Conn. of­fices’ poli­cies dif­fer

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Bill Cum­mings and Em­i­lie Mun­son

Con­necti­cut’s Con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion is re­view­ing its sex­ual ha­rass­ment poli­cies — and some are mak­ing changes — all in the wake of U.S. Rep. El­iz­a­beth Esty’s bun­gled han­dling of of­fice abuse that led to her down­fall.

All seven U.S. se­na­tors and rep­re­sen­ta­tives showed Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia their of­fice sex­ual ha­rass­ment poli­cies. While the rules are largely sim­i­lar, they dif­fer in sub­tle and sig­nif­i­cant ways — the re­sult of not hav­ing a one-size-fits-all pol­icy for the U.S. House and Sen­ate.

For ex­am­ple, U.S. Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal’s ha­rass­ment pol­icy pro­hibits dat­ing un­less work­ers are of equal rank, while U.S. Sen. Chris Mur­phy’s pol­icy, along with other mem­bers of the del­e­ga­tion, is silent on dat­ing.

By con­trast, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New

York and the Sen­ate mi­nor­ity leader, is widely known to brag about how many of his staffers have got­ten mar­ried.

An ef­fort is un­der­way in Congress to ex­pand em­ployee pro­tec­tions, due in part to the na­tional #MeToo move­ment and re­cent res­ig­na­tions of high pro­file law­mak­ers such as for­mer U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who was forced out over in­ap­pro­pri­ate in­ter­ac­tions with women years be­fore he be­came a se­na­tor.

The Mem­ber and Em­ployee Train­ing and Over­sight On Congress Act (MeToo) is pend­ing in the House and Sen­ate. The bill, which seeks to over­haul 1995 sex­ual ha­rass­ment laws and cre­ate one pol­icy for Congress, is co-spon­sored by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, Demo­crat of Cal­i­for­nia, a for­mer Capi­tol Hill staffer who ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual ha­rass­ment first hand.

“Congress has been a breed­ing ground for a hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment for far too long,” Speier re­cently said.

Con­necti­cut’s Con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion — all Democrats — gen­er­ally sup­port bills to codify and ex­pand pro­tec­tions. But the del­e­ga­tion’s in­di­vid­ual ha­rass­ment rules tend to be generic, and ap­ply only to each mem­ber’s of­fice, the Hearst re­view found.

None of the del­e­ga­tion mem­bers — ex­cept Esty — said they had re­ceived a sex­ual ha­rass­ment com­plaint from an em­ployee. Esty is not seek­ing re­elec­tion this fall be­cause of her han­dling of that ha­rass­ment in­ci­dent.

Tim Daly, Esty’s chief of staff, said the 5th District con­gress­woman “ab­so­lutely be­lieves” the cur­rent sys­tem of al­low­ing each of­fice to set its own pol­icy does not work.

“Re­cent events have clearly proven that,” Daly said. “In her fi­nal nine months in Congress, Rep. Esty plans to use her power to fight for stronger work­place pro­tec­tions that are uni­form for not just Congress, but all lev­els of gov­ern­ment.”

Costly les­son

Esty opted to not pur­sue re-elec­tion af­ter calls for her res­ig­na­tion erupted over her han­dling of a 2016 ha­rass­ment com­plaint stem­ming from a ro­mance be­tween her for­mer chief of staff Tony Baker and a for­mer aide, Anna Kain.

Af­ter learn­ing in May 2016 that Baker had threat­ened and in­tim­i­dated Kain — in­clud­ing leav­ing a pro­fan­ity-laden voice mail that prompted Kain to ob­tain a pro­tec­tive or­der against Baker — it took three

months for Esty’s of­fice to com­plete an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Baker re­mained on the job, even at­tend­ing the Au­gust 2016 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion with Esty. When Baker was fi­nally ter­mi­nated, Esty signed a nondis­clo­sure agree­ment, gave Baker a $5,000 sev­er­ance pack­age and a ref­er­ence that helped him land a job with Sandy Hook Prom­ise in Ohio, an anti-gun group founded af­ter the 2012 Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School shoot­ing.

