WASHINGTON DC — A key Senate committee on Thursday night publicly released data about workplace settlements reached and paid out in the Senate since 1997, totaling some two dozen cases amounting to $1.45 million.
The breakdown, which the Senate Rules and Administration Committee said was information provided by the Office of Compliance, included 13 settlements for claims involving Senate offices. They totaled close to $600,000 over a span of 20 years. The descriptions for the complaints included discrimination based on sex, age and disability, but there was no explicit mention of sexual harassment. There were also 10 additional settlements involving claims against non-member-led Senate offices, totaling $853,000.
The Office of Compliance has previously said it considers sexual harassment under the category of sex discrimination. In a letter to Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, responding to his request for additional information, the compliance office said, “Traditionally, the OOC has not separated allegations of sexual harassment from those involving sex-based disparate treatment or pregnancy discrimination.”
“In fact, for many years, the Office simply classified all claims alleging discrimination of any kind as civil rights cases without any further differentiation,” the agency said in the letter. “Thus, there are claims in our files that are classified in the category of ‘civil rights’ which may or may not contain an allegation of sex-based discrimination. Further, there are claims classified as sex discrimination which may not involve allegations of sexual harassment, such as claims of disparate treatment based on sex.”
That means it is impossible to determine from the the data released Thursday night whether there were any sexual harassment settlements reached in the Senate, or how much those settlements would have totaled.
According to the OOC data, there were four sex discrimination-related settlements in the Senate.
Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, said in a statement releasing the information that “Harassment in the workplace should not be tolerated under any circumstances, but particularly not in the United States Senate.”
“While the Rules Committee has been eager to provide this information in a transparent manner, it has been our priority to protect the victims involved in these settlements from further harm,” Shelby said. “I am pleased that we have received assurances from Senate Legal Counsel that the release of this data does not violate confidentiality and as such, are able to make it public.”
Not all settlements are handled through the Office of Compliance. For instance, one of the cases related to Rep. John Conyers, who resigned earlier this month, was settled outside of the compliance office process.
The information released Thursday night had not previously been made public. This lack of disclosure came to light this week following Kaine’s formal request earlier this month to the Office of Compliance. Kaine asked for a release of records detailing the scope of sexual harassment complaints filed against Senate offices over the years.
In a letter to the head of the office, Kaine had asked for a release of records detailing the scope of sexual harassment complains in the Senate, including the number of harassment claims filed over the last decade against senators and their staff; the number of claims that ended in “some form of resolution”; and the amount of each settlement paid out from a fund set up with taxpayer dollars.
But in a response to Kaine’s request, the compliance office’s executive director, Susan Tsui Grundmann, wrote this week that a statistical breakdown was already shared with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, and that any additional disclosure would invade “strictly confidential records.”
Shelby’s decision to not publicly disclose this information until now comes amid widespread and bipartisan calls across Capitol Hill in recent weeks for increased transparency on sexual harassment. It is also particularly notable given that the senator’s counterpart in the House — House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper — has released comparable information about sexual harassment settlements involving House offices over the years.
According to Harper, he was informed by the Office of Compliance that there were three settlement payouts in the House related to sexual harassment between 2008 and 2012, totaling $115,000. And from 2013 to the present, Harper said there was just one sexual harassment settlement involving a House office for $84,000. Subsequently, this was revealed to have involved GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas and a former aide who accused him of sexual harassment. Farenthold has said he will not seek re-election next year.