In the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal last month, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) brought forward much-needed legislation aimed at curbing sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. But according to some of Lawrence’s former aides, she hasn’t done enough to fight it in her own office.
In a report published early Tuesday morning, Politico spoke to three former staffers who claim that Lawrence’s chief of staff, Dwayne Duron Marshall, repeatedly harassed his female co-workers. All three staffers who spoke to Politico are women, and all three say they spoke to Lawrence about what they say was Marshall’s inappropriate behavior.
Each believed they made it clear to Lawrence that women in the office did not feel comfortable around Marshall or that he treated women differently than men. Two said they told her Marshall was the reason they were leaving her office. And one said she specifically cited “inappropriate” comments and physical contact.
Lawrence told the online outlet that no one in her office had ever raised sexual harassment complaints against any of her staffers. While the former aides said that they never used the phrase “sexual harassment” in their discussions with Lawrence, they said they provided enough detail that should have caused the Democratic lawmaker alarm.
“She’s complicit because she knows,” said one of the three ex-staffers who said she spoke with Lawrence about Marshall. “She knows he makes comments. She knows he rubs the back and rubs the shoulders. … She’d say, ‘I know there are some problems, but he has his good points too,’ and ‘[the good] outweighs the other stuff.’”
Speaking over the phone, Lawrence told Politico that she had no knowledge of any sexual harassment allegations in her office.
“I have had individual conversations with some of my employees when they had exit interviews,” Lawrence said. “I’ve had one-on-ones, and we have discussed things in the office that they felt we could do better. I have implemented training and other positive forms of correction. ... But I have not, and I want to be very clear, have not ever, had an employee—former or present—talk to me about sexual harassment in my office.”
The accusations against Marshall are myriad. Former aides say that Marshall strictly policed female staffers’ appearances, complimenting young women on their beauty and telling them what a shame it was that they were single but making “snide remarks” when he felt they weren’t up to par. Staffers also claimed that Marshall said he wouldn’t hire certain women if they weren’t attractive enough.
Marshall, whom the congresswoman has now placed on leave, was also accused of unwanted touching—massaging and rubbing his female co-workers without their consent. Two former aides also told Politico that they saw the chief of staff grab a co-worker’s belly and tell her she was getting fat.
It got so bad, reports Politico, that several staffers left—with one specifically citing to Lawrence that her chief of staff’s behavior was one of the reasons she was leaving.
Lawrence was sympathetic and expressed concern about her female staffers’ discomfort, the aide told Politico. Still, according to the report, Lawrence didn’t take any known disciplinary measures against Marshall.
Read more at Politico.