Politics

Congress’ Compliance Watchdog: Settlement Payouts Highest in 10 Years

OOC handles harassment, discrimination and other workplace complaints

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BY ANDREW MENEZES AND SEAN MCMINN

U.S. taxpayers paid out more than $900,000 in the most recent fiscal year to settle claims on Capitol Hill, the highest amount in 10 years. 

That’s according to statistics released Thursday by the Office of Compliance, the independent congressional agency established under the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act.

The OOC reported that eight cases were settled for nearly $935,000 in fiscal 2017, which ended on Sept. 30.

The agency released 21 years worth of figures Thursday “based on the volume of recent inquiries regarding payment of awards and settlements reached,” Susan Tsui Grundmann, OOC executive director, said in a statement. A total of 264 claims were settled during that time period, beginning Oct. 1, 1996.

Rep. Jackie Speier made headlines Tuesday when she said the House had paid out more than $15 million in settlements over the last 10 to 15 years. The California Democrat has shared her own sexual harassment story from her time as a Hill aide. She introduced a bill with New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Wednesday to address sexual harassment in the Capitol, that included a requirement for mandatory response training. 

Roll Call analyzed the OOC data and found that settlements paid over the last 15 years covering fiscal 2003 through fiscal 2017 totaled $12.9 million.

The OOC administers and enforces workplace and employment laws on the Hill, educates members and offices on their rights and obligations and investigates violations. Hill offices such as the Library of Congress, Architect of the Capitol and Capitol Police also fall under the purview of the compliance agency.

A large portion of the cases “originate from employing offices in the legislative branch other than the House of Representatives or the Senate,” Tsui Grundmann said.

Highest settlements

Fiscal 2007 stood out with more than $4 million in settlements paid — the highest of the last 21 years. That amount was likely due to complaints from Capitol employees, who worked in underground utility tunnels, filed against the Architect of the Capitol’s office; the employees alleged harassment and intimidation after they publicly revealed the hazards associated with their jobs.

The only other year to come close to the fiscal 2007 total was fiscal 2002, when 10 cases were settled for just under $4 million. That figure was possibly due to claims related to the anthrax attacks in 2001, when congressional offices received letters laced with deadly anthrax spores. 

Legislative Branch appropriations bills for fiscal 1997 through fiscal 2017 have appropriated funds for awards and settlements under the Congressional Accountability Act, the OOC said in a release.

The OOC did not provide a breakdown for the type of cases settled. Besides sexual harassment, claims covered can include labor law violations, racial and religious discrimination cases, and discrimination against people with disabilities.

Katherine Tully-McManus and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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