The House Ethics Committee found Rep. Mark Meadows failed to take “prompt and decisive action” to handle alleged sexual harassment in his congressional office, according to a Friday report.
The committee also found Meadows violated House rules by failing to take action to ensure his office was not engaging in discrimination.
The House Ethics Committee is requiring Meadows to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for the amount paid to a Meadows staffer who was removed from his role due to allegations of harassment, $40,625.02.
A group of employees in Meadows’ Washington office reported in October 2014 to the deputy chief of staff at the time that Kenny West had acted inappropriately toward them. Meadows continued to pay West his full-time salary after he was moved to a part-time advisory role. The Code of Official Conduct for House members says that members may not “retain an employee who does not perform duties for the employing office commensurate with the compensation the employee receives.”
The Ethics Committee found that when West was demoted to senior adviser, his pay remained the same. The report says that the committee found “little evidence of official work that he completed during that time.”
“To cut off all contact between Mr. West and most of his female employees, caused another potential problem. An environment where only male staff have access to the Chief of Staff risks unequal treatment of employees based solely on sex,” the report said.
The committee found that Meadows did not know about West’s behavior until several of his female staff made complaints to him in Oct. 2014. Meadows arranged for an independent investigation through the Office of House Employment Counsel, or the Office of Compliance.
“After that independent review was complete, he ignored its findings and the recommendation by the independent investigator to terminate Mr. West’s employment,” according to the Ethics Committee report.
“While Representative Meadows took some important immediate steps – restricting Mr. West from the congressional offices and prohibiting him from contacting most of the female employees – those steps were essentially all he did to prevent and correct the alleged sexual harassment for nearly six months,” says the report.
Meadows was approached by GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, who told him that the measures he took to separate West from the female staff were not working. The speaker’s office got involved in the spring of 2015, which prompted Meadows to remove West from his supervisory role.
“There is no place in any congressional office for looking up skirts, or down shirts; staring at a woman’s chest; unwanted touching; or making sexual comments, even if subtle or in jest. The fact that Mr. West supervised the women he did these things to makes his behavior even more unacceptable,” says the report.
“Making sure my team feels safe and secure in our office is the highest priority for me and I’m truly sorry for any stress this situation caused them. I thank the Ethics Committee for their work in resolving this, and my office will remain committed to serving western North Carolinians every day to the best of our ability,” said Meadows in a statement Friday afternoon.
Meadows intends to pay back the severance as the committee requested, according to an aide.