In December 2017, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand introduced the Congressional Harassment Reform Act to help curb sexual harassment and inspire accountability in Washington, D.C. The act required Congress members to settle sexual harassment claims by paying out of their own pockets instead of taxpayers’ money and for those settlements to be made public.
Despite the rise of #MeToo and “Time’s Up” movements, the bill faced several obstacles. For starters, the Senate stalled it. Then, the Department of Labor outright refused to comply with Gillibrand’s request to compile data on sexual harassment in workplaces in order to determine the extent of the problem.
Their reason: conducting research on the topic, which in unfortunately prevalent in all professions, is not an easy task.
“The Department is committed to preventing and eliminating workplace sexual harassment and understands your concerns about sexual harassment in the workplace,” acting Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner William Wiatrowski wrote in a letter obtained by the CNN. “However, collecting this information would be complex and costly. There are a number of steps involved in any new data collection, including consultation with experts, cognitive testing, data collection training, and test collection. Once test collection is successful, there is an extensive clearance process before data collection can begin.”
Gillibrand, along with Sen. Patty Murray, didn’t hold back from expressing their disappointment on the department’s response.
“While your letter indicated the Department takes workplace sexual harassment ‘very seriously,’ your lack of commitment to collect this data undermines your assurances,” the senators wrote in a letter to Wiatrowski an Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. “Your justifications for not pursuing such an effort were disappointing, and we ask that you reconsider. We would certainly hope that the Department would always use rigorous methods inherent in data collection, as articulated in your response letter; therefore, the notion that this work is complex by nature does not seem to be a sufficient justification to decline this request... In light of our shared recognition of the importance of this data, the Department's justifications for declining the request are wholly inadequate.”
The letter, signed by over 20 legislators — including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris — also asked the department to reconsider their decision, explaining how other federal agencies were able to collect similar information in the past.
At a time when the government should be setting a precedent by showing some accountability for this culture of sexual harassment at the workplace, the Labor Department’s response is nothing short of frustrating.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images