Sexually harassing behavior in the business, entertainment and political worlds won’t change overnight, but a pair of bills co-sponsored by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick would change how resulting lawsuits are settled.
Spurred by a nearly daily deluge of reports detailing alleged improper actions by powerful men against their employees or colleagues, two bills introduced in the House of Representatives late last week aim to keep the financial responsibility to settle claims on the shoulders of the accused.
“Whether it’s Hollywood, Congress or a corporate boardroom, there is no place for sexual abuse or harassment in the workplace,” said Fitzpatrick, R-8, Middletown. “Just as I’m committed to protecting taxpayer dollars from being misused in Washington to cover up sexual misconduct allegations, I’m also committed to preventing private sector businesses from using tax breaks to sweep these heinous acts under the rug. This Congress must stand with the victims of this harassment and take swift action to root out those who would sexually harass any other person, regardless of position or title.”
The Settlement Tax Deductions are Over for Predators (STOP) Act, H.R. 4495, prohibits the deduction of legal settlements related to sexual assault and sexual harassment as business expenses. According to a statement provided by Fitzpatrick’s office, companies can deduct from their taxes legal settlements, fines, fees and expenses related to sexual assault and harassment cases. The STOP Act eliminates those deductions in cases where allegations are either made public or a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is involved.
Congress is not getting away with using taxpayer money to settle harassment claims, either, according to the Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act, also introduced Thursday. If passed, H.R. 4494 would prohibit the use of public funds to settle harassment and assault claims; disclose all payments previously made by the Office of Compliance, without disclosing the name of the victims; require the reimbursement of taxpayer money with interest; and allow victims to make public statements about their claims regardless of a previously signed NDA.
“What does it say about the sincerity of Congress in combating harassment when members and staff can have taxpayers cover for their misconduct while keeping it all secret?,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-6, of Port Orange, Florida, who introduced the bill, co-sponsored by Fitzpatrick. “Members of Congress and staff cannot live under special rules. The current system incentivizes misconduct and makes it difficult for victims. By exposing these secret settlements and by discontinuing using tax dollars to pay for member misconduct, this bill will reduce the incentive for bad behavior and bring more accountability to Congress.”
Earlier this month, Fitzpatrick also called for an ethics investigation into the use of funds from Congress’ Office of Compliance to settle sexual harassment claims. The push comes after reports publicized the little-known department used nearly $18 million of public money over some 20 years to compensate victims.
“It’s unbelievable — and unacceptable — that elected officials have been using taxpayer dollars to cover up sexual harassment suits for years,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “As if the American people needed another example of politicians playing by a different set of rules, this is an affront to the hardworking taxpayers forced to foot the bill for these heinous actions.”
The STOP Act has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. The Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act will be considered by the House Committee on House Administration.