The women of the Senate demanded Wednesday that leaders allow votes to improve Capitol Hill’s system for reporting and adjudicating complaints of sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct, after such changes were excluded from a recent major spending bill.
In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), all 22 female senators expressed “deep disappointment” in the upper chamber’s delay in approving changes to the Congressional Accountability Act, the legislation that governs employment complaints in the legislative branch. The law requires accusers to undergo counseling, mediation and a month-long “cooling off” period before filing suit against their harassers, a system that has been widely criticized as a result of the #MeToo movement.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) authored the letter and are leading the push for votes. In a statement, Schumer said: “We strongly agree that the Senate should quickly take up legislation to combat sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.”
“The time has come to rewrite the CAA to provide a more equitable process that supports survivors of harassment and discrimination,” the senators’ letter stated.
“Inaction is unacceptable when a survey shows that four out of 10 women congressional staffers believe that sexual harassment is a problem on Capitol Hill and one out of six women in the same survey responded that they have been the survivors of sexual harassment. … No longer can we allow the perpetrators of these crimes to hide behind a 23-year-old law.”
The House approved changes to the underlying law last month, barring sexual relationships between lawmakers and their employees, canceling the requirement that accusers undergo counseling and mediation, and requiring members to reimburse the Treasury Department when they are involved in settlements, among other provisions.
Female senators noted that as a result of the House vote, staffers in the lower chamber have access to free legal representation during the complaint process. “The Senate must act quickly to provide Senate staff with the same resources as their House colleagues,” they wrote.