Dem lawmaker says House paid out $15M in harassment settlements
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) November 14, 2017
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that the House has paid out $15 million in harassment settlements over more than a decade, though a spokesperson later clarified that figure does not only account for sexual harassment claims.
“One member of Congress has settled a claim and there has been a taxpayer settlement,” Speier told Chuck Todd on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily.”
“We do know that there’s about $15 million that has been paid out by the House on behalf of harassers in the last 10 to 15 years,” she added.
A spokesperson for Speier later clarified to The Hill that the $15 million figure provided by the Office of Compliance (OOC) applied to all types of complaints handled by the office in the fiscal period between 1997 and 2016. These include not just complaints relating to sexual harassment, but also to complaints regarding racial and religious discrimination, as well as discrimination against people with disabilities, according to the spokesperson.
“The OOC does not currently provide any breakdown for the type of discrimination payments made, the amounts of individual payments, or even the offices that the complaints generate from,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The Office of Compliance (OOC) is responsible for handling sexual harassment complaints and settlements. Once a settlement is reached, the money does not come from individual members’ offices but is instead paid out of a special fund operated by the Treasury Department.
Speier’s comments come amid increased reports of sexual harassment in the workplace, including on Capitol Hill. Multiple female members of Congress have come forward saying they have been victims of sexual harassment, prompting lawmakers to call for reform.
Sources in the office told CNN that while the OOC does compile a report on the number of awards and settlements paid out of the fund each year, it is not broken down by settlement type — meaning sexual harassment settlements are lumped in with other workplace cases like back pay and compensatory damages for monetary reporting.
A congressional aide told CNN that the Treasury Department has paid out $15 million in total settlements since 1997, but it was unclear how much of that money had been paid in sexual harassment cases.
Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), who practiced employment law before serving in the House, recommended in testimony before the House Administration Committee on Tuesday that lawmakers accused of harassment should personally repay the Treasury for settlements.
Speier said at a Tuesday hearing that two current members of Congress, one Republican and one Democrat, have been accused of sexual harassment.
Meanwhile, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced Tuesday afternoon that he would require all House members and staff to undergo anti-harassment training.
Speier said that taxpayers should have the right to know if they are funding sexual harassment payouts, but that the current system does not allow for such transparency.
She said that going forward she hopes Congress will change the system, but that past settlements should not be meddled with.
“I don’t know that we can retroactively deal with it because that’s a contract that’s been signed by both parties,” she said.
This story was updated at 11:40 pm to include the clarification from Rep. Speier’s spokesperson.