Houston (FOX26) - The ongoing round-up of high profile sexual harassers continued this week with the termination and subsequent confession of NBC anchor Matt Lauer.The Lauer scandal was followed closely by a chorus of calls for the resignation of long serving Democratic Congressman John Conyers, who stands accused of serial abuse of staffers. The reckoning continued Friday with the revelation that Texas Republican House member Blake Farenthold used $84,000 tax payer money to settle a sexual harassment case lodged by his former communications director.
This week's panel: Bob Price - Associate Editor Breitbart Texas, Nyanza Moore - progressive commentator and Houston attorney, Tony Diaz- Chicano educator and activist, Marcus Davis - host of "Sunday Morning Live", Bill King - businessman, columnist and former Kemah Mayor, and Jessica Colon - Republican strategist.
WASHINGTON (AP) - The House Ethics Committee on Friday requested records detailing taxpayer-financed payments made over the years to settle claims of sexual harassment, discrimination and other prohibited behavior by members of Congress.
Such settlements go through Congress' obscure Office of Compliance, which has said it's paid more than $17 million over the last 20 years.
Congressional leaders are under pressure to respond to a national outcry against sexual harassment, with Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., the latest lawmakers facing allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior.
Rep. Susan Brooks, the Republican chairman of the House Ethics Committee, and Rep. Ted Deutch, the top Democrat on the committee, wrote to the Office of Compliance's executive director requesting that she "promptly" provide the committee with all records relating to alleged employment practices prohibited by statute and House rules.
The committee generally investigates after a referral is made about a particular lawmaker. The move Friday is unusual because of its pro-active nature. It comes after the House passed legislation earlier this week requiring annual anti-harassment training for lawmakers and aides.
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said an upcoming target for examination would be the secretive practice lawmakers have used to settle complaints. No information is publicly released and recipients must promise silence.
The lawmakers did not cite any individual lawmaker in their request for information. Nor did they make any restrictions in their request for how much time had lapsed since the settlement had occurred. About the only limitation in the record request is that the information pertains to current members of the House and their employees.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - When it comes to sexual harassment allegations, no employer wants to find itself in the position an Indiana university was in during the 1990s, when a woman complained to a senior administrator that the school's chancellor had groped her.
"Oh, no, not again," said the administrator at Indiana University's South Bend campus.
A jury awarded the woman $800,000.
Although a judge later slashed that to $50,000, the message was clear: Failing to address allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace can have expensive legal consequences for employers.
"You don't have to fire people necessarily, but doing nothing is usually not helpful," said Camille Hebert, an employment discrimination professor at the Ohio State law school.
Earlier this year, a former University of California, Santa Cruz student who alleges she was raped by a professor settled her claim against the university system for $1.15 million over what she says was its failure to address previous allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence by the faculty member.
It is with that reality in mind that companies are swiftly firing powerful men accused of misbehavior and taking a zero-tolerance attitude toward such wrongdoing. But whether a no-mercy approach is a good idea is a matter of debate.
While businesses are usually within their rights to swiftly fire employees accused of misconduct, as was done this week with former "Today" show host Matt Lauer and former "Prairie Home Companion" personality Garrison Keillor, such actions can also backfire, legal experts say. For example, they say, women who just want the harassment to stop and don't want to see anyone get fired might hesitate to come forward.
Philadelphia-based employment attorney Jon Segal said zero tolerance for harassment is important, but the consequences should be commensurate with the offense and should include steps short of firing, such as mandatory training, suspension or demotion.
"You don't want to send the message to people that if there is an allegation and it's found to be true, it's automatic termination," Segal said.
For employees who choose to sue, the timeframe can be short for raising the allegation: 300 days if employees want to sue in federal court. States often have more generous deadlines - six years in Ohio, for example - and fewer caps on financial damages.
Time limits don't mean lawsuits can't be brought over older complaints of harassment. For example, employees can argue that a recent incident within the 300-day limit allows them to revisit an older complaint outside that window.
Employers can also inadvertently breathe new life into old complaints by threatening employees with retaliation.
"That is very high on the list of dumb moves for employers to make," said Washington-based labor attorney Richard Seymour.
Last year, a federal appeals court agreed that an Illinois circuit board company retaliated against a woman who brought sexual harassment allegations by firing her. She was awarded $300,000, even though her actual harassment claims were dismissed.
Employers can also take actions they think are fixing a problem but often end up hurting them in court, such as transferring a woman who complained of harassment but not the man who harassed her.
As new allegations crop up daily, labor attorneys say they are already hearing of a troubling trend: men unwilling to interact with female co-workers for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.
Such behavior is a mistake since it contributes to a new form of discrimination by putting opportunities for women out of reach, experts say.
"The answer to no sexual harassment isn't polarizing the workforce into male versus female camps. That would be the very definition of sex discrimination," said Washington labor attorney Deborah Kelly.
But Hebert, the Ohio State law professor, is skeptical of men who say they're worried about getting accused.
"Most men understand the difference," she said. "I always say, 'If you'd feel uncomfortable with it happening to your daughter or your wife, maybe you shouldn't be doing it.'"