On the ‘Hush Fund Elimination Act” and an age discrimination lawsuit against Duncan

While  co-sponsoring the “Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act” and enthusiastically supporting its provisions dealing with sexual harassment, the Nashville Post reports that U.S. Reps. Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn are vague on whether it should apply to settlements of other legal claims – such as a payment settling an age discrimination lawsuit brought by one of Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan’s staffers.

The article is mostly focused on the age discrimination case brought by dismissed Duncan assistant Shirley R. Taylor, who filed a lawsuit in 2009 that was settled in 2011 with a payment to Taylor, apparently from the fund targeted in the currently legislation. Excerpt:

Although the legislation would require the (federal Office of Compliance)  to “make available to the public on the Office’s public website a report on all payments made with public funds prior to the date of the enactment of this Act for awards and settlements” relating to all claims of discrimination — racial, religious, sexual, age-based, disability-based, etc., meaning Duncan’s payout amount would become public — the rest of the wording only pertains specifically to sexual harassment and assault in the Congressional workplace.

The law would prevent any funds being paid out to settle sexual harassment claims, but not other discrimination claims, like Taylor’s. The law would require perpetrators of sexual harassment to repay the settlement amounts, with interest, but not perpetrators of other types of harassment, like the kind Taylor alleged she experienced. Non-disclosure agreements would be prohibited from being a condition to settle a sexual harassment claim, but not prohibited as a condition to settle any other types of claims.

Democratic legislator (Jim) Cooper (also a cosponsor) said this is a flaw in the legislation, and that across the board, discrimination is discrimination.

“Secret payments and taxpayer-funded settlements should never be permitted,” Cooper commented. “Members and staff should disclose details of any such settlements and payments made in the past, and taxpayers should be reimbursed with interest.”

But the Republican co-sponsors from Tennessee are equivocating as to whether Duncan should be held accountable in the same way they want to hold sexual harassers accountable.

“My focus has been … bringing transparency to the sexual assault and sexual harassment settlements reached for members of Congress who used taxpayer dollars to resolve those types of cases,” Blackburn said. “While I do not know the details of Representative Duncan’s case, it seems to fall into a different category than my focus.”

Black’s spokeswoman Heather Douglass was even more vague.

“Without seeing all the details of this settlement, it’s difficult to make a determination one way or another. Rep. Black believes that every workplace should be free of harassment and discrimination and should be a place of safety for every employee,” Douglass emailed.

When it was pointed out that the whole reason there are no details of the settlement is the same policy Black wants to change in regards to sexual harassment, Douglass did not respond.

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