Settlements for congressional workers alleging harassment, discrimination pass $13M since ‘97

By Larry Margasak, AP
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Congressional worker settlements hit $13 million

WASHINGTON — Congressional employees who suffered harassment or discrimination have collected more than $13 million in taxpayer-financed settlements since 1997, Congress’ worker protection agency reports.

Despite those numbers, the Congressional Office of Compliance said in its annual report Tuesday that many of the 30,000 congressional workers are unaware of their right to file claims.

The report said congressional officials have been less than cooperative in ensuring that employees know their rights.

The office was established at the start of 1995, when Congress decided that its employees should have the same health, safety and anti-discrimination protections provided to private-sector workers.

Earlier this year, male employees of Rep. Eric Massa, D-N.Y., complained of sexual harassment from their boss. Massa resigned after the accusations became public, but the House ethics committee is investigating whether anyone covered up the alleged conduct.

Tamara Chrisler, executive director of the compliance office, said in an interview that she didn’t know whether the Massa case spurred new complaints from other offices.

However, Tuesday’s annual compliance report said the most common issue in complaints was harassment, including sexual harassment.

Compliance office statistics, provided to Congress in its budget request, showed that some employees have collected big money — with 168 claims settled for just over $13 million from 1997 through the end of 2009.

House and Senate officials have cited privacy for their refusal to allow the compliance office to use work e-mails to notify congressional employees of their workplace protections.

Congressional officials also have declined to require that each office post a copy of employees’ rights, the compliance report said.

The lack of e-mail addresses resulted in an insignificant number of responses — 892 — to a survey designed to measure employees’ understanding of their protections, the report said.

Many of those who did respond knew little about the purpose of the office, its services and their own rights, the report said.

Chrisler said she’s trying to obtain the e-mails, along with better compliance for posting notices on worker protections in congressional offices.

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