Lawmaker John Conyers, the leading Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee and longest-serving House member at age 88, admitted Tuesday that he paid money to settle a sexual harassment claim made by a former staffer.
The woman, who is remaining anonymous for fear of retribution, alleged that Conyers fired her after she refused to cave to repeated sexual advances made by him, according to Fox News.
That Conyers admitted to settling what amounted to a severance package ($27K) with her is a stark reversal from an earlier statement he made to a trove of AP reporters who surprised Conyers unannounced at his doorstep. In that unexpected exchange, Conyers denied any connection to the claims made by the harassed woman.
After the AP reported this, Conyers’ office promptly issued a detailed clarification Tuesday afternoon, stating that the sexual harassment complaint did exist. Conyers stopped short of agreeing that all the details of the complaint merited truth.
“The Associated Press made an unannounced visit to the home of Congressman Conyers this morning,” said a spokesperson for Conyers Tuesday. “Congressman Conyers was under the impression the reporter was speaking of recent allegations of which he was unaware of and denied.”
On Monday BuzzFeed News broke the story, which describes the details of the settlement, stemming back to 2014, the year that the woman filed the complaint with the Office of Compliance.
According to her testimony, she was placed time and again in unfavorable situations where Conyers cajoled and caressed her, making unwanted advances. The woman spoke anonymously with the news agency via phone.
“I was basically blackballed. There was nowhere I could go,” she said.
The Washington Post reported last week that Congress’s Office of Compliance paid out $17 million for 264 settlements with federal employees during the past 20 years. Some of the complaints filed involved sexual harassment. Conyers, however, paid his former employee directly from his office, rather than culling from the larger Office of Compliance fund.
According to BuzzFeed News, Congress has no human resource department. If a federal employee feels wronged, including the victim of a sexual harassment incident, he or she has 180 days to file a complaint with the Office of Compliance. That person must sign a confidentiality agreement before the complaint can proceed. Part of the process involves counseling and mediation.
Conyers’ situation is only the latest in a wave of sexual harassment claims upending Capitol Hill, including Senator Al Franken, and reaching across the country, where Republican candidate Roy Moore is facing allegations.
But what is happening in Washington is only part and parcel to a larger wave of sexual harassment claims shaking various infrastructures of American society, including Hollywood and broadcast media. Charlie Rose—widely respected among his peers—was hit Tuesday with sexual harassment claims made by former coworkers.
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