Ex-Massa Aide Settles Harassment Complaint
House Ethics Probe Lingers After 7 Months
An aide to then-Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) reached an unspecified settlement over allegations that the lawmaker’s office operated in a “highly sexualized environment,” his attorney told Roll Call.
While the settlement, confirmed Friday, ends one claim involving Massa, who resigned from office in March in the wake of allegations that he sexually harassed members of his staff, the House ethics committee has yet to reveal the results of an investigation into the accusations that began more than seven months ago. If the panel doesn’t complete its investigation before the lame-duck session concludes, a new investigation would have to be authorized in the next Congress for the probe to be completed.
Attorney Alexis Rickher of the firm Katz, Marshall & Banks said Friday that her client, a former Massa aide whom she has declined to identify since filing a complaint on his behalf in March, reached a confidential resolution in the case.
“The claims against respondent have been satisfactorily resolved, and the terms of such resolution are confidential,” Rickher said. She declined to indicate whether the resolution included a monetary compensation or other benefits for her client.
“All claims that our client had are resolved,” she added. Rickher told Roll Call in April that the complaint alleged a hostile work environment, “based on the highly sexualized environment through the time that he worked there.”
Rickher declined to indicate the date of the agreement, referring to the confidentiality agreement, but in September she told Roll Call that the law firm was “actively working to ensure that our client has justice served.”
Congressional employees, including House and Senate aides, may file formal complaints with the Office of Compliance under the Congressional Accountability Act, which applied laws covering civil rights, fair employment and discrimination to Capitol Hill offices.
The compliance process is confidential, and the OOC does not confirm ongoing cases or comment on settlements, even to verify the agreements.
According to documents filed with the House Appropriations Committee, in fiscal 2009 the OOC approved more than $830,000 in settlement funds in 13 cases, the most recent full-year figure available. In fiscal 2008, the OOC approved more than $875,000 in monetary rewards to settle 10 claims.
Neither the individuals nor the offices involved in those cases, nor the allegations, are disclosed in those documents.
House and Senate offices are not required to pay any awards from their office budgets. Settlement awards are administered by the OOC but are paid from a separate Treasury Department fund and are not included in the agency’s annual budget.
At least one other Massa aide, former Chief of Staff Joe Racalto, also filed a complaint against Massa’s office in March, but the status of that case remains unknown.
Attorney Camilla McKinney of the Washington, D.C.-based firm McKinney & Associates confirmed Friday that she continues to represent Racalto, but she declined to answer questions about the OOC or the ethics committee.
New York-based attorney Milo Silberstein of the law firm Dealy & Silberstein similarly confirmed that he continues to represent Massa, but he said he could not respond to questions on the OOC, ethics committee or the Federal Election Commission.
Through their respective attorneys, Massa has previously disputed authorizing a $40,000 payment issued from his re-election campaign to Racalto in March, one day after announcing his resignation, while Racalto has said that check was a deferred payment for previous work.
The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct established an investigative subcommittee in April to review the allegations involving Massa, including when House Democratic leaders learned of the accusations and how they responded.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), as well as members of their staffs, were interviewed by the ethics subcommittee earlier this year, but there is no indication whether the ethics panel will conclude its investigation in the next few weeks.
If the ethics subcommittee does not complete its investigation this month, the House ethics committee would have to renew the special panel next year.
Ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and ranking member Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) head the subcommittee, along with Reps. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) and Mike Conaway (R-Texas). Although the ethics committee’s membership is expected to undergo changes in the 112th Congress, each of those lawmakers could be reassigned to the subcommittee even if they no longer serve on the full committee.
Massa denied any wrongdoing during several television and radio interviews in March, but he admitted to using “salty language” and engaging in improper physical contact with his staff.