Statement from Congress Too and the Purple Campaign on Passage of Sexual Harassment Reform Bill
Washington, DC -- In January, when our elected leaders gavel in the 116th Congress, the hard-working staff of Capitol Hill will serve in a safer and more just institution. As representatives of over 1500 former Congressional staff dedicated to addressing sexual harassment, abuse, and discrimination in Congress, we are thrilled that the House and Senate have unanimously acted to take strong steps to address these ills. We are grateful to the many members and staffers in both chambers and from both parties who continued to push for this reform. This was a truly bipartisan effort.
Over the last fourteen months, through the efforts of Congress Too and the Purple Campaign, thousands of former Congressional staff have called for reform of Congress’s system for addressing and adjudicating cases of harassment and discrimination. Dozens came forward to tell harrowing stories of harassment, abuse, and discrimination in Congress, describing an archaic and flawed system that protected those in power rather than those who were most vulnerable. Countless more confided in us with heartbreaking stories that remain untold.
Today, the House and Senate sent a powerful message to these survivors that their stories were heard. We are particularly pleased that the reforms they passed will do away with the mandatory 30-day “cooling off period” currently faced by claimants, and will make mediation completely optional and subject to opt-in by both parties. We are glad that members will now be personally liable for harassment settlements they enter into, and we applaud new provisions that ensure public transparency for such settlements. Finally, we strongly support the expansion of these protections to all staff, including interns, fellows and detailees, as well as the inclusion of a wide-ranging staff climate survey, the results of which we hope will be made public.
Although this bill represents a critically important first step, it must not be the last. Truly addressing harassment and discrimination on Capitol Hill will require a long-term effort to raise awareness and encourage cultural change. More immediately, this bill excludes certain reforms that are necessary for Congress to lead by example as a truly 21st century institution. In particular, members of Congress should be required to repay the Treasury not only for harassment settlements to which they are a party, but for discrimination settlements as well. We also strongly believe any employee advocate should be able to provide staff with legal representation, and not just technical assistance, throughout the complaint and adjudication process.
Nonetheless, this is an important day for Congress and the nation, and the bill should be swiftly signed into law. Down every hallway and behind every door in Congress are good and dedicated people – often young people – who work long hours for little pay in hopes of improving the world around them. They deserve to serve their country in an institution that serves and protects them, and we’re hopeful these reforms will do just that.
Purple Campaign: Ally Coll Steele firstname.lastname@example.org