Former Michigan Rep. Candice Miller, a Republican who chaired the committee that oversees the Office of Compliance for four years, says she consistently refused requests to settle sexual harassment claims — including one that appears to match the details of a complaint against Rep. John Conyers.
Conyers paid out more than $27,000 in 2015 to a female ex-employee who claimed she was repeatedly sexually harassed by the Michigan Democrat (Conyers has acknowledged the settlement, but denied the allegations). The payment appears to have been made by designating the woman as a “temporary employee” for three months, despite her being banned from the office, rather than through a treasury fund set up to handle cases like Conyers’. The Office of Compliance — where employees of Congress are able to lodge workplace complaints — is shrouded in secrecy and has refused thus far to answer further questions about the Conyers payment.
As chair of House Administration, Miller was in charge of signing off on settlements negotiated through the OOC. Miller said that although the name of the member involved in complaints she reviewed was kept hidden, she remembered rejecting a $27,000 payment around the time Conyers’ office made the settlement. The name of the complainant was also kept secret.
“I just wanted to make clear that somehow I did not approve this thing,” Miller told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday.
Miller was Administration Committee chair for four years and said she remembers three or four settlements for sexual harassment coming to her for approval. She said she “believe[s]” she rejected all of them.
“I was not going to be approving spending taxpayer dollars to protect members of Congress who were behaving like dogs. Let them pay for it out of their own darn pocket,” she said.
Congressional employees with complaints about members and other staffers must go through Congress’s Office of Compliance to handle their claims. If a settlement is reached, the OOC must send it to the chair and ranking member of the Administration Committee for approval. Names of both the accuser and the accused are not disclosed to the committee.
For this reason, Miller says she cannot say for sure which member was involved. In addition to the $27,000 settlement she remembers rejecting one that was a higher payout and one that was lower. She said in one case she ended up learning who was involved because the member’s chief of staff followed her chief of staff into a bathroom to try to lobby Miller to reverse her decision. (She declined to identify this member or the chief of staff.)
Conyers’ attorney Arnold Reed responded by emphasizing that Miller could not identify the member involved in the payment she rejected. “Her response is so vague she can’t pinpoint anything. I would love to comment on that, but I’m not able to comment on that because it’s too vague,” said Reed.
Reed said he could not say who approved the settlement outside of Conyers’ office.
“At this point I cannot really say who exactly it was approved by,” Reed said. “These things are run through the proper chains, the proper channels.”
Asked for comment, the Office of Compliance said they could not offer any information on rejected settlements due to federal law.
“The Congressional Accountability Act requires that the OOC maintain the confidentially [sic] of contacts and claims filed with the office that do not result in a final decision. The OOC cannot comment on whether matters have or have not been filed with the office,” Laura Cech, the Outreach and Publications manager, told BuzzFeed News by email.
Conyers, the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, has been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment, but he has denied the allegations. A BuzzFeed News investigation uncovered a 2015 settlement over a wrongful dismissal complaint where an employee alleged years of sexual harassment.
An attempted 2017 lawsuit by another former staffer alleged sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, and retaliation, but the staffer stopped pursuing the case after a judge denied her motion to seal it.
On Tuesday, the Detroit News reported Deanna Maher, a former Conyers staffer, also alleged the congressman had sexually harassed her. Maher was the first woman to go on the record to describe her experience.
A high-profile Washington lawyer, Melanie Sloan, also spoke on the record to the Washington Post last week and alleged mistreatment from Conyers.
Since BuzzFeed News’ initial report, the House Ethics Committee has launched an investigation into Conyers. The congressman stepped aside from his position as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee on Sunday.
In addition to his powerful posts, Conyers is a civil rights icon and a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.