With discord and gridlock consuming Capitol Hill in recent years, it comes as little surprise that Congress is a demanding, often confrontational place to work.
But a new report from an obscure legislative agency shows that Congress is also becoming a more hostile work environment with complaints from employees on the rise.
Staffers at 23 House and two Senate offices had complaints about hostile work environments, including sexual harassment, filed against them in 2011, according to Congress’s Office of Compliance.
The OOC receives the complaints and provides legal counseling and confidential mediation between the parties.
All employees of the Capitol, including those who work for the Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol, filed 196 complaints against their employers in 2011; in 2010, there were 168. Mediated settlements in last year’s cases cost taxpayers at least $461,366.
The U.S. Treasury, not the alleged offenders, foots the bill for any legal settlements. The highest one-year total for settlements paid was in 2007, when it topped $4 million, National Journal reported Thursday.
The OOC keeps the names of workers filing the complaints, as well as their bosses, confidential so it’s impossible to tell which members of Congress’s offices and aides were involved. But there were two recent high-profile cases involving hostile work environment complaints over the last year.
A court dismissed a sexual harassment charge against Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat from Florida, earlier this year. In August, the House voted to reprimand Rep. Laura Richardson and the Democrat from California agreed to pay a fine of $10,000 for a variety of ethical lapses. In recommending the punishment, the House Ethics Committee found that Ms. Richardson pressured her staff to work on her campaign, used taxpayer-funded resources for personal and political activities, and obstructed the investigation.
A disabled veteran who worked in the office as part of the Wounded Warrior Project wrote in a letter of resignation that the work environment was so hostile that she’d “rather be at war in Afghanistan” than continue working for Ms. Richardson.