Democrats move to increase protection from harassment and discrimination

HARRISBURG, Oct. 2 – House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody and a bipartisan group of lawmakers are proposing a change to House rules to protect staff and legislators from sexual harassment and discrimination at the state Capitol and in legislative offices spread across Pennsylvania.

“Meeting people and working closely on projects is at the core of every lawmaker’s life and work, but that interpersonal contact must never put anyone at risk of discrimination or harassment,” Dermody said.

Dermody initiated discussion with Republican leadership more than two years ago on finding better ways to respond to workplace complaints involving members of the House.

That led to a draft proposal to update House rules to authorize the House Ethics Committee to investigate complaints of discrimination or harassment concerning House members and require additional anti-sexual harassment and discrimination training for all lawmakers in each new legislative term.

While Dermody hopes that Republican leadership will join him in supporting the change, he introduced House Resolution 1117 now to give all new and returning House members time to understand the proposal before the next session begins Jan. 1.

He noted that House Democrats went further in taking steps to protect staff people, revising the caucus’s employee handbook with stronger policies against workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

“We provided more detailed definitions and examples and are making sure that our supervisors know their responsibilities,” Dermody said. “All supervisory staff in the caucus received specialized training in June.

“I’m especially grateful for the insight provided by Representatives Jared Solomon, Patty Kim, Carol Hill-Evans, Dan Frankel, Dan Miller, Brian Sims and Chris Rabb,” he said.

“The House Democratic Caucus is making a genuine effort to improve the culture and real-world conditions in our workplaces and to make the House itself more accountable and responsive to public concerns,” Dermody said.

Dermody’s measure is a resolution, not a bill, because it only addresses internal procedures covered by the House’s rules. Earlier this year, Democratic lawmakers introduced a number of substantive bills to raise awareness of and prevent harassment, discrimination and retaliation in all work settings.

The Republican chairman of the Labor and Industry Committee refused to move any of the Democratic bills out of the committee and instead advanced two Republican resolutions to further study these problems.

“We don’t see a benefit in doing another study to confirm what everyone already knows,” Dermody said. “This plague of discrimination and harassment has victimized people in all kinds of jobs for too long. We ought to be more concerned with protecting victims right now by changing state law.

“Any politician who thinks that a few supportive words and a task force will do the trick is only fooling himself.”

Dermody said the House Democratic Caucus remains committed to providing all employees with a safe workplace free from discrimination or harassment of any kind.

“We will continue to take all complaints seriously and investigate them thoroughly,” he said. “We will continue to give the problems of sexual harassment and discrimination throughout Pennsylvania the attention they deserve. We invite Republicans in the House to join us.”