House and Senate Are ‘Among the Worst’ for Harassment, Representative Says

 In U.S.

Under federal law, complainants must undergo a confidential process, where co-workers who might be able to provide corroborating evidence are excluded. They often must wait about three months before submitting an official complaint, yet must file one no later than 180 days after the episode. Once filed, victims must submit to up to 30 days of mandatory counseling and complete another 30 days of mediation.

Photo

M. Reese Everson tried to report a member of Congress for flirting with her while she was a fellow at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

Credit
Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

If mediation fails, the person then must wait 30 more days before seeking an administrative hearing or filing a lawsuit in Federal District Court.

“The system is so stacked,” said Debra Katz, a Washington lawyer who often works on sexual harassment cases. “They don’t want people to come forward.”

With such rigid policies, even the most dogged complainants may find no avenue for resolution. In one case, a fellow at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, M. Reese Everson, brought a complaint against a House member to the Office of Compliance. But she said the office told her it could not handle her case because, as a fellow and not a full-time employee, she did not fall under its jurisdiction.

She ended up filing her complaints with the District of Columbia government, where they have languished for over two years.

Few deny the growing sense that Congress is, for many women, a hostile workplace. Last Thursday, the Senate approved a resolution that would create mandatory anti-harassment training for all Senate employees and interns, and would require training every two years. At least two other pieces of legislation that would make the changes even broader are in progress.

Kristin Nicholson, a former chief of staff to Representative Jim Langevin, Democrat of Rhode Island, said Congress had not gone far enough. “We think training needs to be in-person to be more effective,” said Ms. Nicholson, who now directs the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University, “and we’re asking for reforms to the opaque process for reporting and resolving harassment claims.”

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