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Posts Tagged ‘Jackie Speier’

This is the elaborate system Congress created to protect sexual predators on Capitol Hill

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

On Tuesday, BuzzFeed reported that numerous woman on the staff of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) say the congressman repeatedly sexually harassed them. Conyers’ conduct allegedly included “requests for sexual favors…caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public.” In at least one case, a woman who rebuffed Conyers’ advances says she was fired.

Yet until last night, Conyers’ behavior was secret. Why? There is no better place to be a sexual predator than the U.S. Congress.

Congress has created an elaborate system that protects sexual predators on Capitol Hill, including members of Congress and their staff. In the private sector and elsewhere in the government, victims of sexual harassment have the option of immediately filing a lawsuit and getting their grievances heard in court. But Congress has created a much different set of rules for victims who work on Capitol Hill.

The 180-day statute of limitations to request “counseling”

In order to pursue accountability for a sitting member of Congress for an alleged incident of sexual harassment or assault, a victim must file a written notice with the Office of Compliance within 180 days of the incident. If they don’t act within 180 days, they have no ability to pursue their claims. As reporting on Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and others reveals, it can take years for victims to feel comfortable coming forward.

Furthermore, the form to file such a complaint is password protected; a victim must call the Office of Compliance to get the password to initiate the process.

The 30-day “counseling” period

After filing the complaint, the person alleging harassment or assault must participate in a 30-day counseling period. Yes, in Congress, the victims of sexual harassment must submit to counseling, as if there is something wrong with them. During this period, no one else — including the alleged harasser — is even notified the complaint has been filed.

The Office of Compliance puts a sunny face on this process, saying it “provides the employee with an opportunity to assess his/her case before deciding whether to pursue the claim(s) beyond counseling.” In other words, the process starts with a 30-day waiting period in which the victim is given the “opportunity” to consider dropping the entire matter.

The 15-day statute of limitations to request mediation

After going through the counseling process, the alleged victim has just 15 days to file a request for mediation. If they fail to do so, the claim is extinguished. The form to request mediation is also password protected and must be obtained from the Office of Compliance.

The 30-day mediation period

After the counseling process, the alleged victim is still prohibited from filing a case in court. Rather, they must enter mandatory, confidential mediation which lasts at least another 30 days. The mediation period involves “the employing office, employee, and [Office of Compliance] mediator.” The purpose of the mediation, according to the Office of Compliance, is to “resolve the dispute.”

The individual alleging harassment or assault is also required to keep this mediation secret. “All mediation shall be strictly confidential, and the Executive Director shall notify each person participating in the mediation of the confidentiality requirement and of the sanctions applicable to any person who violates the confidentiality requirement,” according to the poorly named Congressional Accountability Act, which governs the process. The alleged perpetrator may not even be involved in this process, even if the claim is settled. John Conyers, whose case was settled through mediation, claimed he was unaware of any allegations against him — although sources tell BuzzFeed he did know.

There are also indications of misconduct within the Office of Compliance. Conyers’ settlement was confidential but documents were leaked by someone to Mike Cernovich, a right-wing conspiracy theorist and professional misogynist, who shared the documents with BuzzFeed.

The taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlement

As part of the mediation process, the parties can reach a settlement to resolve the dispute. But this settlement is not paid by the person who actually conducted the sexual harassment. Rather, the settlement is paid by you, the taxpayer. “[O]nly funds which are appropriated to an account of the Office in the Treasury of the United States for the payment of awards and settlements may be used for the payment of awards and settlements under this chapter,” the Congressional Accountability Actstates. This is why Conyers did not have to pay a penny of his own money to settle claims against his alleged victims.

According to the Washington Post, the Office of Compliance has paid more than $17 million over the past two decades to settle complaints regarding violations of workplace rules, including but not limited to sexual harassment cases. But BuzzFeed’s reporting indicates this doesn’t get at the scope of the problem. At least one settlement with a woman who alleged Conyers harassed her was paid from Conyers’ office budget, not from the Office of Compliance.

