Sexual Harassment in Congress - Attorney Ariel Solomon Examines the Outcomes of the Congressional #MeToo Movement in the New York Law Journal

Read Ariel E. Solomon's  New York Law Journal publication, entitled “#MeToo Legislation: Did Congress Just Put Its Money Where Its Mouth Is?,” discussing the significance of S.3749. This legislation amends the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 (CAA), which, as Attorney Solomon explains was “largely regarded by lawmakers as antiquated and unnecessarily arduous for victims of sexual harassment to navigate.”

The CAA placed the burden of lawmakers’ indiscretions on taxpayers. When a lawmaker was accused of sexual harassment, a settlement for these accusations was paid by taxes totaling over $17 million over the last decade. The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act rectifies this by making the lawmakers personally (and monetarily) liable for their wrongdoings: sexual harassment settlement monies must be paid to the Department of Treasury, thereby repaying taxpayers for the award.

Attorney Solomon argues that, while this is a “commendable… first step,” the CAA Reform Act is not a final solution to Congress’ #MeToo movement. While the CAA Reform Act is a much-needed update to the previous iteration, it still holds true that “existing anti-discrimination laws do not adequately shield staffers from sexual harassment and have even emboldened certain members of the legislation to act with impunity.” The foremost concern with the CAA Reform Act, and laws of its kind, is the oppressive costs of litigation that can often fall to victims of sexual harassment.

As identified in the article, the problems that are likely to arise in response to the CAA Reform act are a lack of “meaningful relief” for settlement, the conflicting outcomes of transparency, and the lack of response to anticipatory political backlash. It is likely that settlement or litigation will be lengthy, requiring two settlement authorities or attorneys, as the Act “distinguished between harassment and discrimination when requiring reimbursement for compensatory damages.” With two prongs to their claims, a victim could find themselves engaged in an arduous – and expensive – legal pursuit in an attempt to ensure their allegations are properly represented.

The implication of transparency is complicated, as it is established as a deterrent for harassers to continue their illegal behavior, yet it may ultimately result in longer litigation as well in an effort to stave off an undesirable blemish on their careers. Finally, the CAA Reform Act does not do enough to address any unwanted effects that may stem from filing a sexual harassment complaint, such as retaliation. Attorney Solomon writes that in not addressing this aspect, victims may still decide to not file a complaint and instead wait until they may transfer to a different position or office.

In order to fully support victims of sexual harassment, lawmakers must ensure that victims feel safe enough to file complaints and then are able to receive their deserved relief. While the changes are a step in the right direction, Attorney Solomon ultimately states that “Anti-discrimination and harassment laws do not adequately prevent sexual harassment,” and ensure that victims will not be disadvantaged in the outcomes available to them.