Allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct in Congress have long been kept from the public eye, and there may be a reason for that. Congress' Office of Compliance has in the past settled such accusations in exchange for confidentiality, but who had been implicated had never been reported. Now BuzzFeed News has reported that Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan settled a complaint of wrongful termination from a women who claims she was fired for turning down his alleged sexual advances. The settlement did not include an admission of fault. Bustle has reached out to Conyers for comment.
Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, was accused by four former staff members of alleged unwanted sexual advances on female staff. The accusations are part of written affidavits that detail the alleged conduct that include requests for sexual favors, asking that they contact other women he was having affairs with, and rubbing their legs and back in public. They also allege he rubbed their hands sexually.
According to BuzzFeed News, the money in this case came from Conyers' budget, not the pool of $17 million paid from the Office of Compliance's budget for various allegations since 1997, as previously reported by The Washington Post. Some 264 complaints, among them sexual harassment, were settled with that money, the Post reported.
But the way the case was settled was much the same. Congress doesn't have a human resources department; staffers are instead supposed to report sexual harassment to the Office of Compliance. This is the office that handled the settlement in question, according to BuzzFeed News, a long process that includes "counseling, mediation, and requires the signing of a confidentiality agreement before a complaint can go forward."
The employee can also take the matter to court, but often there is an arbitration that then results in a payout. In this case, the documents show that the employee was offered $27,000 in exchange for her remaining quiet about the matter. She was paid the sum over the three months, essentially being rehired as a temporary employee. She did not have to report to the office or do anything, but this way the money came from Conyers' employment budget.
The staffer in question asked to remain anonymous in BuzzFeed News' report, but she did tell the outlet via a phone interview that she "was basically blackballed": "There was nowhere I could go."
Matthew Peterson, a law clerk who represented the complainant, also spoke with BuzzFeed News, telling the publication:
It is a designed cover-up. You feel like they were betrayed by their government just for coming forward. It's like being abused twice.
The Office of Compliance itself declined comment, noting the office "cannot comment on whether matters have or have not been filed with the office."
Among the other allegations made in the documents, which Conyers acknowledged as part of the settlement, are that he used public resources to fly in women that he was having affairs with. The woman who filed the wrongful termination settlement said that at times the congressman would have her work with him in private rooms where he allegedly described sexual fantasies and told her to "touch it" — referring to his penis — or find someone else who would.
"Rep. Conyers strongly postulated that the performing of personal service or favors would be looked upon favorably and lead to salary increases or promotions," the former employee claims in the documents.
The documents were given to BuzzFeed News by Mike Cernovich, as he explains in a post on Medium. He's a men's rights activist and fervent Trump supporter known for sharing the "Pizzagate" conspiracy. Cernovich handed BuzzFeed News the documents without conditions, according to the website, and its reporters independently confirmed the veracity of the documents.