The 30-day waiting period and 60-day statute of limitations for filing a complaint

After making it through counseling and mediation, the victim must wait 30 days before doing anything. It’s unclear what this waiting period is for, other than to pressure the victim to accept a settlement offer or drop the claim. The victim then has just 60 days to either file an administrative complaint with the Office of Compliance or file a case in federal district court. The form to file an administrative complaint is also password protected. If the victim does not take any action within 90 days of the end of mediation, the claim is extinguished.

The secret administrative hearing

The administrative proceeding, unlike a federal court case, is also confidential and presents another opportunity for a perpetrator to keep the allegations secret. The hearings are closed to the public. (The hearing officer is empowered to dismiss any claim without a hearing if he or she judges the claim to be “frivolous.”) The responding party is not the individual that engaged in sexual harassment, but the office that employed that person. A record of the proceedings are only made public if the victim is successful.

If the victim disagrees with the decision, he or she must appeal first to the board of the Office of Compliance. After the Office of Compliance issue their decision, the victim may appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. That means there will be no independent evaluation of the evidence, rather the appeals court simply reviews for arbitrary or capricious application of the law, a very high legal standard.

If the victim wins in the administrative hearing, the payment is made from taxpayer money. They are not entitled to receive civil penalties or punitive damages under the law. This keeps both the awards and the settlements fairly low. Over 20 years, Congress has paid $17.1 million to 264 victims, a figure that includes sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination — an average award of about $65,000.

A federal case against a congressional office, not the person engaging in sexual harassment

After all this, a victim still cannot sue a member of Congress or other staff member who engaged in sexual harassment. Rather, if a victim choses to forgo the administrative hearing, he or she can file a federal case against the office where the sexual harassment allegedly occurred. In this case, victims are still not entitled to civil penalties or punitive damages. This makes the choice to file a suit, in most cases, prohibitively expensive since even a successful case will not bring in a large award.

Whatever money is awarded still is not paid by the sexual harasser but by taxpayers.

With more recent scrutiny on the systems in place to hold accountable powerful men accused of assault and harassment, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) recently introduced legislation to reform this process. Their bill would make counseling and mediation optional. It would also require hearings to be completed within 180 days after the complaint is filed. Complaints under the new legislation could also be filed anonymously. Members of Congress who personally engage in sexual harassment would be required to pay their own settlements and awards, rather than using taxpayer funds for this purpose.

The proposed bill — called the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On Congress Act, or ME TOO Congress — still requires an administrative complaint or civil action to be filed 180 days after the alleged incident.

Gillibrand and Speier’s bill has attracted three co-sponsors in the Senate and five in the House. All of Gillibrand’s co-sponsors are Democratic women. Speier’s co-sponsors include three Republican men.

This article was published at ThinkProgress on November 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Judd Legum is the founder and editor in chief of ThinkProgress

House of Representatives has a sexual harassment policy — but it’s designed to protect the harasser

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

House lawmakers met on Capitol Hill Tuesday to review the chamber’s sexual harassment policies. This review process comes on the heels of sweeping allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment among some of the nation’s most powerful institutions and industries — including the U.S. Congress.

In her opening statement, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) told the story of a young female staffer who was subject to sexual harassment from a sitting Congressman.

“This member asked a staffer to bring them over some materials to their residence. And a young staffer — it was a young woman — went there and was greeted with a member in a towel. It was a male, who then invited her in. At that point, he decided to expose himself,” Comstock said. “She left, and then she quit her job.”

Over 1,500 former Hill staffers have signed a letter calling for a formal review of the “inadequate” congressional sexual harassment policies in the wake of such incidents.

Lawmakers like Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) have previously shared their own stories of sexual harassment from their years working as aides on the Hill.

Speier — who shared a story on Twitter back in October about a congressional chief of staff who had once “stuck his tongue down her throat” — testified before the panel on Tuesday and disclosed there are at least two sitting members of Congress, one Democrat and one Republican, who have engaged in sexual harassment. She stated some victims have admitted to having their “private parts grabbed on the House floor” by members. Speier didn’t disclose the names of the members and said these cases have not yet been reviewed.

The reason for that is likely that the process for reporting sexual harassment in the House is so extensive and geared towards protecting the harasser.

