Congressional Custodial Workers Allege Sexual HarassmentMay 14, 2019
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released an investigation last March that focused on how the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) was handling complaints of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. AOC manages all the maintenance and operations of the buildings and land that comprise Capitol Hill, including the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Capitol. The request for an investigation was made after learning of alleged sexual harassment experienced by AOC’s overnight custodial workers.
The report studied AOC sexual harassment cases from October 2008 through October 2018. During that time, there were 57 incidents of sexual harassment identified, including 24 supervisors. About half of the complaints were verified, but no lawmakers or dates of harassment were named in the investigation.
According to AOC employees, Congress members had sexually harassed them at work, cleaning the offices. It was also reported that the workers had seen pornographic materials and overheard harassing conversations while working overnight shifts. Many lawmakers spend the night at their offices, since they have extra rooms and often keep mattresses in their closets or sleep on futons. Therefore, they are sometimes present, and not always fully dressed, while AOC workers are cleaning.
Confidential questionnaires were used to gain information from AOC employees, and one claimed that certain Congress members exhibited volatility, bad tempers, and threatened violence. When these behaviors were described by employees, their concerns were not addressed by AOC executives. Certain agency jurisdictions would not cooperate with the probe, including the Human Capital Management Division. Given this, OIG was not able to thoroughly investigate some of the complaints.
The report also mentioned that Capitol Police, agency staffers, and even tourists at The Capitol Visitor’s Center were harassing others. It also showed that sexual harassment prevention training was possibly not given priority by AOC, since the employees did not have guidance for handling the harassment.
An Imbalance of Power
Although Congress updated its sexual assault policies last year, this focused on protecting interns and subordinates from high-ranking aides and lawmakers. In 2017 and 2018, both the House and Senate took steps to improve how harassment was handled for Capitol Hill staff members. Imbalance of power was used to describe when a Congress member harassed a staff member or intern. This discrepancy is thought to be even wider when the harassment occurs in the middle of the night.
Handling the Complaints
Both employees and management revealed that they did not trust the complaint handling process, which they called confusing and complicated. Some are handled through the Diversity, Inclusion and Dispute Resolution Office (DIDR), although this office is not completely independent. If there is to be disciplinary action, then AOC’s general counsel will step in. There are other avenues, including the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, but the employees are unaware if AOC has a clear policy for this.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Fight Against Workplace Sexual Harassment
Government employees are not the only ones that face workplace sexual abuse and harassment. If you need legal guidance with a sexual harassment claim, contact the experienced Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Call us at 215-569-1999 or complete an online form for a free consultation today. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey.