Hill staffers would get the same legal protections against sexual harassment as other workers in the nation’s capital under a bill introduced Tuesday by D.C.’s congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton.
“It is impossible to justify exempting congressional offices from the comprehensive provisions Congress now requires of private employers and federal agencies,” Norton said in a press release. “Particularly in a work environment such as Congress, where powerful figures often play an out-sized role with a sense of their own importance, sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination must be met head on.”
The bill is one of several attempts to reform the way congressional offices train employees and respond to sexual harassment allegations in the wake of a series of scandals involving powerful figures in Hollywood, the media and other industries. Those reports, triggered by multiple accounts of predatory behavior by movie producer and Democratic campaign donor Harvey Weinstein, spurred a reckoning in Congress, where women have said for years that harassment is rampant.
Norton’s bill would subject Congress and its agencies to the same comprehensive civil rights laws and federal health and safety standards that apply to executive branch agencies and private sector employees, but not to Congress, according to Norton’s office. Congress exempted itself from some of those requirements under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.
“Congress should abide by the laws it imposes on the American people, American businesses and others,” Norton said.
A Roll Call report in February found that few congressional employees make use of procedures in place to report harassment. Four in 10 of the women who responded to a survey for CQ and Roll Call of congressional staff in July said they believed sexual harassment is a problem on Capitol Hill, while one in six said they had personally been victimized.
The 1995 law was partly aimed at ensuring congressional staffers enjoy the same workplace rights as those in the private sector. But it does not require the same enforcement or employee training as in other sectors, nor does it extend the same protections to alleged victims.
Norton’s bill would join a proposal by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., expected to be introduced this week, that would speed up the process for lodging an official complaint with the Office of Compliance, or OOC, and would require all lawmakers and staffers to complete an annual sexual misconduct training course.
Michigan Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence introduced a bill last week that would require every congressional office to enroll employees in training to prevent sexual harassment.