As Speier noted in the hearing, successful claims against a House employee require the victim to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Any settlements made to the victim are taxpayer-funded and never disclosed, the identity of the accused also remains anonymous. Additionally, interns and fellows do not have access to this process, leaving them with nowhere to turn should they be sexually harassed by a member of Congress.

Currently, there is no required sexual harassment training in the House of Representatives, but rather, individual offices may have their staff attend training sessions offered by the Office of Compliance. The head of that department said during testimony on Tuesday that they have made multiple recommendations to Congress to mandate sexual harassment training for all employees since 2010.

Just last week, the Senate passed a resolution that required mandatory sexual harassment training for all members, including staffers, interns, and the lawmakers themselves.

Following the Committee on House Administration hearing on Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) released a statement calling for mandatory sexual harassment training in the chamber.

“Today’s hearing was another important step in our efforts to combat sexual harassment and ensure a safe workplace. I want to especially thank my colleagues who shared their stories. Going forward, the House will adopt a policy of mandatory anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all Members and staff. Our goal is not only to raise awareness, but also make abundantly clear that harassment in any form has no place in this institution. As we work with the Administration, Ethics, and Rules committees to implement mandatory training, we will continue our review to make sure the right policies and resources are in place to prevent and report harassment.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant and social media coordinator at NPR, where she covered presidential conflicts of interest and ethics coverage. Before moving to Washington, she was an intern reporter at NPR member stations WLRN in Miami and WFSU in Tallahassee, Florida. She holds a B.A in Editing, Writing, and Media with a minor in political science from Florida State University

New study confirms widespread reports of science’s sexual harassment problem

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

In January 2016, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) took to the House floor and delivered a blistering speech on a topic not often discussed outside the towers of academia: sexual harassment in the sciences.

“When I was made aware of it, I was astonished and disgusted,” Speier told Wired about the case she presented on the floor, based on a leaked report on harassment at the University of Arizona. But she wasn’t surprised: “It was consistent with what I have seen in science for a long time.”

As Speier notes, the idea that science has a sexual harassment problem is hardly new?—?particularly for female scientists, who’ve been dealing with and fighting against it for decades. But until recently, it didn’t get a lot of attention. Speier’s speech helped open up a dam, as female scientists came forward in droves to share their experiences with sexist discrimination and harassment.

And this week, new survey data confirms what the anecdotes told us: Women, and particularly women of color, working within the astronomical and planetary sciences are vastly more likely than their male colleagues to experience a hostile work environment based on their race or gender.

A series of scandals

Speier her speech began by referencing two high-profile cases that had shaken the world of astronomy and first brought the issue into the spotlight, the first of which centered on world-famous astronomer, tenured professor, and, as it turns out, serial sexual harasser Geoff Marcy.

Marcy had repeatedly violated the school’s sexual harassment policy and engaged in inappropriate behavior with female students, including unwanted massages, kisses, and groping, as a Title IX investigation leaked to Buzzfeed revealed. According to subsequent reports, his behavior dated back to previous academic posts and had gone on for decades with little consequence, despite numerous reports from women.

Despite the extensive documentation and report, Berkeley did not hand down punishment for Marcy. He resigned from his tenured position down after pressure from his colleagues.

Then, a similar story broke at Caltech, where newly-tenured astrophysics professor Christian Ott was suspended for inappropriate behavior toward two female graduate students?—?one of whom he fired after he fell in love with her, upending her research plans and ultimately causing her to leave the university to finish her studies elsewhere.

And on the floor, Speier outed yet another instance of harassment within astronomy: Timothy Frederick Slater, a professor at the University of Wyoming who obtained the post despite a documented history of sexual harassment at his previous job at the University of Arizona.

As the topic moved out of the shadows and into the mainstream, women from all across the sciences came forward with their own stories of gender-based discrimination and harassment.

Reformers, however, still faced a classic problem when it comes to sexual harassment: disbelief. Were these anecdotes just isolated incidents, or particularly high-profile examples of a widespread epidemic?

Now, new survey data published in the Journal of Geophysical Research is helping confirm that it’s the latter?—?and illustrate that when it comes to harassment and hostile workplace behavior, women of color, as a double minority, are the people at the greatest risk.

