Former Congressional Staffer Files Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Under Statute that Applies Federal Anti-Discrimination Law to Members of Congress

Obama_Health_Care_Speech_to_Joint_Session_of_Congress.jpgA former staffer in the Washington, DC office of a Republican member of Congress filed a federal lawsuit late last year alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. Greene v. Office of Rep. Farenthold, No. 1:14-cv-02110, complaint (D.D.C., Dec. 12, 2014). Rather than asserting claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the plaintiff’s lawsuit is based on a statute that applies Title VII and other federal statutes to the Legislative Branch of the federal government, the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) of 1995, 2 U.S.C. § 1301 et seq.

The plaintiff states in her complaint that she began working for the defendant, Representative Blake Farenthold, in February 2013 as his Congressional office’s “New Media Director.” Greene, complaint at 2. The defendant, who represents Texas’ 27th congressional district, was first elected to Congress in 2010. The plaintiff’s complaint, in describing the atmosphere of the defendant’s office, alleges that he “regularly drank to excess,” and that staffers who went to events with him joked about being “on ‘red head patrol’ to keep him out of trouble.” Id.

While the plaintiff generally describes the defendant as flirtatious, she alleges that he was “awkward” toward her. Id. at 3. She states that this made it difficult for her to do her job. Another staffer in the office, the plaintiff claims, told her that the defendant had admitted having an attraction to the plaintiff, which included “sexual fantasies.” Id. The plaintiff claims that he told the staffer this knowing that she was likely to convey it to the plaintiff. This allegedly occurred on multiple occasions.

The plaintiff was promoted to Communications Director in February 2014. While the defendant had reportedly had daily meetings with the previous Communications Director, he continued to behave awkwardly toward the plaintiff. She claims that she had become uncomfortable around the defendant because of the information conveyed by the other staffer. The defendant began making regular comments of a sexual nature to the plaintiff.

The defendant’s chief of staff, who was reportedly the only other person in the office who knew about the defendant’s feeling toward the plaintiff, allegedly began treating the plaintiff in a manner intended to make her “professional life unbearable.” Id. at 6. She claims that she complained to the defendant about the chief of staff’s behavior, but that he did not take any action to address the situation. She was fired less than a month later, allegedly with no advance warning that her job was in danger.

The lawsuit asserts causes of action for hostile work environment, gender discrimination, and retaliation under the CAA, which applies to most employees of the Legislative Branch. This includes employees of members of the House of Representatives. 2 U.S.C. §§ 1301(3)(A), (7). The CAA applies various federal statutes to the Legislative Branch, including Title VII’s prohibitions on gender discrimination in employment. 2 U.S.C. §§ 1302(a)(2), 1311(a)(1); 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e-2(a).

If you have been subjected to sexual harassment or some other unlawful employment practice, you should consult with an experienced and knowledgeable employment attorney. Phillips & Associates’ lawyers advocate for workers in the greater New York City area at the city, state, and federal levels. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

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Photo credit: By Lawrence Jackson (whitehouse.gov) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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