We are former Congressional staff organizing for reform of Congress's sexual harassment policies. If you are a current or former staffer looking for help or advice, the following individuals have volunteered to serve as a resource for you:
- For legal support or counsel:
- Debra Katz, katz "at" kmblegal "dot" com and (202) 299-1140. Debra has been litigating employment and whistleblower protection cases for over 30 years and has been active in advocating for reform of workplace policies on the Hill. Debra has offered to talk confidentially with anyone who may want legal advice.
- Les Alderman, firstname.lastname@example.org and (202) 969-8220. Les has worked with former Congressional staff harassment and abuse claims. Initial consultations are free. He typically works on contingency so there aren't any upfront costs for individuals bringing a claim.
- Travis and Kristin (contact information below) have a number of other names of attorneys that have been recommended to us that we can refer you to.
- For communications advice, or if you're thinking about talking to reporters: Katherine Cichy, klcichy "at" gmail "dot" com. Katherine served as Communications Director for the Senate Banking Committee and her story was featured in the New York Times and on the Today Show. Katherine has offered to talk confidentially to share advice with anyone who is thinking about talking to reporters about their story.
- For emotional support, counseling or advice (due to privacy concerns we have been instructed that it is not possible for us to find an individual point of contact for counseling):
- For general questions about this group: Travis Moore (taamoore "at" gmail "dot" com) and Kristin Nicholson (kristinelise "at" gmail "dot" com) are the organizers of this group and happy to field any questions or inquiries.
The following ideas and resources were crowd-sourced for individuals affected by harassment or assault on the Hill from the Congress Too google group, consisting of nearly 600 former Congressional staff.
Please note: these resources are meant as general strategic advice and not legal advice. This is designed to expose those affected by harassment or abuse in Congress to options or ideas for dealing with the experience. Know that we are not attorneys and you should consider your options carefully and contact a lawyer before taking any possible action.
From a former House Committee staffer: Strategies to Consider in Navigating Harassment in the Workplace
(Note – this is strategic advice, not legal advice)
Document what happened. If you have been harassed, write down what happened, as soon as you can. Names, dates, location, context. Send the email to yourself so you have a time stamp; if you have a friend outside the organization that you trust, send it to your friend. You may think “oh but emails can be faked.” That’s true, but it’s no reason not to document what happened. These types of reports can carry weight. they can also help you remember details you later forget.
Talk to someone, preferably outside work. You may be inclined to minimize what happened because it’s troubling. But talking to someone objective, away from your workplace, can help you evaluate how serious your situation may be. The risk of talking to someone in the workplace is that they may feel conflicted, either because they know the harasser, or because denial is simply easier to deal with. Some work “friends” may be less supportive than you would have anticipated.
Know your rights. Different laws may apply depending on your employer. Timelines can be strict. You don’t want to miss a deadline because you weren’t aware it existed. It does not hurt to consult with counsel in the first few days after the incident has occurred, even if you don’t think you plan to pursue the matter. Some lawyers will talk to you on a preliminary basis without charging you. Find a lawyer through a referral if possible. Not all lawyers are good.
If you complain, pay close attention to the reaction you get. If you have the impression your employer is either not taking the complaint seriously, or rejects your concerns, then be prepared for negative repercussions. It becomes even more important at that point to document all conversations.
Make sure you have copies of your evaluations. One of the more common tactics for managers who don’t want to address a claim of harassment is to decide the person complaining is a “problem.” Complaints about work performance may begin to surface. Make sure you have copies of your prior evaluations. If these complaints are new, then you will want to document the change. If you have the stomach for it, be forensic: ask directly about the change. Take notes. If any of the statements made is inconsistent with the facts, ask about the inconsistency to get them to provide an explanation. Again, take notes. Managers who retaliate against employees often don’t keep their stories straight, those stories evolve over time, and people get caught in lies. The more information you’ve extracted from them at the early stages, when they are unprepared, the better.
Download or print any relevant emails or documents. This includes information related to the harassment, but also any information that pertains to your performance, especially positive feedback, whether from managers, colleagues, or outside parties. You will want to do this as soon as you become concerned about your work situation so that the emails aren’t removed from the system before you have the chance to preserve them. Be sure to consider any legal constraints on the information (e.g., classified materials) as you preserve documents.
Be aware of any other changes. If you have a plum assignment, it may be reassigned, and replaced with drudge work; your desk may be moved to an undesirable location; your ability to telework may be revoked. There are common tactics managers use to retaliate against employees who complain about harassment. Document any changes. Again, if you have the stomach for it, ask about the changes. Take notes.
Consider filing a formal complaint to protect yourself. If you feel you are being punished for complaining, consider filing a formal complaint of harassment, if you haven’t already. Filing a complaint may afford you protection against retaliation. Retaliation can be a separate claim. In such circumstances, you can lose the underlying claim (i.e., harassment) and still prevail on the claim of retaliation. In other words, it can be illegal to retaliate against someone who filed a claim, whether or not the claim is upheld.
Don’t be browbeat into settling in a way you can’t live with. Think about what you want out of a settlement. If it’s important to you to be able to talk about your experiences, don’t sign a non-disclosure agreement. They may ask you to agree never to work at the institution again; for some, that is not an acceptable settlement condition, but for others, it is something they will agree to for additional compensation. Only you can decide your priorities. You don’t have to agree to anything; accordingly, you have leverage in deciding settlement terms.
It’s ok to walk away. Litigation is a process that not everyone will want to go through. You may decide that the fight isn’t worth it. That’s ok.
From former House Personal Office staffer: Useful Resources from an Anti-Harassment Group in the Scientific Community These might not necessarily be a fit for this resource, but wanted to flag them in case they are useful. Thank you.
500 Women Scientists - Guide to preventing sexual harassment
I Holla Back - Bystander intervention training and resources
Anti-Harassment policy for conferences (use for free, with attribution)
Guide to identifying and combatting sexism in online workspaces, such as Slack
From a former Senate Personal Office Staffer
The follow may be good resources for support for survivors of trauma:
Six Steps to Support a Survivor: http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/6-steps-to-support-a-survivor
Vicarious Trauma: http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/learn/vicarious-trauma
Self-Care After Trauma: https://www.rainn.org/articles/self-care-after-trauma
7 Ways Survivors of Sexual Violence Can Practice Self-Care When Retraumatized During Tragedy: https://www.nsvrc.org/blogs/7-ways-survivors-sexual-violence-can-practice-self-care-when-retraumatized-during-tragedy
From a former House Personal Office Staffer
DC has a Crime Victims Compensation unit that literally pays for all of your therapy (up to $1800, I think) and any medical services. The catch is that you have to file a police report in order to access services.