Lawmakers Are Nearly Exempt From Prevailing Sexual Harassment Laws

Unsurprisingly, members of the U.S. Congress play by different rules than the rest of us when it comes to sexual harassment allegations, passing laws to exempt itself from mandates other employers follow. (Image credit: William Beem/Flickr)

In the wake of Hollywood's Harvey Weinstein scandal, and as allegations of sexual harassment and assault creep out from seemginly every corner of society, the Washington Post has exposed just how different the United States Congress handles the issue.

Congress makes its own rules about the handling of sexual complaints against members and staff, passing laws exempting it from practices that apply to other employers.

At the core is 20-year-old legislation:

Under a law in place since 1995, accusers may file lawsuits only if they first agree to go through months of counseling and mediation. A special congressional office is charged with trying to resolve the cases out of court.

Any settlements reached are not paid for by lawmaker - as required in other federal agencies - but are covered by a special U.S. Treasury fund:

Congressional employees have received small settlements, compared with the amounts some public figures pay out. Between 1997 and 2014, the U.S. Treasury has paid $15.2 million in 235 awards and settlements for Capitol Hill workplace violations, according to the congressional Office of Compliance. The statistics do not break down the exact nature of the violations.

According to the Post, Congress has "resisted efforts that could improve the culture such as making anti-harassment training mandatory in their offices."

“It is not a victim-friendly process. It is an institution-protection process,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who has unsuccessfully pushed to overhaul how harassment cases are handled. “I think we would find that sexual harassment is rampant in the institution. But no one wants to know, because they’d have to do something about it.”