Arizona’s Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D) is accused of using nearly $50,000 to arrange a severance package for a staffer who threatened to reveal Grijalva’s behavior on the job.
In 2015, one of Grijalva’s top staffers threatened to file a lawsuit that would reveal the representative was frequently drunk and created a hostile work environment. According to The Washington Times, the senior Grijalva staffer left after just three months of employment.
The woman hired a lawyer and threatened a lawsuit, prompting Grijalva to halt her salary in a strategy used by the House Employment Counsel to get her to settle the matter, Capitol Hill sources reported. In the agreement reached, the woman was paid her full salary for five months after she left the office.
In a Nov. 16 report by the United States Congress Office of Compliance – which handles workplace grievances by congressional employees – a document detailed the awards and settlements funded by taxpayers and paid to victims of sexual harassment and other work-related issues on Capitol Hill. The staggering number, $17-million over the last 20 years, shows that lawmakers are using taxpayer dollars to quiet their accusers.
The woman’s complaint against Grijalva was never logged with the Office of Compliance. Instead, Grijalva’s severance package illustrates yet another way lawmakers can use tax dollars to make accusers go away, according to the Times, which reports:
The Grijalva payout points to another office that lawmakers can use to sweep accusations under the rug with taxpayer-funded settlements negotiated by the House Employment Counsel, which acts as the attorney for all House offices.
The employment counsel negotiated a deal for taxpayers to give $48,395 — five additional months’ salary — to the female [former Grijalva] aide, who left her job after three months. She didn’t pursue the hostile workplace complaint further.
The arrangement appears to run contrary to House rules that constrain severance packages, and it caught the eye of watchdogs who were already demanding answers about payouts in the wake of harassment complaints.
House rules prohibit a congressional member from retaining “an employee who does not perform duties for the offices of the employing authority commensurate with the compensation such employee receives,” the Times reports, noting that the payoff of the Grijalva staffer may violate that rule. House rules also dictate that severance packages be paid in a lump sum, not in installments as was done in the case.
Grijalva responded to questions about the deal in an email to the Times, saying, “On the advice of House Employment Counsel, I provided a severance package to a former employee who resigned. The severance did not involve the Office of Compliance and at no time was any allegation of sexual harassment made, and no sexual harassment occurred.”
Grijalva continued, “Regrettably, for me to provide any further details on this matter would violate the agreement.”
“Grijalva did not respond to repeated inquiries about why he agreed to a more than $48,000 severance package for an employee on the job for just three months,” the Times reports.
Melanie Sloan, an ethics lawyer in Washington, was quoted as saying: “It seems like all of these House bodies are designed to help cover for members of Congress. A large part of the problem is that each member of Congress can treat their staff as their own fiefdom and also know that it will remain silent.”
Representative John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has been accused of victimizing Sloan in 1998. Sloan said she was verbally and sexually harassed while working for Conyers. Sloan is one of three women who recently came forward with complaints against Conyers. One of the women was paid $27,000 as part of a confidentiality agreement, stemming from accusations that Conyers fired her when she refused to have sex with him.
The House Ethics Committee has launched an investigation into claims against Conyers, who denies any wrongdoing but did step down from his position as ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) is also facing allegations and a possible ethics investigation. The accusations began with Leeann Tweeden, a TV host and sports broadcaster who accused Franken of kissing and groping her without her consent in 2006. Another woman said the senator grabbed her buttocks during a photo session at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010.
Franken has apologized several times for his actions or how his actions were perceived.
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