Anti-harassment step backed; congressmen from Arkansas get behind plan to require training

Published 5 December 2017

WASHINGTON -- Members of Arkansas' U.S. House delegation, who voted last week to approve mandatory anti-harassment training, want to ensure that the workplace environment is appropriate, their spokesmen said.

The vote came during a week when the House Ethics Committee said it wants to know about any allegations of harassment on Capitol Hill that have been hidden from the public.

Chairman Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and ranking member Theodore Deutch, D-Fla., wrote to the Office of Compliance on Friday asking for "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]."

The letter came amid reports that the office had paid $84,000 to settle harassment allegations against U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. The lawmaker's former communications director, Lauren Greene, had sued him, accusing him of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and creating a hostile work environment.

The suit was subsequently settled out of court.

The office also reported five other settlements since Oct. 1, 2012, involving "House Member led Offices." They included $76,000 to settle allegations of age discrimination; $37,250 to settle claims of disability discrimination and retaliation; and $150,000 to someone who alleged veteran status discrimination and retaliation.

There were two smaller settlements. One, for $7,000, settled allegations of discrimination related to an employee's sex and religion, alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and retaliation.

The other, for $5,200, resolved claims of discrimination based on race, national origin and military service as well as retaliation.

The House Ethics Committee, which ensures that the House Code of Official Conduct is followed, is asking for information about alleged misconduct "by any current Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives."

None of the settlements involve members of the Arkansas congressional delegation -- all Republicans -- or their offices, spokesmen said.

"There have been no complaints of a sexual harassment or sexual assault incident -- filed formally or not filed formally -- that our office is aware of," said Heather Neilson, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers.

"In addition, our office is not aware of any claims involving discrimination, retaliation or any other employment practice prohibited by the CAA."

"No complaints have been filed against the congressman or any of his staffers, current or past," said Ryan Saylor, a spokesman for U.S Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs.

"No claims have been made against the Senator or a member of his staff during his time as a House member or as a senator," said Caroline Tabler, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Dardanelle.

"The answer is most definitely no," said Caroline Thorman, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock.

No claims have been brought against U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Rogers and U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro or members of their staffs during their time on Capitol Hill, spokesmen said.

Westerman, Hill and Womack sponsored a resolution that requires all 435 House members and their staffs to complete anti-sexual-harassment training.

It was approved by a voice vote on Wednesday.

The Senate passed a similar measure earlier in November.

In an interview, Westerman said the training had already been mandatory for his staff members.

Capitol Hill should be free of sexual harassment, Westerman said.

"I think we do have a higher standard being elected representatives and there should be zero tolerance for that," he said.

In a written statement, Hill said sexual harassment "is unacceptable and will not be tolerated."

"Before this [resolution] was introduced, my office staff and I had completed the House's sexual harassment training," he said.

"I expect more entities -- businesses, institutions, and offices -- to follow suit and put in strong accountability measures to make workplaces free from inappropriate behavior."

In a written statement, Womack said he had co-sponsored the measure "because it's the right thing to do at this time."

"As members of Congress, there's an expectation that we adhere to the highest standards of personal conduct. Member offices often have a dangerous blend of power and influence with co-workers and staff that can lead to personal hardship. It is vital that each organization has established protocols in place to protect against unwanted and inappropriate behavior," he said.

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, a Republican from Jonesboro, said the "very serious problem" of sexual harassment needs to be addressed.

"My office does not tolerate any form of sexual harassment," he said in a written statement. "Although sexual harassment training was already mandatory for my office, it's absolutely critical that this mandate has been extended more broadly."

The state's two U.S. senators are also committed to fostering appropriate workplace conduct, their spokesmen said.

Last month, Boozman's staff was the first to receive in-person training addressing harassment and retaliation, Boozman spokesman Patrick Creamer said.

The senator required the training "prior to it being mandated by the Senate," Creamer said.

"Senator Boozman takes extra care to create a safe and respectful office environment," Creamer said. "He is committed to a respectful workplace and will continue to vigilantly ensure that unwelcome, offensive and hostile behavior is not tolerated in his office."

Tabler, Cotton's spokesman, said staff members are in the process of complying with the new mandatory training requirements.

The office's employee handbook already prohibits harassment or discrimination based on "race, color, religion, national origin, disability, age, uniformed service, genetic information and gender."

A Section on 12/04/2017