Rep. Brenda Lawrence’s chief of staff, Dwayne Duron Marshall, denied the allegations in a statement to Moneyish
Even the Hill teems with sexual abuse.
As accusations against disgraced Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein and other alleged predators continue to emerge, multiple female lawmakers are working to clean up their own House. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) introduced a measure on Oct. 26 that would mandate congressional employees receive sex harassment training every two years.
But less than two weeks later, Politico reported Lawrence had kept on her chief of staff, Dwayne Duron Marshall, even after multiple former aides personally complained to her about his alleged mistreatment of women. Marshall, 54, denied the claims in a statement to Moneyish, but has been placed on administrative leave pending the results of an investigation.
“As in any office environment, there have been occasions when employees have brought workplace concerns to my attention and those concerns were promptly addressed,” Lawrence told Moneyish in a statement. “However, none of the concerns brought to my attention involved allegations of sexual harassment — behavior that I will not tolerate. Had I been made aware of any concerns about sexual harassment in my office, those concerns would have been promptly investigated and appropriate disciplinary action taken, including termination of employment of any individual engaged in sexually harassing behavior.”
She went on to invite current and former staffers to reach out to her directly with sexual misconduct concerns. Marshall, for his part, said he’d keep working to find cosponsors for Lawrence’s bill.
Another lawmaker speaking out is Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who got her own taste as a 20-something staffer for the late Rep. Leo Ryan. The chief of staff, she revealed in a late-October video, “held my face, kissed me and stuck his tongue in my mouth.” “I know what it’s like to lie awake in bed at night, wondering if I was the one who had done something wrong,” she said. “I know what it’s like years later to remember that rush of humiliation and anger.”
— Jackie Speier (@RepSpeier) October 27, 2017
Speier, launching a #MeTooCongress movement styled after the recent Weinstein-fueled social media campaign, went on to decry the Capitol as “a breeding ground for a hostile work environment.” Her experience, however long ago, isn’t unique: Four out of 10 female staffers think sexual harassment is a problem on the Hill, according to a 2016 CQ Roll Call survey, and one in six says she’s been targeted. Just 10% of respondents were aware of an existing structure for reporting harassment allegations.
“I want women … who are staffers in the building to feel they can come forward and there will be people like me who will be there to help them and protect them,” Speier, 67, told Moneyish. “It’s time to make it crystal clear that anyone that does not respect coworkers — anyone who sexually harasses or sexually assaults — is going to pay a huge price. Not the other way around.”
The California Democrat, who has repeatedly pushed legislation since 2014 to mandate annual sexual harassment training for both House members and staff, is championing two legislative measures to reform the system, a rep for her office told Moneyish. (Her office declined to comment on the Politico report of allegations against Marshall.)
The first measure — introduced with bipartisan support Nov. 2 — is a slightly revamped version of the 2014 resolution, funding for which was included in a House appropriations bill but cut from the Senate version, Speier’s office said. A more comprehensive second bill, in its present form, would require the annual harassment training; mandate a biennial “climate survey” to gauge the problem’s scope and evaluate newly introduced measures; and overhaul the Office of Compliance, the body tasked by the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act with handling harassment complaints.
Victims must currently slog through 30 days of legal counseling, another 30 days minimum of mediation, and then a 30-day wait before lodging a formal complaint. If a resulting hearing leads to a settlement, the confidential payment comes from the Treasury Department rather than the offending office’s budget. “It’s an embarrassment,” Speier said, “because it does not reflect any interest in protecting the victim who is still working in the office.” The bill, her office said, would shrink the arduous timeline by making mediation and counseling voluntary; “give the process more teeth” by empowering the OOC to conduct its own investigations in a manner similar to the EEOC process; extend protections to interns and fellows; shield whistleblowers from retaliation; eliminate nondisclosure agreements required to initiate the complaint process; and hold leaders more accountable.
“The system works to ostracize the victim, and that’s why victims don’t come forward,” Speier charged. “They need their jobs, and they want to grow in their jobs and be promoted. By speaking out, you’re basically shutting your job down in Congress.” Although she has labored at this issue for years with little traction, she acknowledged, “there’s nothing like having celebrities take down a big fish that gets people’s attention.”
Lawrence, a 63-year-old former Equal Employment Opportunity investigator for the U.S. Postal Service, remains baffled that ethics and cybersecurity trainings are mandated for Hill employees, and harassment training is required of federal workers. “But we’re optional,” she told Moneyish in an interview last week.
With her bill, Lawrence wants to establish a zero-tolerance harassment policy, educate people on harassment — particularly those who may think their behavior is OK — and ensure victims know their proper avenues for recourse. “We need to set the standard — we’re leaders in our community,” she said. “We want everyone to know that if you are sexually harassed, we’re going to have your back.”
The legislation, her office said Tuesday, has racked up 81 cosponsors, including at least four Republicans.
This post was updated Nov. 7, 2017, to include a report of allegations against Lawrence’s chief of staff and new developments around Lawrence’s and Speier’s legislative efforts.
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