Gardner, Bipartisan Senators Introduce Legislation to Combat Sexual Harassment in Congress

Gardner: “Let me be extremely clear: sexual harassment and workplace misconduct has no place in America, and certainly has no place in the United States Congress”

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), along with several of their colleagues, today introduced new bipartisan legislation that would overhaul the current process that victims of harassment in Congress must go through when reporting a claim, eliminate the use of taxpayer funds to pay out claims, and increase public disclosure of claims against Members. 

The current process for victims of harassment in Congress lacks transparency and is difficult to navigate. This legislation, the Congressional Harassment Reform Act, would bring transparency and accountability to the current process by extending protections to interns and fellows, eliminating forced mediation, ending the current required secrecy in the process by allowing victims to speak publicly about their case, requiring Members of Congress found personally liable for harassment to pay settlements out of their own pockets, and improving systems to address harassment and discrimination in Congress.

“Over the past few months, our country has experienced a much-needed transformation when it comes to listening to courageous women share their stories about harassment. No one should be forced to work in an environment where they are made to feel uncomfortable or intimidated. Let me be extremely clear: sexual harassment and workplace misconduct has no place in America, and certainly has no place in the United States Congress,” said Senator Gardner. “I’m proud to join Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and my other colleagues on both sides of the aisle, to introduce this bipartisanlegislation that reforms the way Congress deals with harassment. This legislation ensures we have an open, transparent process that does not leave the taxpayers on the hook for Members of Congress’ misconduct. I’m proud to introduce this bill today and call on each of my colleagues to support this important proposal.” 

“Congress should never be above the law or play by their own set of rules,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We should treat every person who works here with respect and dignity, and that means creating a climate where there is accountability, fairness, respect, and access to justice if sexual harassment takes place. There are real costs to sexual harassment in the workplace. We now know that many people quit their jobs because of it, or miss out on promotions or raises, all of which can throw off the entire trajectory in their careers. We must ensure that Congress handles complaints to create an environment where staffers can come forward if something happens to them, without having to fear that it will ruin their careers. This bipartisan legislation would bring us much closer to that goal.”

“Sexual harassment is wrong. Every person, man or woman, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace,” said Senator Cruz. “In recent months, we've seen wave after wave of appalling sexual harassment and assault allegations -- from Hollywood, to newsrooms, to the halls of Congress. And powerful men who have abused their positions have been held to account. Congress is not above the laws, and secret settlements with taxpayer money to cover up harassment should no longer be tolerated. This legislation seeks to empower victims of harassment to report those crimes and to hold the perpetrators accountable." 

Specifically, the Congressional Harassment Reform Act would do the following:

  • Extends protections to interns and fellows.
  • Requires everyone working on Capitol Hill, including Members, to take the Office of Compliance training.
  • Changes the name of the Office of Compliance (OOC) to the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.
  • Puts victims in the driver’s seat by allowing them to choose how to resolve their complaint (e.g. counseling and mediation are both no longer mandatory) and protecting their option to discuss their claim publicly 
  • Establishes a Confidential Advisor to consult, on a confidential basis, with any employee who has alleged harassment or discrimination; and assist any employee who has an allegation under Title IV in understanding the procedures, and the significance of the procedures.
  • Gives OOC’s General Counsel the authority to conduct interviews and gather evidence regarding complaints of covered harassment and discrimination filed under this section, including interviews with former employees. 
  • Allows individuals to work remotely without penalty throughout proceedings.
  • Improves tracking of complaints and procedures by implementing an online platform.
  • If a Member of Congress is found to be personally liable for harassment or discrimination, they will be responsible for the cost of any settlement.
  • If a Member of Congress is found to be personally liable for harassment or discrimination, any settlement must be approved by the appropriate Senate or House committee.
  • Requires settlements to be publicly disclosed unless the victims choose to keep them private or the Member of Congress is found to have not committed the harassment or discrimination.
  • Requires offices to post notices with information about employees’ rights and how to contact the Office of Compliance.
  • Provides for a climate survey to identify the pervasiveness of the problem and what gaps continue to exist in its resolution.