Since 1997, the US Treasury paid more than $17 million for settlements
The move comes as lawmakers pressured to shed light on the process
The House Ethics Committee on Friday requested that the Office of Compliance provide the committee with all the records it has on claims of sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation and other prohibited behavior by House employees, including sitting members of Congress.
In a letter to Susan Tsui Grundmann, the executive director of the Office of Compliance, the committee’s chair and ranking member, Reps. Susan Brooks, an Indiana Republican, and Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, wrote: “We request that you promptly provide the Committee with all records in the possession of the Office of Compliance related to any claims of sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, or any other employment practice prohibited by the Congressional Accountability Act involving alleged conduct by any current Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives.”
CNN has reached out to Grundmann for comment on Friday’s letter and request. When previously asked about disclosing such information, Grundmann told CNN on Thursday, “We provide them the access if they ask for it.”
The move comes as lawmakers face growing pressure to shed light on the secretive means through which sexual harassment claims are handled in Congress, including opening up the process through which settlements are paid in harassment or discrimination cases. Two members of Congress, Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, are under investigations by congressional ethics committees, Conyers for multiple allegations that he sexually harassed employees and Franken after multiple women said he had touched them inappropriately.
Over the past 20 years, the US Treasury has paid more than $17 million for settlements involving congressional employment complaints, including sexual harassment. However, the law does not mandate that the Office of Compliance release publicly how much was paid to settle each case that involved sexual harassment allegations or to say how many of the cases settled even involved sexual harassment.
The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 dictates that the Office of Compliance, at the discretion of the executive director, can turn over the records to the Ethics committees in the House and Senate, tapping into potentially a treasure trove of transcripts, testimony – including written and oral – of hearings and decisions.
The executive director would consult first, though, with the individual filing the complaint to make them aware their records could be handed over to the committees.
Up until now — sources within the Office of Compliance say — that provision has never been used, because the records had never been requested by the Ethics committees.
“They have to ask us, rather than us giving it to them,” Grundmann told CNN, “It’s not at our initiative, it’s at their initiative.”
The documents that the Office of Compliance can turn over to Ethics, according to Grundmann, are those from cases in the later stages of the OOC’s process – if a case were to go to a hearing – not from cases in counseling or in mediation, which make up the majority of cases.
“If there is wrongdoing found, this would be the provision that would allow us to release the documents to the Ethics Committee,” Grundmann said.
The Senate Ethics Committee has so far not made public whether it has requested similar documents.