Senate releases incomplete workplace harassment data


FILE – In this Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, file photo, the sky over The Capitol is lit up at dawn as Senate Republicans work to pass their sweeping tax bill this week in Washington, (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (NBC) – Nearly $600,000 worth of taxpayer-funded settlements have been paid out for workplace misconduct in the Senate over the past 20 years, according to new data released by the Senate Rules Committee Thursday night.

But the release lists just one claim for $14,260 for “sex discrimination and reprisal” – failing to include a $220,000 settlement for sexual harassment in 2014 that was recently made public.

The information was released as pressure has been mounting for more transparency on how cases of harassment are handled in Congress and how much public money is spent on such settlements especially in light of the wave of revelations about sexual harassment in the workplace. The Senate had been holding on to the information as it has rested with the chairman of two Senate committees: Rules and Appropriations.

The data was finally made public Thursday night, moments after the Senate took their last vote for the year and as senators rushed out of town for the holidays.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the chairman of the Rules Committee, said the committee “has been eager to provide this information in a transparent manner.”

“I am pleased that we have received assurances from Senate Legal Counsel that the release of this data does not violate confidentiality and as such, are able to make it public,” Shelby said in a statement

The data is broken down into two categories: settlements involving a senators office; and settlements for other Senate employing offices not led by a senator.

In addition to the $14,000 claim for sexual harassment in a senator-run office, a $102,903 claim for age and national origin discrimination was settled and there was a $267,750 settlement for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

An additional $853,252 was paid for 10 claims of misconduct in non-senator led offices, including $421,225 for ‘race discrimination and reprisal.’

It’s not entirely clear how the data is being organized. A $220,000 settlement was reached with Winsome Packer, an employee of the bicameral Helsinki Commission, which doesn’t appear to be listed in this data. Neither Shelby’s nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office responded to a request for comment.

It was revealed that the Rules Committee had been given the data when Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., asked for the data but was denied because he didn’t oversight of the Congressional Office of Compliance, which is the gatekeeper of the settlements. In a letter explaining why Kaine was denied the information, the OOC said it had already released the information to the Rules Committee.

The Rules Committee had been saying that it couldn’t release the information because of confidentiality requirements. NBC News confirmed on Thursday that the Senate Appropriations Committee had the information as well.

Kaine issued a statement Thursday on the release of the data:

I appreciate that the Senate Rules Committee did the right thing today by heeding calls to release this data.  This is the first step toward a more transparent reporting system for harassment in Congress to hold people accountable for their actions.”

The House of Representatives has released a breakdown for the past 10 years as it gets the information from the Office of Compliance. It has found $199,000 worth of sexual harassment settlements since 2008. One was for $84,000 against Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and one was for $85,000 against former Rep. Eric Massa, D-N.Y.

But that data didn’t include a $27,000 settlement with Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who paid out of his individual Congressional account.

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