Gillibrand on secret sexual harassment settlements: ‘System is broken’

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandAustin tight lipped on whether to take sexual assault cases out of commanders' hands Gillibrand touts legislation to lower drug costs: This idea 'is deeply bipartisan' A bipartisan effort to prevent the scourge of sexual assault in the armed forces MORE (D-N.Y.) declared that secret settlements paid to victims of sexual harassment in Congress show that the "system is broken" and announced that she is working on legislation to change how Congress handles harassment allegations.

"The system is broken, and Congress should never be able to play by their own set of rules or ever be above the law," Gillibrand said on CNN Thursday night.

Congress is currently exempt from many of the same policies for handling sexual harassment complaints that other parts of the federal government are subject to.


According to a Washington Post report, accusers can only file harassment lawsuits after undergoing months of counseling and mediation. And when settlements are reached, the payments do not come out of members' office funds, but rather from a special Treasury fund.

Gillibrand said the legislation she's working on with other lawmakers would aim to make the process for handling sexual harassment claims in Congress "transparent and accountable" and would get rid of the mandatory mediation sessions.

That bill, she said, would also require a survey every two years to gauge the current climate in Congress regarding sexual harassment.

"Because how many interns out there have never felt they could report these things?" Gillibrand asked. "How many young staffers feel if they report something that they will be scorned or will never have a job on Capitol Hill again?"

"We need to change the process for them so they can have accountability and have at least some process that doesn't marginalize them or embarrass them or try to stifle their views."

Gillibrand's comments come amid mounting allegations of sexual harassment in workplaces across the country and a nationwide debate over how to crack down on inappropriate sexual behavior.

The Senate cleared a resolution on Thursday requiring that all senators and staffers undergo sexual harassment training.

The Senate unanimously passed the resolution as part of the chamber's nightly wrap-up amid pressure from senators in both parties to change the chamber's voluntary training policy.