01.31.18

Murray, HELP Democrats, Ask for Insight into How Departments are Working to Prevent Harassment

Each letter details how many complaints the Department has recently received on the basis of sex

 

Data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suggests a majority of women experience sexual harassment in the workplace

 

Senator Murray and her Democratic colleagues recently called on Chairman Alexander to hold hearings on sexual harassment and assault in the workplace

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Led by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the Senate Democrats on the HELP Committee sent letters to Secretary DeVos at the Department of Education, Secretary Acosta at the Department of Labor and Secretary Azar at the Department of Health and Human Services, requesting information on their efforts to provide a safe workplace free of harassment. Each letter sent also outlined how many of each Department’s recent complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission were made on the basis of sex.  

 

We write to you with deep concern regarding harassment in the workplace and to obtain information on what you are doing to address the issue within your agency. As you are well aware, workplace harassment is not a new issue that workers face; it is pervasive, systemic, and unacceptable. Recently, many brave women and men have spoken out to shed light on sexual harassment across the country. Women, in particular, have answered the call and their voices are leading the way in demanding change and equality—often taking great risk to speak out for the first time, and their voices are making a difference. As the head of a federal agency employing thousands of people, you can play a critical role in establishing and modeling safe work environments for all workers, and we hope you will do so” wrote the Senators.

 

Joining Senator Murray in sending the letters were: Senators Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Doug Jones (D-AL).

Full letters below

 

A PDF of the Senators’ letter to Secretary DeVos can be found HERE.

A PDF of the Senators’ Letter to Secretary Acosta can be found HERE.

A PDF of the Senators’ Letter to Secretary Azar can be found HERE.

 

 

January 30, 2018

 

The Honorable Betsy DeVos

Secretary

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20202


Dear Secretary DeVos:

 

We write to you with deep concern regarding harassment in the workplace and to obtain information on what you are doing to address the issue within your agency. As you are well aware, workplace harassment is not a new issue that workers face; it is pervasive, systemic, and unacceptable. Recently, many brave women and men have spoken out to shed light on sexual harassment across the country. Women, in particular, have answered the call and their voices are leading the way in demanding change and equality—often taking great risk to speak out for the first time, and their voices are making a difference. As the head of a federal agency employing thousands of people, you can play a critical role in establishing and modeling safe work environments for all workers, and we hope you will do so.

 

Workplace sexual harassment is all too common, including in the federal government. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s Task Force on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace report, an estimated 60 percent of women across our nation’s workforce experience unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion, sexually crude conduct, or sexist comments in the workplace.[1] In fiscal year 2015, the EEOC received 6,741 complaints from federal employees alleging harassment.[2] Forty-four percent of these complaints were on the basis of sex.[3] At the Department of Education specifically, there have been four complaints of sexual harassment since 2012.[4] While these numbers are very concerning, they do not come close to holistically capturing the scope of the problem as harassment is vastly underreported. The EEOC estimates that on average 87 to 94 percent of people never file a formal legal charge, and 70 percent of employees never file a complaint internally.[5]

 

All executive branch employees, including Department of Education employees, are protected from workplace sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Federal government employees are also protected from workplace sexual harassment under federal employment anti-discrimination laws.[6] As head of the Department of Education, your leadership is critical to ensure a harassment-free workplace and equal employment opportunities for Department of Education employees.

 

As such, we are interested in the ongoing discussions, plans, and actions within the Department aimed at protecting employees and establishing a safe working environment free from harassment. We request a briefing about the ways in which the Department is addressing this issue and to discuss any suggestions you may have about how to strengthen and improve legal protections and processes in the workplace. Additionally, we request the following information by no later than February 13, 2018:

 

  1. Descriptions, charters, and rosters of Department policy, or working groups, or taskforces on the issue of harassment;
  2. A copy of the Department’s non-discrimination policy;
  3. A copy of the Department’s policy regarding anti-harassment training, a listing of the annual occurrences of such trainings, the curriculum used in the trainings, and a description of other types of trainings related to harassment offered at the Department, including but not limited to bystander intervention training;
  4. A copy of the Department’s contracts with companies conducting training related to harassment;
  5. A copy of the Department’s dispute resolution process and policies;
  6. A copy of the Department’s Table of Penalties, outlining the Department’s recommended disciplinary actions for personnel misconduct;
  7. The total cost and number of harassment settlements made during FY2013, FY2014, FY2015, FY2016, and FY2017; and
  8. A description of any other efforts the Department undertakes to assess and address workplace harassment.

 

We all have a great deal of work to do to address harassment in the workplace. We appreciate you taking this matter seriously and providing full and prompt responses. If you have any questions regarding my inquiries you can contact Carly Rush or Laurel Sakai at 202-224-0767 with Senator Murray’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Staff.

 

Sincerely,

 

Patty Murray

United States Senator

 

Bernard Sanders

United States Senator

 

Robert P. Casey, Jr.

