House

Dem proposes ending congressional exemptions from harassment laws

Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's representative in Congress, wants to ensure that Capitol Hill staffers have the same legal protections against sexual harassment that apply in other workplaces.

Norton, the first woman to chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), has introduced legislation to subject Congress to the same civil rights, health and safety standards that already apply to federal agencies and the private sector.

The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 established workplace safety laws for the legislative branch, but doesn't require Capitol Hill offices to adhere to certain notice and training requirements.

Norton's bill would, among other provisions, authorize subpoena authority for the Office of Compliance, which was established by the 1995 law to administer workplace and accessibility laws in Congress. Her legislation would also require training and posting of employees' rights.

"Congress must facilitate a workplace culture where employees feel protected and know their rights are protected," Norton said in a statement.

"Particularly in a work environment such as Congress, where powerful figures often play an outsized role with a sense of their own importance, sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination must be met head on, especially by Members of Congress, who have compelled other institutions to observe strict standards."

After becoming chairwoman of the EEOC in the late 1970s, Norton authored new regulations to explicitly forbid sexual harassment in the workplace.

Before that, Norton represented female employees at Newsweek who filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that the magazine's leadership engaged in gender discrimination.

That case was documented by the book "The Good Girls Revolt," which was later turned into an Amazon web TV series.

Norton's bill is one of a number of proposals being offered by lawmakers to combat sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.

Revelations of sexual harassment by Hollywood mogul and Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein and other prominent media figures led to discussion among lawmakers on Capitol Hill about preventing such behavior in their own quarters.

Sexual harassment awareness training is currently not mandatory for congressional staff, unlike in the executive branch. Multiple entities on Capitol Hill, including the Office of Compliance, Office of House Employment Counsel and the Office of the House Chief Administrative Officer, offer such training that is only optional.

Norton said Wednesday that she has moved to have her own office staff undergo a 30-minute online sexual harassment training session.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) introduced a bill last week to require sexual harassment awareness training for congressional offices.

And Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) is planning to unveil legislation in the coming days to similarly require sexual harassment training for members and staff, as well as overhaul the process available for staff to file harassment complaints.

The House Administration Committee is currently conducting a review of current sexual harassment training policies.

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