The de­lay dis­turbed and ap­palled staff, who wit­nessed yelling and other in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior while Baker re­mained on the job. Esty ear­lier this week con­ceded other fe­male staffers were “vic­tim­ized” by what they saw and heard.

Daly said af­ter Baker was ter­mi­nated Esty banned re­la­tion­ships be­tween em­ploy­ees and up­dated sex­ual ha­rass­ment rules to “make clear all forms of ha­rass­ment would not be tol­er­ated.”

But Daly said Congress needs a uni­fied pol­icy, in­clud­ing dat­ing rules.

“That’s yet an­other rea­son why (Esty) be­lieves leav­ing all 535 in­di­vid­ual of­fices to de­velop and im­ple­ment their own po­lices does not work,” Daly said. “The en­tire Congress, in fact all lev­els of gov­ern­ment, need to have stronger and uni­form work­place pro­tec­tions.”

Work­ing on changes

Mur­phy said he’s a cospon­sor of the #MeToo leg­is­la­tion that, among many pro­vi­sions, re­quires ac­cused law­mak­ers to pay set­tle­ments with their own money, boosts trans­parency of sex­ual as­sault com­plaints, re­struc­tures the com­plaint process and man­dates yearly sex­ual ha­rass­ment train­ing.

The bill is con­sid­ered a sig­nif­i­cant up­date to sex­ual ha­rass­ment and other rules set in 1995. Prior to that date, Congress was ex­empt from many of the work­place laws that ap­plied to the rest of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor.

“No­body work­ing in a con­gres­sional of­fice or any other set­ting should feel afraid to come to work,” Mur­phy said.

Still, Dana Honor, a spokes­woman for Mur­phy, ac­knowl­edged the of­fice does not specif­i­cally ban dat­ing. “In light of re­cent events, we are re­view­ing that,” she said.

The staff of U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, is up­dat­ing their of­fice sex­ual ha­rass­ment pol­icy, ac­cord­ing to Will Serio, a spokesman for DeLauro. DeLauro sup­ports a uni­formed pol­icy for Congress, he said.

She also re­cently voted for the Con­gres­sional Ac­count­abil­ity Act that passed the House. The bill in­cludes pro­vi­sions for a new dis­pute res­o­lu­tion process and stronger em­ployee pro­tec­tions.

In a re­cent bi­par­ti­san let­ter to the Sen­ate lead­er­ship, all 22 fe­male se­na­tors de­manded ac­tion and an end to a 30 day “cool­ing off ” pe­riod be­fore a ha­rass­ment com­plaint can be filed.

Of­fice dat­ing

Mary Ya­trousis, a spokes­woman for U.S. Rep. John Lar­son, D-1, said that while the of­fice has a strict sex­ual ha­rass­ment pol­icy, the rules do not specif­i­cally ad­dress dat­ing among staffers.

“How­ever, we are al­ways look­ing upon ways to im­prove our pol­icy,” Ya­trousis said. “This is some­thing that we will be tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion.”

The of­fice ha­rass­ment pol­icy of U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, also does not specif­i­cally ad­dress dat­ing, said Patrick Malone, the con­gress­man’s spokesman.

“The House Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee is busy fi­nal­iz­ing the pro­ce­dure for new sex­ual ha­rass­ment and diver­sity train­ing,” Malone said.

Blu­men­thal’s of­fice has had a de­tailed sex­ual ha­rass­ment pol­icy since the se­na­tor took of­fice in 2013, said Maria McEl­wain, his spokes­woman.

The non-frat­er­niza­tion pol­icy pro­hibits dat­ing be­tween su­per­vi­sors and un­der­lings and pro­hibits dat­ing be­tween all staff and in­terns.

“The of­fice has also had an anti-ha­rass­ment train­ing re­quire­ment for all staff and in­terns that pre­dates the re­cent train­ing man­date for Con­gres­sional of­fices,” McEl­wain said.

Tim Brown, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Joe Court­ney, D-2, said the of­fice has a strict sex­ual ha­rass­ment pol­icy. But Brown said Court­ney is look­ing to im­prove that pol­icy.

“We strive to pro­vide a work­ing en­vi­ron­ment that is safe, re­spon­sive, and pro­tec­tive of our em­ploy­ees,” he said.



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