There’s a she-said, she-said playing out on Capitol Hill, with three female former aides to Rep. Brenda Lawrence telling Politico that they complained about the Michigan Democrat’s male chief of staff and nothing was done.
As sex abuse and harassment allegations against powerful men like producer Harvey Weinstein and journalist Mark Halperin came out, Lawrence has preached a ‘zero tolerance’ sexual harassment policy, and introduced legislation that would require Congressional staffers to take a sexual harassment training course.
But ex-staffers suggest she hasn’t practiced what she’s preaching, as she allowed Chief of Staff Dwayne Duron Marshall to remain employed, despite complaints by one staffer about ‘inappropriate’ comments and physical contact.
Each of the women interviewed by Politico, whose names were withheld to avoid retribution, said they felt they had made it clear to the congresswoman that women in the office were uncomfortable around Marshall and he treated women differently than men.
Two women expressed to the congresswoman that Marshall was the reason they left their jobs, with one noting the physical contact.
The three aides said they didn’t specifically use the term ‘sexual harassment’ when waging complaints against Marshall, but said Lawrence, a former harassment complaint investigator for the federal government, should have seen red flags.
‘She’s complicit because she knows,’ one of the staffers told Politico. ‘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 bad.”‘
In an interview with Politico Lawrence denied that any current or former staffer had complained about sexual harassment though said certain ‘management-style issues’ had been responded to with ‘individual personnel actions.’
Lawrence didn’t cite the individuals involved.
‘I want to be very clear, very firm, that I had no knowledge of any allegations of sexual harassment in my office, and when I say non, I mean non,’ Lawrence told Politico.
I have had in dividual conversations with some of my employees when they had exit interviews. 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,’ she continued.
‘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,’ she said.
When Politico’s Rachael Bade asked the congresswoman if she’d received any complaints about Marshall’s behavior, in general, she demurred.
‘You were clear that this article is about sexual harassment,’ the Democrat responded. ‘I have never had a conversation with any employee about feeling sexually harassed in my office. And I’m not going to go off into another area if you’re calling me about something else.’
Politico’s sources painted Marshall as a man who graded women with his eyes, bragging about how some of his female staffers had made the Hill newspaper’s ’50 Most Beautiful’ list, while grabbing another female aide’s midriff to inform her she was getting chubby.
Marshall, the sources said, would talk openly to female staffers about their romantic relationships and his own, telling one woman that the man she was dating was beneath her and that they should meet to discuss it.
A former employee recalled that Marshall followed that aide to her car – and she was so uncomfortable that she asked other colleagues to walk her out after the incident occurred.
She quit the office after working there for just a few months.
One of Politico’s sources who said she, too, quit thanks to Marshall’s behavior recalled that he came up behind her and put his hand on her back, directly above her bottom.
Once she gave notice, Marshall acted out and tried to get her to stay, suggesting to the female aide that the job she ‘thinks’ she had taken elsewhere could go away.
‘He raised his voice and talked about how in Washington, D.C., you have to be careful,’ a staffer familiar with the incident told Politico.
The aide considered Marshall’s warning a threat and told the congresswoman about it.