Congress paid out $174,000 from a US Treasury fund from 2008 to 2012 to settle claims of sexual harassment and sex discrimination against offices of the House of Representatives, according to data released Tuesday by the House Administration Committee.
That sum is a small fraction of the more than $17 million that the Office of Compliance, Congress' little known agency that handles workplace complaints and represents all settlements, paid out over the past 20 years. The Office of Compliance has not typically made public breakdowns of how it spends taxpayer funds, but has been under increasing pressure to do so by lawmakers and those outside of Congress who have called for more transparency.
Congress's Office of Compliance, responding to a request for information from the committee's chairman, Rep. Gregg Harper, said that eight settlements had been paid out related to sexual harassment or sex discrimination during the five-year period.
One hundred fifteen thousand dollars specifically involved sexual harassment cases, while another roughly $59,000 included discrimination on the basis of gender, according to the data.
The information released by the Office of Compliance does not include the names of victims nor does it identify the congressional offices involved.
These figures do not represent a full accounting of all taxpayer money used to settle harassment claims. They do not include money paid out of congressional office funds to settle claims with employees, as in the case of former Rep. John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who paid a $27,000 settlement from his office funds to a former aide in 2015. Until the Conyers case, it was not widely known that congressional office funds -- as opposed to the US treasury -- were being used to pay such settlements.
"As I have stated from the beginning of this review, one case of sexual harassment is one case too many," Harper, the chairman of the House Administration Committee, said in a statement. "We must create a culture within our Capitol Hill community that instills in every employee and employer, new and old, that there is no place for sexual harassment in the halls of Congress."
The disclosures come as members of Congress are under pressure to reform the oft-secretive ways through which harassment claims against congressional employees are handled on Capitol Hill.
The data released Tuesday also sheds light on settlements unrelated to sexual harassment and sex discrimination. All told, there were 15 settlements involving House member offices during the five-year period between 2008 and 2012, for a total of $342,225.
The new disclosures shed new light on what remains an incomplete accounting of how much taxpayer money has been used to settle harassment claims on Capitol Hill. In data released earlier this month, the Office of Compliance said that between 2013 and this year, there had been six settlements for workplace related issues. Just one, a $84,000 settlement by Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold in 2014, involved a sexual harassment claim.
Farenthold announced last week that he will not seek re-election, one of a number of lawmakers who have either announced plans to resign or to abandon re-election bids over allegations of harassment or other misconduct.
Harper's committee is seeking information on each of the 264 settlements -- for a total of 17 million in taxpayer dollars -- that has been paid out from the Treasury fund for all claims of violations of the Congressional Accountability Act, the 1995 law that established the Office of Compliance.
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