The top Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources used taxpayer dollars to pay off a former staffer who threatened to sue, claiming the lawmaker was often drunk and created a hostile workplace.
Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva’s secret deal with a former female staffer was revealed by The Washington Times on Monday. The payout was negotiated by the House Employment Counsel, the body’s attorney, and cost taxpayers $48,395.
The settlement, however, may have violated House rules, The Times reported. It’s against House rules for a lawmaker to retain “an employee who does not perform duties for the offices of the employing authority commensurate with the compensation such employee receives.”
Grijalva’s payout also should have been handed over in a lump sum, not paid out in monthly installments, The Times reported. Taxpayers paid Grijalva’s disgruntled staffer five month’s severance. The female staffer left her job after just three months, and didn’t pursue the matter after leaving Grijalva’s employment.
“On the advice of House Employment Counsel, I provided a severance package to a former employee who resigned,” Grijalva told The Times in a statement.
“The severance did not involve the Office of Compliance and at no time was any allegation of sexual harassment made, and no sexual harassment occurred,” Grijalva said.
“Under the terms of the agreement, had there been an allegation of sexual harassment, the employee would have been free to report it,” he said. “Regrettably, for me to provide any further details on this matter would violate the agreement.”
News of Grijalva’s payout comes amid debate over the $17.2 million in taxpayer funds used to settle 264 complaints of sexual harassment and other issues in Congress. The settlements are kept secret.
Grijalva is only the latest lawmaker to come under fire for paying off staffers for workplace issues. Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers paid a former staffer more than $27,000 after allegedly firing her for spurning sexual advances.
Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken has been accused of sexual harassment by four women — two of them anonymous. Franken has apologized, though he has refused to resign from office.