No Definite Sexual Harassment Settlements in Senate, Data Shows

Data from 1997 to 2017 reveals one case of sex discrimination

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., released information on settlements involving Senate offices Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 8:38 a.m. | The Senate appears to have kept a clean slate over the last two decades with regard to sexual harassment settlements, newly released data shows.

The Office of Compliance paid nearly $600,000 from its taxpayer-funded Awards and Settlement Fund to senator-led office employees for 13 settlements — but none of those were filed as sexual harassment cases, according to OOC data made public Thursday by the Senate Rules and Appropriations committees.

In senator-led offices, only one settlement, worth $14,260.25, involved sex discrimination —  which could contain underlying allegations of sexual harassment, but also may not.

“Traditionally, the OOC has not separated allegations of sexual harassment from those involving sex-based disparate treatment or pregnancy discrimination,” OOC executive director Susan Tsui Grundmann wrote in a letter to Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia on Monday.

“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 letter states. “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.”

Even though the statistical breakdown Thursday did not explicitly reveal any taxpayer-funded settlements over sexual harassment, the senators responsible for the release issued statements condemning the offense.

“Harassment in the workplace should not be tolerated under any circumstances, but particularly not in the United States Senate,” Rules Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby said in his statement.

“Harassment of any kind is unacceptable,” Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran said. “The Senate should hold itself to the highest standards of professionalism and respect.”

Speculation on what the data contained loomed large after Grundmann indicated in her letter to Kaine that the OOC had shared its data with the Rules Committee.

Pressure mounted on Shelby throughout the week to release the information.

Shelby ostensibly withheld the information for as long as he did because he was “concerned with the reliability of the data,” Rules Committee spokeswoman Blair Bailey Taylor said in a statement to NBC Thursday. Shelby also worried it could “implicate the various confidentiality requirements of the Congressional Accountability Act,” Taylor said.

As late as Thursday, Cochran’s office was withholding the settlement statistics, it said, because it was still trying to get clarity on the data from the OOC.

“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 in a statement after the release Thursday. “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.”

On the House side, Chairman Gregg Harper has released two sets of similar data dating to 2008 that show House offices have spent $199,000 of taxpayer money on four sexual harassment settlements through the OOC Awards and Settlement Fund.

One of those offices belonged to Texas GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold, whose office paid $84,000 in 2014 to settle sexual harassment allegations. Farenthold will not run for reelection in 2018.

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