Doing the People's Business? Sexual Harassment Is Everywhere

By: Amy Epstein Gluck

Everyone, I have one thing to say: I. Can’t. Even. I can’t even with this stuff! You can’t make it up!

On Monday, in a closed door meeting, the night before the new Congress was sworn in, the House Republicans voted to eliminate the only independent ethics oversight of their actions, especially any unlawful or unethical conduct. They approved a measure that would put the Office of Congressional Ethics — a six-person board of private citizens — under the control of the House Ethics Committee, which is made up of sitting members of the House of Representatives.

Now, as we know, Congress backpedaled on abolishing the Office of Congressional Ethics, which is great. We need more ethics in Washington, D.C.—definitely not less.

But get this: according to an informative article in The Cut, one of the main proponents of this change was Texas representative Blake Farenthold.  According to the article, a former staffer accused him of sexual harassment in 2014, alleging he made comments about having “wet dreams” and sexual fantasies about her with the knowledge that she’d hear about his remarks. The article goes on to say “'[O]n one specific occasion, Farenthold told Greene that she had something on her skirt and that he hoped his comment wouldn’t be taken for sexual harassment,’ the complaint read. ‘A reasonable person would infer that Farenthold was joking that she had semen on her skirt.'”

That’s bad, I know, but wait, there’s more; of course there’s more!

The lawsuit wasn’t the first time Farenthold had come under fire for his behavior; in 2010 his political opponent seized on a photo of the representative posing in pajamas next to a woman in lingerie. And just before the lawsuit was filed, it was discovered that he’d registered the domain name when he owned a computer consulting business in the ’90s.

Gross. Seriously gross. You can link to the photo (above), but when people talk about Washington, D.C. as a swamp that needs to be drained, I’m betting they think of someone resembling this guy. What is it about power that makes men (in this case) think they can treat a woman they work with however they want?

I surely don’t know, but as I wrote about here, our state capitols have become hotbeds of sexual harassment. Hopefully, Farenthold’s alleged behavior is not representative of the new Congress and that the Office of Congressional Ethics monitors and investigates any allegations of sexual harassment in the future.

Comments like these are not “just a joke.” Indeed, he, as well as all employers and supervisors, should take note that sexually charged comments—verbally, by text, or on any one of the innumerable social media apps like WhatsApp or SnapChat—made by an employee or supervisor to another employee, which includes state capitols and Congress, may subject an employer to liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if it rises to the level of sexual harassment and/or gender discrimination.

Congress, I’m sure that the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are watching. I know we are.

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Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.