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House harassment claims cost $292,652

WASHINGTON -- The Treasury Department has paid nearly $300,000 since 2003 to settle employment claims against House member offices that included allegations of sexual harassment or sex discrimination, according to a Washington Post tally of data provided by a House committee.

The Committee on House Administration released new figures Friday showing that member offices reached three settlements between 2003 and 2007 involving claims of sexual harassment or sex discrimination. The agreements cost $27,652 in total, substantially less than the Treasury Department would spend in future years to settle such claims.

Details of the cases were not released, nor were the identities of the parties involved.

Combined with previous data released by the committee, the latest numbers give the most detailed look so far at how House member offices have used taxpayer funds to settle claims of harassment, discrimination and other workplace violations. Under the 1995 that created protections for Capitol Hill employees, settlements handled by the congressional Office of Compliance are paid out of a special Treasury Department fund rather than through members' budgets.

Committee Chairman Gregg Harper, R-Miss., released the figures as part of a review of how claims of workplace harassment are reported, mediated and settled in the House. The data comes from the Office of Compliance, which is in charge of running that process.

"As I have stated from the beginning of this review, one case of sexual harassment is one case too many," Harper said Friday in a statement.

Executive Director Susan Tsui Grundmann, the compliance office's executive director, recommended that lawmakers rewrite the underlying statute to empower her office to keep more detailed records.

"For example, if a charging document was created at the conclusion of counseling and investigatory authority was granted to the [Office of Compliance], we would have much more reliable information about the settlement of claims," she wrote Harper on Thursday in a letter released by the committee.

In total, between 2003 and 2017, taxpayers spent $292,652 on 13 settlements involving claims of sexual harassment or sex discrimination, the committee's data show. This figure does not include settlements agreed to privately between members and their employees, which are sometimes paid in the form of severance out of congressional office budgets.

Other claims settled by House member offices included allegations of age and racial discrimination and retaliation. Harper also provided data for settlements involving nonmember-led offices in the House; between 2003 and 2007, those offices spent $33,229 on three settlements, none of which involved claims of sexual harassment or sex discrimination, terms that have been used interchangeably by the Office of Compliance in its record-keeping.

Capitol Hill is reeling from allegations of sexual misconduct against lawmakers and senior aides amid a national reckoning over sexual harassment in the workplace. Seven members facing accusations have resigned or said they would not seek re-election since October, and lawmakers are debating how best to alter the system for reporting misconduct and settling claims.

The current process has faced scrutiny since news outlets, including the Post, revealed the existence of the special Treasury fund this fall. Critics charge that members of Congress who settle sexual harassment claims should pay out of pocket for the agreements, not use taxpayer dollars.

House lawmakers are expected to unveil bipartisan legislation next week to make the system friendlier to accusers and increase transparency. Additionally, female Democratic House members plan to wear black to President Donald Trump's State of the Union address later this month in protest of harassment in the workplace. Some plan to bring anti-discrimination activists, including author and historian Danielle McGuire, as special guests.

A Section on 01/13/2018

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