feel safe at work, so we can’t stop here--I’ll keep fighting to address sexual harassment and discrimination in every workplace by passing the Be HEARD Act.”
“Regardless of where someone works, they should have the right to a safe workplace, free from harassment and discrimination. Federal judicial branch employees deserve this same right, yet our judicial system fails to offer their workers these protections,” said Sen. Durbin. “The Judiciary Accountability Act would expand these critical protections to federal judicial branch employees and institute much-needed prevention and accountability measures. I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation to do right by our federal employees.”
The Judiciary Accountability Act will:
- Give judicial branch employees the same anti-discrimination rights and remedies private sector and government employees have had for decades. Today, judicial branch employees are not protected by the federal civil rights statutes that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), national origin, age, and disability. The Judiciary Accountability Act would correct that injustice.
- Protect whistleblowers by prohibiting retaliation against them and providing them with the right to sue for relief if they are retaliated against. Unlike most other federal employees, judicial branch employees currently have no statutory protection against retaliation. At a House Judiciary Committee hearing in 2020, multiple witnesses testified that they and others were afraid to come forward about the sexual harassment they suffered or witnessed.
- Establish a comprehensive workplace misconduct prevention program overseen by a newly established Commission on Judicial Integrity. The Commission would include members experienced in investigating and enforcing civil rights laws against workplace discrimination; assisting victims of discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment and sexual assault; conducting audits and investigations of government agencies; as well as current employees and former law clerks.
- Create an Office of Judicial Integrity to administer a nationwide, confidential reporting system; a comprehensive training program addressing workplace behavior and bystander intervention; public reporting of anonymized harassment complaints; and public reporting of demographic information for judicial clerkship positions.
- Establish a Special Counsel for Equal Employment Opportunity empowered to investigate all workplace misconduct complaints, including misconduct by judges. The Special Counsel would also regularly audit the judicial branch’s misconduct programs and procedures, and report to Congress on its findings.
- Establish an Office of Employee Advocacy to assist judicial branch employees in matters related to workplace discrimination and harassment. The Office of Employee Advocacy would advise covered judicial employees by advising them of relevant rights and the resources available to them, provide legal assistance where appropriate, and operate a hotline for covered judicial employees.
- Require regular assessments of workplace culture to determine the effectiveness of judicial branch policies designed to prevent and remedy harassment and discrimination.
- Make clear that discrimination and retaliation constitute judicial misconduct and ensure that the judicial misconduct laws apply to all federal judges and justices and that allegations of misconduct will be investigated, regardless of whether the judge subsequently resigns, retires, or passes away.
Quotes from supporting organizations are listed below.
“No workplace is immune from harassment, and that includes federal courthouses across the country. Yet, shockingly, our federal anti-discrimination laws and protections against workplace harassment do not protect the more than 30,000 federal judiciary employees in the U.S. The people we’ve entrusted with enforcing and upholding the rule of law must be accountable to those same laws, and the Judicial Accountability Act of 2021 is a crucial and necessary step to achieving fairer, safer, and more equitable workplaces, by ensuring that the federal judiciary is not above the law,” said Emily Martin, Vice President of Education and Workplace Justice, National Women’s Law Center.
“The idea that something terrible happens, and the public simply moves on a few months later because those responsible are no longer in power, might be gaining popularity in some circles, but it shouldn't be when it comes to the bad actors and actions in the federal judiciary. Keeping misconduct complaints alive, as this bill does, even if the offending judge has resigned, is a way to learn from experience and prevent future wrongdoing. Even more so, it's critical that victims of misconduct — especially when it's harassment — have a true remedy in federal law beyond a 40-year-old statute that's stacked against victims and against any real measure of accountability. This bill provides that, as well. I thank Reps. Johnson, Speier, Nadler, Torres, and Mace and Senators Hirono, Durbin, Murray, and Whitehouse for their leadership in bringing just resolutions to what has been an unjust system for too long,” said Gabe Roth, Executive Director, Fix the Court
“Whether we are talking about impunity in the face of abuse and misconduct or retaliation against whistleblowers, it is all too clear that the federal judiciary is in desperate need of an injection of pro-accountability reform,” said Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, Government Affairs Manager at the Project On Government Oversight. “The Judiciary Accountability Act would go a long way toward transforming the Third Branch into a safer and more just place to work while simultaneously helping deliver on its sacred mission to promote equality under the law. Representatives Johnson, Speier, Nadler, Torres, and Mace and Senators Hirono, Durbin, Murray, and Whitehouse should be commended for leading the way on this bill and on this vital issue.”
“This bill is a critical step forward that will ensure that the more than 30,000 employees of the federal judiciary have the basic statutory protections that are guaranteed in most other workplaces in America. It’s long past time for the judiciary to commit to living by the same principles and laws it requires other employers to abide by,” said Ally Coll, President & Co-Founder, The Purple Campaign.
"For years, we've heard from judicial employees who have been harassed, discriminated against, and exploited while on the job. This is not a problem of individual bad actors: it's the result of an intentional, systemic failure to protect the over 30,000 employees of the federal judiciary. Thanks to the leadership of Representatives Johnson, Speier, Nadler, Torres, and Mace and Senators Hirono, Durbin, Murray, and Whitehouse, we finally have a solution that meets the scope of the problem. The Judiciary Accountability Act will ensure that future workers have the full protection of the law should they experience workplace misconduct — and just importantly, that there will be adequate processes in place to take advantage of these protections. We look forward to seeing this bill signed into law in the near future,” said Molly Coleman, Executive Director, People’s Parity Project.
The read the bill, click here.