Update: John Conyers has stepped aside as the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee while the House Ethics Committee investigates claims that he sexually harassed, discriminated against, and paid off settlements to women with claims against him, ABC News reports.
The House Ethics Committee began their investigation last week, with which Conyers has promised his full cooperation.
This story was originally published on November 21, 2017.
The public court documents show that a former scheduler in Conyers' office stated that he non-consensually touched her "repeatedly and daily" between 2015 and 2016. The woman, whose name is not being released, said that the stress of the situation caused her to become so ill that she attempted to go on medical leave in 2016. She was fired from her position when she declined to provide certain documentation because of her "mistrust" of Conyers and his chief of staff, Raymond Plowden.
"As Members of Congress, we each have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the House of Representatives and to ensure a climate of dignity and respect, with zero tolerance for harassment, discrimination, bullying or abuse," she added, as reported by The Hill.
The outlet reports that House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer also supports an investigation by the Ethics Committee. "It is clear the process for reporting this type of behavior and holding those responsible accountable must be reformed," Hoyer said.
This story was originally published on November 20, 2017.
Workplace harassment is prevalent across all industries and many victims report "retaliation" when they do report, according to Vox. But according to a new report from BuzzFeed News, Congress doesn't even have a human resources department and victims of workplace harassment are subjected to a lengthy, invasive process when they do come forward.
But the process isn't just lengthy and invasive — it also requires that accusers sign a confidentiality agreement. Otherwise, the Office of Compliance won't move forward with an investigation.
This system works against survivors in every manner possible, to say the least. A woman who accused Representative John Conyers of sexual harassment reached a "wrongful dismissal" settlement with his office in 2015. She alleges that Conyers fired her for rejecting his sexual advances.
The woman, who has chosen to remain anonymous, told BuzzFeed News that the process left her with no recourse other than to stay silent. "I was basically blackballed. There was nowhere I could go," she told the outlet.
It didn't help that Conyers is the longest-serving House member and the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, according to The Hill. In a system that's already designed to stonewall victims, this woman was going up against one of the most powerful men in Congress.
BuzzFeed News has obtained four documents that detail sexual misconduct by Conyers, ranging from requests for sexual favors to nonconsensual groping. The outlet also reports that four individuals associated with the case confirmed the authenticity of these documents.
Matthew Peterson, who represented the woman, described the process as "disgusting" and re-victimizing. "It is a designed cover-up," Peterson told BuzzFeed News. "You feel like they were betrayed by their government just for coming forward. It’s like being abused twice."
The lack of transparency in these settlements is shocking. According to The Washington Post, the Office of Compliance has paid a whopping $17 million in settlements over the past 20 years, some of which were related to sexual harassment.
One person in Congress is demanding change and transparency: Representative Jackie Speier of California. Speier is currently working to find a way for the breakdown of settlements to be made public, as reported by CNN.
Her efforts are being supported by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "Leader Pelosi has expressed support for the efforts of Rep. Speier who is working on multiple bills to reform the secretive and woefully inadequate process," a member of Pelosi's office told CNN.
As the system exists today, our tax dollars are being used for politicians to make settlements with sexual harassment accusers. And it's become clearer every day that sexual harassment is a major problem in politics on both sides of the aisle. It's safe to assume that politicians will continue to spend our tax dollars to keep their accusers quiet and sweep the issue under the rug, and that's why Speier's proposals are so important.
Refinery29 has reached out to Conyers' office for comment.