Hoyer Says Workplace Protection Efforts Are Advancing

Posted May 28, 2010 at 7:10pm

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced Friday that efforts to increase awareness of workplace protection laws in House offices are moving ahead. The efforts were prompted by allegations that aides to former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) endured months of alleged sexual harassment ahead of his resignation in March.

But Hoyer acknowledged that the House ethics committee is unlikely to address changes to its procedures — including Hoyer’s proposal for mandatory training on workplace laws — until it completes its own investigation tied to the allegations.

In April, Hoyer issued letters to the Office of Compliance, House Administration Committee and Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly known as the ethics panel, calling for mandatory training for Members and aides on harassment to be included in annual ethics training.

“In the past few days, I have received positive and constructive replies from the Committee on House Administration and the House Office of Compliance,” Hoyer said Friday. “Among other actions, both the Committee and the Office of Compliance are working together to increase communication with and education of House employees, review of the Congressional Accountability Act to look for any actions that need to be taken to strengthen employee’s ability to report inappropriate conduct in the workplace.”

Congressional employees, including House and Senate aides, may file formal complaints with the Office of Compliance under the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act, which applied laws covering civil rights, fair employment and discrimination to Capitol Hill offices.

Hoyer also stated that the House Administration panel would add “a more focused discussion on the responsibilities of Members as employers” to the biennial New Member Orientation.

“To be clear, I do not consider my effort to strengthen the workplace rights of House employees to be concluded with the assurances House Administration and OOC have given me,” Hoyer said. “I will continue to closely monitor this critical issue and expect that the Standards Committee will, when its investigation into the Massa matter is concluded, update its own procedures in order to assure that employees have a trusted place to turn when they are concerned about their workplace environment.”

A Hoyer spokeswoman has previously acknowledged that the Majority Leader’s staff was alerted to allegations against Massa by one of his aides in February, at which time Hoyer’s office threatened to report the matter to the ethics panel if Massa’s aides did not do so. Massa’s staff subsequently reported the allegations.

Hoyer has been interviewed by the investigative subcommittee tasked with the Massa probe, and aides to both Hoyer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have been interviewed by ethics committee staff.

Massa, who resigned from the House in March, denied any wrongdoing during several television and radio interviews in March but admitted to using “salty language” and engaging in improper physical contact with his staff.

Attorneys for two former Massa aides, including Chief of Staff Joe Racalto, acknowledged in April that the aides filed complaints with the Office of Compliance in late March regarding the allegations.