A culture of sexism

Researchers surveyed 474 astronomers and planetary scientists in an internet survey, asking about their experience with harassment over a period of five years. As they were particularly interested in the experience of women?—?who experience the majority of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace, and who also form a minority group within the scientific field at issue?—?they specifically targeted recruitment so they would be oversampling women relative to their numbers in the field.

They found that overall, women were more likely than men to experience a hostile work environment, and were far more likely to experience sexism and harassment.

“The results were initially worse than expected, as somebody who’s been working in and around these issues for some time,” study co-author Christina Richey told Inside Higher Ed. “It’s a little disheartening, but at least as we present this information it’s an opportunity for that gut-check moment. It forces conversations to start.”

Seventy-nine percent of women surveyed reported hearing at least some sexist remarks from their peers, and 44 percent reported hearing them from their supervisors. Women were also more likely than men to hear remarks about their physical ability or disability. Seventy-five percent of women reported hearing remarks from others about their mental abilities, as compared to 48 percent of men.

And in nearly every significant area, the researchers found that “women of color experienced the most hostile environment, from the negative remarks observed to their direct experiences of verbal and physical harassment.”

Forty percent of women of color reported feeling unsafe at work because of their gender, and 28 percent reported feeling unsafe because of their race. They also observed the highest frequency of problematic remarks, as compared to white men and men of color and white women, and were the most likely to report harassment based on their race.

White women and women of color experienced verbal harassment related to their gender about equally?—?with 43 percent and 44 percent reporting it, respectively.

Overall, the study paints a picture of endemic hostile experiences predicated by race, gender, and their intersections.

And this culture has an effect: Thirteen percent of women reported skipping at least one class, meeting, fieldwork, or professional event due to feeling unsafe, as compared to 3 percent of men. Twenty-one percent of women of color reported skipping professional events due to feeling unsafe, as did 18 percent of men of color. Only 2 percent of white men reported skipping at least one event due to feeling unsafe.

This result underlines a common theme with workplace sexual harassment: Often, when men in power harass their employees, it’s the women on the receiving end whose careers pay the price.

A discriminatory environment creates a leaky pipeline

This study specifically focused on astronomy and the planetary sciences?—?one area within the sciences where women are particularly scarce, and where some of the highest-profile scandals have occurred.

Reports indicate, however, that the problem stems across disciplines and even across academia. According to a 2015 report, one in three female science professors reported experiencing sexual harassment at some point in their career.

One likely reason sexual harassment in the sciences is prevalent is because of gender imbalances in the field: While women now outnumber men in social and some biosciences, they remain drastically underrepresented in engineering, physics, and computer science.

Academia is also a world where length of career matters. For decades, women weren’t even accepted to technical or scientific degrees. Now, that legacy still lingers in the ranks of those who lead University departments or who built powerful research legacies?—?and therefore are in charge of the course of young careers. That means that more often than not, even as more women are being encouraged to choose STEM careers, those in charge of mentorship, funding, and career opportunities are men.

All of this has a perpetuating effect: Women remain stubbornly underrepresented in the sciences, and part of that is because the pipeline is leaky.

In engineering, for example, women earn only 19 percent of bachelor’s degrees, and then on top of that 40 percent of female degree earners leave the field, citing hostile work cultures, limited advancement opportunities, and unsupportive supervisors.

That’s a problem not just for women, but also for science in general, because it means that fields are missing out on bright minds.

The authors of the study offer several suggestions for remedying the environment for women and women of color in science?—?including adopting codes of conduct protecting vulnerable populations, providing diversity and cultural awareness training, and helping women and women of color to build communities of peers.

They also recommend that when abuse is reported, that the perpetrators be sanctioned swiftly, justly, and consistently, “as this is the only way to signal consequences to the target and the broader community.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on July 11, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laurel Raymond is a reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she worked for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and served as a Fulbright scholar at Gaziantep University in southeast Turkey. She holds a B.A. in English and a B.S. in brain and cognitive sciences from the University of Rochester, and is originally from Richmond, Vermont.

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