The Office of the Inspector General conducted the investigation in order to get a better understanding of the the Architect of the Capitol's (AOC) handling of sexual harassment complaints. The investigation looked into sexual harassment cases reported to the agency between October 2008 and October 2018.
The 53-page report found that since 2008, 57 incidents involving sexual harassment were reported by Capitol Hill staff. About 44 percent of them were substantiated, and around 24 of those accused were supervisors. In the cases where the complaints were investigated and resolution was sought, settlements were paid to the complainants.
The total price tag for the cash settlements in these cases? $377,500.
A more troubling insight from the report was the prevalence of harassment committed by members of the top brass: out of all the reported complaints, 88.7 percent were against officials at GS-15 or higher. According to the US Office of Personnel Management, the official employee hierarchy is segmented by the predetermined General Schedule (GS) level, which places employees at Grade 15 in the highest pay band.
The report also found that there was a lack of follow-up on inquiries with complainants, leaving the victims vulnerable to retaliation: investigators communicated with 19 employees who reported sexual harassment, and 63 percent of them said they had faced retaliation in the workplace as a result of speaking up. Six other employees also noted to investigators that they did not report sexual harassment out of fear of retaliation.
One employee was quoted in the report as stating, "Was left under the same jurisdiction where this occurred and retaliation has been coming at me ever since then. My career has suffered for speaking up. I could do the best job ever but won't be recognized. My position and what I do is diminished, minimalized, and lessened. I will always strive to achieve the best and have a positive attitude even through these circumstances."
Custodial staff, particularly those who work nights, also reported that offices of members of Congress were rife with misconduct, including sexual harassment and pornography viewing by staffers, and some witnessed harassment of other employees. Most chose not to report these incidents due to fear of reprisal.
Another employee told investigators, "I constantly feel disrespected especially by the men who used to yell and bully me, talk over me, belittle and demean. They stick together. But the fact that I sought assistance from HR [human resources] and they left me with that person all these years is sad. They have made sure to keep me in my place. I don't trust anyone."
Retaliation against those who speak up against harassment is not unique to the US Capitol, however. Although retaliation against complaints made in good faith is illegal, a 2003 study quoted in a 2016 report by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that 75 percent of employees who reported "workplace mistreatment" were subject to retaliation.