Federal justice must respect the anti-discrimination laws it applies
Almost four years ago, when the world was changed by Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement and the viral storm unleashed when survivors of serial sexual predator Harvey Weinstein bravely declared their #MeToo moments, we both have shared our personal experiences with sexual harassment in Congress publicly for the first time.
Our stories differed slightly: one took place over 40 years ago, the other more recently, in 2004; one involved a sitting member of the Senate, the other a powerful member of the House staff; one of us had our face gripped and a tongue stuck in her throat, the other had her butt groped. But the similarities were striking: egregious cases of sexual harassment perpetrated by men over thirty years our senior in the very institution that had made such conduct illegal in nearly every other work place in America.
We both decided to talk about encounters that we had spent our entire careers silent about because we shared the same desire: to create a better work environment for the next generation of employees and members of Congress. That’s why we worked together to draft, advocate and ultimately pass the Congressional Accountability Act, or CAA, Reform Act, a comprehensive, bipartisan bill to revise congressional procedures to address harassment and discrimination. It was not easy, in an increasingly polarized environment in Washington, but by the end of the following calendar year the House and Senate had unanimously passed the bill and it had become law. In doing so, Congress sent a critical message to its employees that they have the statutory right to work in a safe and harassment-free environment.
Yet today there remains a workplace where federal employees are still unprotected by basic federal laws – such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which prohibit harassment, discrimination and Gender-Based Retaliation in the Workplace: Federal Justice. Despite its role as a key institution responsible for the interpretation, application and enforcement of these laws to all other employers in the United States, and despite decades of congressional advocacy and oversight efforts, the judiciary has so far deprived more than 30,000 people who work there. basic legal protections.
In 2018, as Congress worked hard on the CAA reform law, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to ensure the judiciary would take similar action after more than a dozen women have come forward about the sexual harassment they suffered while working for one of the country’s most influential federal judges. After hearing several experts who urged the judiciary to adopt much-needed reforms, the Director of the United States Courts Administrative Office assured the Congress that the judiciary was “committed to providing an exemplary working environment for every judge and employee of the tribunal” and that it would take significant steps to do so.