Congress, Gender Equality Starts in the Mirror

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By Joi Chaney, Equal Pay Today!

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4924, the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act (CAA) and  H. Res. 724, which advanced much needed reforms to the way Congress handles claims of harassment and discrimination of all kinds -- including sexual and racial -- in the legislative workplace. For those saying, "what difference does this make to the rest of us?" The answer is: "It's a start."

In early January 2018, Equal Pay Today, American Civil Liberties Union, National Women's Law Center, Public Citizen, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights led more than 100 women's, civil, labor, and accountability advocates in a sign-on letter outlining our recommendations for a House reform bill. Once the bill was introduced, we offered our feedback.

In a rare bipartisan move, the House - led by House Committee on Administration Chairman Harper and Ranking Member Brady, and Congresswoman Speier - looked at its own reflection in the mirror and said #TimesUp. Congress should set the standard, not lag behind it. 

  • H.Res. 724, will immediately reform House procedures requiring every Representative’s office to establish policies to address and prevent discrimination and harassment and establish an Office of Employee Advocacy.
  • H.R. 4924, if it is enacted, will reform the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 to eliminate mandatory mediation and nondisclosure, establish fairer procedures for investigating and resolving complaints, provide victims with legal advice and counsel, require members of Congress to repay the Treasury for settlements made on their behalf, and provide for regular reporting that will inform Congress and the public about settlements and awards due to workplace discrimination and harassment, while protecting the identity of the victims. The bill now moves to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs where we hope it will be considered in concert with other proposals and strengthened.

Women's rights advocates -- including Equal Pay Today! -- congratulate them for moving one step closer toward reform. That said, we are remaining vigilant to ensure the Senate reforms are meaningful in terms remedy, prevention, and transparency and that these reforms are timely. Just as the House worked quickly, we encourage the Senate to work quickly to ensure the Congressional workplace is an example to the nation.

Moreover, harassment and discrimination are in every workplace, plaguing all industries, bridging the socio-economic divide, impacting all races and genders, and certainly spanning the political ideological spectrum. Thus, once they have taken care of their own house, it is important that Congress ensure all of the nation's workplaces fulfill the promise of equal employment opportunity regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, disability, religion, or sex, which -- for the record -- includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy.

As they work, the members of Equal Pay Today are committed to assisting them, ensuring they have our best thinking. Sexual harassment is a contributor to the wage gap, and, in 2018, it's times up on all of it.