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Harassment and Discrimination in Congress Must Be Addressed Before This Session Is Over

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Much important work remains as the end of the 115th Congress draws near, including the pressing need to address harassment and discrimination in congressional workspaces. While both the House and Senate have taken some action, the most meaningful and lasting reforms remain unfinished. People For the American Way and allied organizations are urging them to provide a more equitable process for employees and to advance real transparency and accountability. You can download our letter here. Click to view our earlier House and Senate letters.

Dear Speaker Ryan, Representative Pelosi, Leader McConnell, and Senator Schumer:

With only a few weeks left before the 115th Congress ends, we urge you to quickly complete the bipartisan, bicameral discussions updating and strengthening the procedures for reporting and responding to discrimination and harassment in the legislative workforce, and to pass the strongest version of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act without delay.

More than a year ago, the #MeToo movement began a national reckoning about how our society and institutions address allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Brave individuals have shined a light on how institutions use power dynamics to silence survivors and ignore systemic problems involving inappropriate and, in some cases, illegal conduct. Since that time, powerful individuals have been held accountable for their actions, several institutions have implemented reforms, and some states have enacted legislative change. But there is still much work to do, including on Capitol Hill and within the Congressional workforce.

The Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) is almost 25 years old—and its flaws are well-known. While both chambers of Congress have taken several steps to address harassment and discrimination in congressional workspaces, the most meaningful and lasting reforms remain unfinished. The 30,000 individuals who comprise the legislative workforce and contribute to and support the work of Congress—including those in members’ offices in Washington, D.C. and in the district and public safety officials who keep members and the public safe from harm—deserve to work with safety and respect.

Congress should pass a strong CAA reform bill that updates this critical law to provide a more equitable process for its workforce and to advance real transparency and accountability for members of Congress. While the bill that the Senate passed in May represents an improvement over the status quo, it does not sufficiently address a number of important issues. We urge the House and the Senate to reach agreement on and pass a strong bill that includes the following provisions:

  • Free legal counsel should be available for the entire legislative workforce. A House-passed resolution already provides this important protection for its staffers.
  • Mediation should be completely voluntary, meaning that it is provided on an opt in basis rather than an opt out basis.
  • Any fact finding regarding a claim of harassment or discrimination against a member should be conducted by an independent investigator, and should occur before the resolution of the claim, not after.
  • Members of the Senate and House must be required to reimburse the Treasury for an award or settlement stemming from harassment or discrimination that they personally commit.

We urge you to act now to send the strongest bipartisan reform bill to the President’s desk before concluding the 115th Congress

For questions please contact Vania Leveille at the American Civil Liberties Union ([email protected]), Joi Chaney at Equal Pay Today & Equal Rights Advocates ([email protected]), June Zeitlin at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights ([email protected]), Maya Raghu at the National Women’s Law Center ([email protected]), and Remington A. Gregg at Public Citizen ([email protected]).

cc: Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives