Congress has long exempted its own members from the laws and regulations it has imposed on all others. Most recently, this we-are-above the law position came into relief when the public learned the peculiar fate that awaits legislative branch employees who are sexually harassed in their workplace. They are subjected to a process unlike any other. It is hardly a small matter given that one in six female staffers on Capitol Hill said they had been sexually harassed in response to a July 2017 Roll Call survey.
By congressional rules (part of the Congressional Accountability Act), before the victim can file a complaint with the Office of Compliance (OOC) or file a federal lawsuit, he or she must undergo a three-month process: one month of legal counseling, one month of mediation, and a one month “cooling off” period. The victim is required to continue working in the office during this process, and before mediation can begin, they must sign a nondisclosure agreement. Harassers get legal counsel from the House of Representatives—but the victim cannot employ their own lawyer. Furthermore, any settlement money awarded as a result of this process comes from the U.S. Treasury—not from the party responsible for the harassment. A victim's initial Formal Request for Counseling must be filed with the OOC no later than 180 days after the incident. For any other crime or misdemeanor, the time limit is set in years, not days. “It encumbers the victim in ways that are indefensible” said Rep. Jackie Speier. She added that it “is not a victim-friendly process . . . [but] an institution-protection process.”