News from Congress: On December 21, 2018, the President signed Pub.L. 115-397. Pub.L. 115-397 made major revisions to the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA), which governs discrimination claims for most legislative branch employees.
CAA changes in Pub.L. 115-397 include:
- Before Pub.L. 115-397, CAA claims went through mandatory counseling and mediation. Complainants then selected between an administrative hearing or federal district court. Under Section 101, complainants may now go to district court after filing the formal complaint, skipping counseling and mediation. The counseling process is replaced with informal processing and preliminary review procedures (discussed below). Special procedural election procedures apply to Architect of the Capitol, Capitol Police and Library of Congress employees.
- Section 102 replaces the initial counseling phase with a new preliminary review procedure. Special notification procedures apply to complaints directly against Members of Congress, which must be directed through a new secure communications system.
- Section 103 requires a hearing officer to review complaints for dismissal for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted. Dismissed claims can then only go to district court and cannot go to an administrative hearing.
- Section 104 makes previously-mandatory mediation optional, occurring only if both parties consent. The mediation period is now limited to 60 days.
- Sections 111-112 makes Members of Congress personally liable for money awards and settlement payments in certain cases. Section 112 mandates referral of Members of Congress and senior staff to Congressional ethics committees after certain awards and settlements.
- Section 113 makes telework and paid leaves of absence available to complainants while their complaint is pending.
- Section 114 clarifies that facts underlying CAA claims are not covered by the CAA confidentiality provisions.
- Section 115 requires reimbursement of the Treasury for awards or settlements by non-member offices.
- Section 201 requires public reporting of certain settlements and awards.
- Section 202 requires workplace climate surveys in covered offices every two years.
- Section 204 creates confidential advisors to assist complainants in initial complaint filing.
- Section 301 formally brings the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) into the CAA enforcement mechanism.
- Section 302 extends employment discrimination protections to unpaid legislative branch staff (including interns).
- Section 303 modifies procedural options to Library of Congress visitors with disability-related public access claims.
- Section 304 requires posting of notice of workplace rights in legislative branch workplaces.
- Section 305 extends CAA coverage to certain small legislative branch entities.
- Section 307 expands outreach and coverage efforts for legislative branch employees outside Washington, DC.
- Section 308 renames the Office of Compliance as the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.
If you are a legislative branch employee and wish to discuss a possible CAA claim, consider contacting Passman & Kaplan, P.C. to request an initial consultation.