United States Senator

 

Michael F. Bennet

United States Senator

 

Tammy Baldwin

United States Senator

 

Christopher S. Murphy

United States Senator

 

Elizabeth Warren

United States Senator

 

Tim Kaine

United States Senator

 

Margaret Wood Hassan

United States Senator

 

Tina Smith

United States Senator

 

Doug Jones

United States Senator

 

 

January 30, 2018

 

The Honorable R. Alexander Acosta

Secretary

U.S. Department of Labor

200 Constitution Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20210


Dear Secretary Acosta:

 

We write to you with deep concern regarding harassment in the workplace and to obtain information on what you are doing to address the issue within your agency. As you are well aware, workplace harassment is not a new issue that workers face; it is pervasive, systemic, and unacceptable. Recently, many brave women and men have spoken out to shed light on sexual harassment across the country. Women, in particular, have answered the call and their voices are leading the way in demanding change and equality—often taking great risk to speak out for the first time, and their voices are making a difference. As the head of a federal agency employing thousands of people, you can play a critical role in establishing and modeling safe work environments for all workers, and we hope you will do so.

 

Workplace sexual harassment is all too common, including in the federal government. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s Task Force on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace report, an estimated 60 percent of women across our nation’s workforce experience unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion, sexually crude conduct, or sexist comments in the workplace.[7] In fiscal year 2015, the EEOC received 6,741 complaints from federal employees alleging harassment.[8] Forty-four percent of these complaints were on the basis of sex.[9] At the Department of Labor specifically, there have been 25 complaints of sexual harassment since 2012.[10] While these numbers are very concerning, they do not come close to holistically capturing the scope of the problem as harassment is vastly underreported. The EEOC estimates that on average 87 to 94 percent of people never file a formal legal charge, and 70 percent of employees never file a complaint internally.[11]

 

All executive branch employees, including Department of Labor employees, are protected from workplace sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Federal government employees are also protected from workplace sexual harassment under federal employment anti-discrimination laws.[12] As head of the Department of Labor, your leadership is critical to ensure a harassment-free workplace and equal employment opportunities for Department of Labor employees.

 

As such, we are interested in the ongoing discussions, plans, and actions within the Department aimed at protecting employees and establishing a safe working environment free from harassment. We request a briefing about the ways in which the Department is addressing this issue and to discuss any suggestions you may have about how to strengthen and improve legal protections and processes in the workplace. Additionally, we request the following information by no later than February 13, 2018:

 

  1. Descriptions, charters, and rosters of Department policy, or working groups, or taskforces on the issue of harassment;
  2. A copy of the Department’s non-discrimination policy;
  3. A copy of the Department’s policy regarding anti-harassment training, a listing of the annual occurrences of such trainings, the curriculum used in the trainings, and a description of other types of trainings related to harassment offered at the Department, including but not limited to bystander intervention training;
  4. A copy of the Department’s contracts with companies conducting training related to harassment;
  5. A copy of the Department’s dispute resolution process and policies;
  6. A copy of the Department’s Table of Penalties, outlining the Department’s recommended disciplinary actions for personnel misconduct;
  7. The total cost and number of harassment settlements made during FY2013, FY2014, FY2015, FY2016, and FY2017; and
  8. A description of any other efforts the Department undertakes to assess and address workplace harassment.

 

We all have a great deal of work to do to address harassment in the workplace. We appreciate you taking this matter seriously and providing full and prompt responses. If you have any questions regarding my inquiries you can contact Carly Rush or Joe Shantz at 202-224-0767 with Senator Murray’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Staff.

 

Sincerely,

 

Patty Murray

United States Senator

 

Bernard Sanders

United States Senator

 

Robert P. Casey, Jr.

United States Senator

 

Michael F. Bennet

United States Senator

 

Tammy Baldwin

United States Senator

 

Christopher S. Murphy

United States Senator

 

Elizabeth Warren

United States Senator

 

Tim Kaine

United States Senator

 

Margaret Wood Hassan

United States Senator

 

Tina Smith

United States Senator

 

Doug Jones

United States Senator

 

January 30, 2018

 

The Honorable Alex Azar

Secretary

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Azar:

 

We write to you with deep concern regarding harassment in the workplace and to obtain information on what you are doing to address the issue within your agency. As you are well aware, workplace harassment is not a new issue that workers face; it is pervasive, systemic, and unacceptable. Recently, many brave women and men have spoken out to shed light on sexual harassment across the country. Women, in particular, have answered the call and their voices are leading the way in demanding change and equality—often taking great risk to speak out for the first time, and their voices are making a difference. As the head of a federal agency employing thousands of people, you can play a critical role in establishing and modeling safe work environments for all workers, and we hope you will do so.

