WASHINGTON – Congress has finally passed legislation to reform the way sexual harassment cases are handled in the House and Senate. Members will now be held liable for all forms of harassment as well as retaliation against whistleblowers, and they will also be required to reimburse the Treasury for harassment settlements. Finally, members of Congress will be held accountable for their actions—they will no longer be able to use their enormous power to silence survivors and avoid transparency.
But there’s more work to be done. NOW supports Rep. Jackie Speier’s (D-CA) legislation to strengthen this new policy to protect against discrimination as well as harassment, and to require members to pay judgments and settlements out of their personal funds, not through the taxpayer.
A provision in the original House bill that required Members to be held personally liable for discrimination claims as defined by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was removed by the Senate, which also struck language requiring an investigation by an independent third party when a victim comes forward. Additionally, the Senate did not agree to adopt the House rule that passed in February and provides House staff with legal representation.
It’s important to remember that every step towards reform of workplace harassment and discrimination policy is an interim step. This work will not be finished overnight. What’s needed is nothing less than a change in the culture of men protecting men, of survivors being marginalized and of abusers escaping justice. This is a change that’s urgently needed on Capitol Hill—and in every workplace in America.