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US Congress used $17 million of taxpayers money to settle discrimination suits with its own employees

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
There is a price we pay.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

As sexual harassment and assault allegations spread across the US, one congresswoman is pointing the finger at America’s elected representatives.

Representative Jackie Speier, a democrat from California, testified in front of a Senate committee on Nov. 14 that at least two current congressmen have harassed women.

Speier also said that over $15 million had been paid by the federal government to compensate victims of harassment.

But to verify how much money has been spent to compensate victims of sexual harassment in Congress is not an easy task. The money comes from a tax-payer funded account managed by the Office of Compliance (OOC). The fund pays settlements and awards to federal government workers in cases of workplace discrimination or unjust working conditions, from ageism and ableism to sexual misconduct or gender-based discrimination.

Over the past 20 years, the fund paid over $17.2 million to settle workplace complaints, according to a document released (pdf, p.2) Nov. 15 by OOC executive director Susan Tsui Grundmann. Grundmann wrote in a letter that she had decided to share a report of yearly payments made by the fund due to “the volume of recent inquiries regarding payment of awards and settlements.”

The report shows two two outstanding figures in 2007 and 2012, with about $4 million paid in each case. The year 2012 stands out especially as a year when larger settlements were made: The 4 million dollars were divided between 12 cases, while in 2007 the same amount was divided across 25 of settlements.

But the report does not break down the amount paid per individual case, nor by type of claim. Grundmann explains in her letter that this is because some settlements cover more than one accusation. This makes it impossible to determine exactly how much money was spent for sexual harassment, and how much for other types of complaints.

Grundmann also says that “a large portion of cases originate from employing offices in the legislative branch other than the House of Representatives or the Senate,” though she does not give the percentage.

Below is a breakdown of the settlements year by year:

1997
6
$39,429
1998
16
$103,180
1999
6
$72,350
2000
15
$45,638
2001
7
$121,400
2002
10
$3,974,077
2003
11
$720,071
2004
15
$388,209
2005
14
$909,872
2006
18
$849,529
2007
25
$4,053,274
2008
10
$875,317
2009
13
$831,360
2010
9
$246,271
2011
16
$437,465
2012
12
$426,539
2013
14
$334,823
2014
11
$806,450
2015
13
$482,797
2016
15
$588,049
2017
8
$934,754

More and more political figures are accused of sexual misconduct, among them Alabama justice Roy Moore, former president George Bush, current president Donald Trump, former president Bill Clinton, and Minnesota senator Al Franken. Further data held by the OOC could offer an important behind-the scenes look at the very lawmakers tasked with protecting citizens in the workplace.

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