 

Workplace sexual harassment is all too common, including in the federal government. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s Task Force on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace report, an estimated 60 percent of women across our nation’s workforce experience unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion, sexually crude conduct, or sexist comments in the workplace.[13] In fiscal year 2015, the EEOC received 6,741 complaints from federal employees alleging harassment.[14] Forty-four percent of these complaints were on the basis of sex.[15] At the Department of Health Human Services (HHS) specifically, there were 77 complaints of sexual harassment from 2012-2016.[16] While these numbers are very concerning, they do not come close to holistically capturing the scope of the problem as harassment is vastly underreported. The EEOC estimates that on average 87 to 94 percent of people never file a formal legal charge, and 70 percent of employees never file a complaint internally.[17]

 

All executive branch employees, including HHS employees, are protected from workplace sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Federal government employees are also protected from workplace sexual harassment under federal employment anti-discrimination laws.[18] As head of HHS, your leadership is critical to ensure a harassment-free workplace and equal employment opportunities for HHS employees.

 

As such, we are interested in the ongoing discussions, plans, and actions within the Department aimed at protecting employees and establishing a safe working environment free from harassment. We request a briefing about the ways in which the Department is addressing this issue and to discuss any suggestions you may have about how to strengthen and improve legal protections and processes in the workplace. Additionally, we request the following information by no later than February 13, 2018:

 

  1. Descriptions, charters, and rosters of Department policy, or working groups, or taskforces on the issue of harassment;
  2. A copy of the Department’s non-discrimination policy;
  3. A copy of the Department’s policy regarding anti-harassment training, a listing of the annual occurrences of such trainings, the curriculum used in the trainings, and a description of other types of trainings related to harassment offered at the Department, including but not limited to bystander intervention training;
  4. A copy of the Department’s contracts with companies conducting training related to harassment;
  5. A copy of the Department’s dispute resolution process and policies;
  6. A copy of the Department’s Table of Penalties, outlining the Department’s recommended disciplinary actions for personnel misconduct;
  7. The total cost and number of harassment settlements made during FY2013, FY2014, FY2015, FY2016, and FY2017; and
  8. A description of any other efforts the Department undertakes to assess and address workplace harassment.

 

We all have a great deal of work to do to address harassment in the workplace. We appreciate you taking this matter seriously and providing full and prompt responses. If you have any questions regarding my inquiries you can contact Carly Rush or Laurel Sakai at 202-224-0767 with Senator Murray’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Staff.

 

Sincerely,

 

Patty Murray

United States Senator

 

Bernard Sanders

United States Senator

 

Robert P. Casey, Jr.

United States Senator

 

Michael F. Bennet

United States Senator

 

Tammy Baldwin

United States Senator

 

Christopher S. Murphy

United States Senator

 

Elizabeth Warren

United States Senator

 

Tim Kaine

United States Senator

 

Margaret Wood Hassan

United States Senator

 

Tina Smith

United States Senator

 

Doug Jones

United States Senator

 

###



[1] Chai R. Feldblum & Victoria A. Lipnic, Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace: Report of the Co-Chairs, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 9 (June 2016), https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/upload/report.pdf.

[2] Feldblum & Lipnic at 6.

[3] Feldblum & Lipnic at 7.

[4] See U.S. Department of Education, Equal Employment Opportunity Data Posted Pursuant to the No Fear Act: Title III of the Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act), Pub. L. 107-174 1, https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/om/docs/no-fear-act-report-4qtr-2017.pdf.

[5] Feldblum & Lipnic at 16.

[6] See 42 U.S.C. §2000e-16(a)-(b) (prohibiting discriminatory practices for federal employees and providing for enforcement by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission); see generally 29 C.F.R. §1614 (establishing procedural regulations for enforcement of complaints from federal sector employees).

[7] Chai R. Feldblum & Victoria A. Lipnic, Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace: Report of the Co-Chairs, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 9 (June 2016), https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/upload/report.pdf.

[8] Feldblum & Lipnic at 6.

[9] Feldblum & Lipnic at 7.

[10] See U.S. Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Data Posted Pursuant to Title III of the Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act), Pub. L. 107-174 1, https://www.dol.gov/nofearact/pdf/DOL-Qtr4-2017.pdf.

[11] Feldblum & Lipnic at 16.

[12] See 42 U.S.C. §2000e-16(a)-(b) (prohibiting discriminatory practices for federal employees and providing for enforcement by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission); see generally 29 C.F.R. §1614 (establishing procedural regulations for enforcement of complaints from federal sector employees).

[13] Chai R. Feldblum & Victoria A. Lipnic, Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace: Report of the Co-Chairs, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 9 (June 2016), https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/upload/report.pdf.

[14] Feldblum & Lipnic at 6.

[15] Feldblum & Lipnic at 7.

[16] See U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Equal Employment Opportunity Data Posted Pursuant to the No Fear Act for HHS (and Below) 2, https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/fy16q3-hhs-no-fear-report.pdf.

[17] Feldblum & Lipnic at 16.

[18] See 42 U.S.C. §2000e-16(a)-(b) (prohibiting discriminatory practices for federal employees and providing for enforcement by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission); see generally 29 C.F.R. §1614 (establishing procedural regulations for enforcement of complaints from federal sector employees).