Just last week, Dem. Rep. Grijalva called on long-time Congressman John Conyers , Jr. (D-MI) to step down from his role as ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee in light of sexual harassment accusations against the Michigan lawmaker. Conyers ultimately bowed to pressure from both parties and withdrew from the prominent position.
It turns out the Congressman discreetly arranged for a more than $48,000 “severance package” in 2015 for a top female staffer who threatened a harassment lawsuit, the Washington Times reports.
The staffer, whose name has been withheld, accused Grijalva of creating a hostile work environment by frequently being drunk.
Grijalva negotiated the settlement through the House Employment Counsel, which serves as an attorney for all House offices. The counsel ended up giving the staffer $48,395 (five months’ salary) after she had only been on the job three months. Following settlement, the former aide dropped her workplace complaint.
Sources on Capitol Hill say the House Employment Counsel aims to keep these matters from reaching the public ear. When the woman hired a lawyer and threatened to sue, Grijalva halted her salary–hitting her financially and forcing her to settle rather than pursue the case in court.
Rep. Grijalva notes he didn’t employ the Office of Compliance, which has been at the center of recent sexual harassment cases in Congress.
“On the advice of House Employment Counsel, I provided a severance package to a former employee who resigned. The severance did not involve the Office of Compliance and at no time was any allegation of sexual harassment made, and no sexual harassment occurred,” Grijalva said.
What this means is that lawmakers on Capitol Hill have an additional way of shushing their indiscretions–all on the public dime.
The situation is even more concerning because it appears Rep. Grijalva violated House rules stating that a member of Congress may not retain “an employee who does not perform duties for the offices of the employing authority commensurate with the compensation such employee receives.”
According to the rules, a legitimate severance package should be paid in a lump sum and reported separately.
Melanie Sloan, an ethics lawyer who has accused Conyers of sexual harassment, assessed the issue facing Congress.
“It seems like all of these House bodies are designed to help cover for members of Congress,” Sloan said. “A large part of the problem is that each member of Congress can treat their staff as their own fiefdom and also know that it will remain silent.”