U.S. Representative John Conyers reportedly paid a woman $27,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim.
The Detroit Democrat reportedly made the confidential offer after the woman claimed to have been fired from his staff after rejecting a sexual advance.
BuzzFeed News and The Associated Press report the money used for the settlement came from Conyers’ taxpayer-funded office budget.
According to BuzzFeed, the incident wasn’t a one-off approach – the website published affidavits and documents showing similar allegations. Female congressional staffers have reported misconduct on Conyers’ part before, saying they’d seen him touch other women inappropriately.
Some of the contact, the AP says, included rubbing staffers’ legs and backs.
In other cases, he was either overheard or reported as having requested sexual favors.
Conyers, MLive.com reports, is, at 88 years old, the longest-serving current member of the House, as well as the top-ranked Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
As part of its expose on Conyers, the AP reported that the federal government has spent $17 million in taxpayer dollars to settle sexual harassment claims, overtime pay disputes, and other worktime violations committed by Congressional employees in the past 20 years.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she didn’t know about Conyers’ settlement, or the allegations against him.
“The current process includes the signing of non-disclosure agreements by the parties involved,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Congresswoman Jackie Speier has introduced legislation that will provide much-needed transparency on these agreements and make other critical reforms. I strongly support her efforts.”
BuzzFeed says it’s not surprising that nobody heard of Conyers’ settlement earlier.
Unlike corporations and traditional business bodies, Congress doesn’t have a human resources department.
Rather, congressional employees have 180 days to report sexual harassment incidences to the Office of Compliance. Once a complaint is filed, a lengthy process is initiated – accusers are required to attend counseling sessions and consult a mediator, and are then made to sign a confidentiality agreement before going ahead with the process.
In exchange for her silence, the woman receiving the $27,000 payout from Conyers was “rehired” by his office – despite her being instructed not to actually go there, or do any work on the congressman’s behalf.
Over the course of the next three months, she was classified as a “temporary hire” and paid $27,111.75 before being taken off the payroll.
“It is a designed cover-up,” says Matthew Peterson, a law clerk who worked representing the complainant. “You feel like they were betrayed by their government just for coming forward. It’s like being abused twice.”
Other lawyers named as working on behalf of the accuser didn’t respond for comment when pressed by BuzzFeed and the Associated Press.