Since 1997, Congress’ Office of Compliance has paid more than $17 million for 264 settlements and awards to federal employees for violations of various employment rules including, The Washington Post reported last month, sexual harassment.
In a letter released with the data, executive director Susan Tsui Grundmann deliberately noted that the settlements and awards might also relate to other issues, such as “the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.” What’s more, a “large portion of cases originate from employing offices in the legislative branch other than the House of Representatives or the Senate.” In other words, these are settlements from a broad variety of employees for a broad variety of reasons — that also include an undifferentiated number of sexual harassment settlements.
The most settlements or awards, 25, occurred in 2007. So far this year, there have been eight.
2007 was also the year in which the most money was paid out — though 2002 was close. In each year, about $4 million was paid, accounting for nearly half of the 20-year total. So far in 2017, a little less than $1 million has been paid out.
The funds used for the settlements and awards come from a special Treasury Department account established in 1995 for such payments. In total, the Office of Compliance has paid $17,240,854 since 1997.
Given the high settlement figures in 2002 and the relatively low number of settlements, that year saw the highest average settlement amount, of nearly $400,000. Since 1997, the average settlement or award has been about $65,000.
Details of the settlements are kept private by design. Our Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Elise Viebeck explained last month that those levying accusations of harassment must go through extensive mediation and counseling. When a settlement is paid from the designated Treasury account, it is confidential.
To the point: We don’t know how many of the settlements above were related to sexual harassment, or how much those cost. We do know, though, that a broad variety of violations over the past 20 years have cost $17.2 million in taxpayer money.