Lipinski Backs Bipartisan Efforts to Improve Washington Workplace Environment

Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3) released the following statement today:

“Congress is a place where people come to make a positive and meaningful difference in the world.  Members and staff alike are largely driven by a commitment to public service.  But unfortunately there are some who have abused their power and office, afflicting others with discrimination, harassment, and intimidation. 

“For too long the system has turned a blind eye to these offenses, and has been set up to protect those who abuse others.  This must change.  Congress must stop being a follower in maintaining ethical conduct and must take the necessary steps to promote a safe, transparent, and accountable workplace.

“I am pleased that the House has taken a first step in changing our workplace for the better.  Today, I helped pass H. Res 630, which requires all Members and employees of the House to complete anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training every year. 

“Earlier this month, I made sure that I led by example and completed this training along with all of my Washington staff.  My district staff is scheduled to complete the training in early December.  While this is good start, we must do more to fight sexual harassment in the halls of Congress. 

“Victims of harassment of all forms should be empowered to bring the mistreatment to light and have cases adequately adjudicated.  Perpetrators of harassment must not be let off the hook through secret processes that are never revealed to the general public.  This only discourages victims and facilitates the continued harassment of others by those guilty of perpetrating such behavior.

“I am also backing other legislation, including the ME TOO Congress Act, H.R. 4396, that improves the investigation and dispute resolution process under the Congressional Accountability Act, including disputes regarding sexual harassment.  Another bill I’ve cosponsored would extend workplace protections to congressional interns.

“The ME TOO Congress Act would make counseling and mediation optional before people can proceed with filing a complaint.  Currently, counseling and mediation are mandatory before civil action can be taken, requiring up to 90 days before a formal complaint can be filed with the Office of Compliance or any civil action can proceed in federal District Court. 

“Other proposed changes include allowing individuals involved in anonymous complaints access to Victims’ Counsel, transferring investigative and subpoena authority to the Office of Compliance, setting up optional Victims’ Counsel programs for complainants, prohibiting nondisclosure agreements as a condition of initiating a complaint, and requiring employing offices to give complainants a paid leave of absence or allow them to work from a different location.

“The bill also sets up an electronic reporting system for complaints, establishes deadlines for completion of hearings (180 days after complaint filing), makes legislators personally liable for settlement payments if he or she settles a claim as the harasser, and requires annual publication of complaints that result in settlements to include the name of the employing office and settlement amount.

“We must do all we can to fight the scourge of sexual harassment and all harassment in our society, and we should start within Congress.  Sexual harassment is especially harmful to women and discourages them from wanting to serve in all professions in the halls of Congress.  Passage of these bills would be a good start to turning that around, but more work needs to be done to change attitudes to ensure that everyone is welcomed and treated with dignity.

“We must create a workplace environment where everyone feels safe, and must ensure that any actions inconsistent with our values are met with consequences, no matter who the offender is.”