NY-22 Minute: Tenney Defends Congressman Who Used Public Money to Settle Sexual Harassment Accusations By Luke Perry
Representative Claudia Tenney stated on Friday that she did not think that Congressman Blake Farenthold (TX-27) should resign over allegations of sexual harassment. $84,000 in public money was used to settle complaints leveled against Farenthold by his former Communications Director, Lauren Greene.
Ms. Greene accused Farenthold of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and creating a hostile workplace. A co-worker informed Greene that Farenthold had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her, and "she could where shirts that showed her nipples anytime." Greene also stated that Farenthold drank excessively and told her that he was estranged from his wife and “had not had sex with her in years.” The allegations against Farenthold derailed Greene’s career, who believes she was “blackballed” after five years of working on the Hill.
Since this story went public recently, Farenthold claimed he did nothing wrong, but would pay back the money. His was one of six workplace settlements paid for members of Congress with public money since 2013. The Office of House Employment Counsel, who facilitates investigations into employee complaints, “appears to serve House members and their office- not necessarily the employees- and makes no public accounting of its determinations or its expenditures.”
The Office of Congressional Ethics cleared Representative Farenthold of wrong doing in 2015, but the House Ethics Committee opened its own investigation earlier this month. The Ethics Committee has since announced it is expanding the investigation to examine whether Farenthold used government resources for campaign purposes and made false statements or omissions in testimony. Farenthold’s subsequent Communications Director, Elizabeth Peace, claimed Farenthold instructed her to perform campaign related activities with Congressional resources.
In defending Farenthold, Tenney warned against sexual harassment being used as a “weapon” by both parties. Tenney stated: “I think we have to be very careful. We could be going down a very dangerous road to make every furtive glance or everything become sexual harassment. What you’re doing is hurting the real victims of true sexual harassment — victims who have been oppressed and had sex used against them in the workplace.”
“I think Blake Farenthold is not an example of sexual harassment,” Tenney said. “From what I know he made some off-handed comments that were inappropriate, that were just boorish.” According to Tenney, sexual harassment is “a civil issue” that is “legally defined by statute” as “a prolonged attempt to use power and control to use sex against a person.”
Sexual harassment is legally considered a form of sexual discrimination prohibited in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964). This includes: “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment."
According to Dr. Daniel Tagliarina, Assistant Professor of Government and Pre-Law Advisor at Utica College, sexual harassment is often broken into two legal categories: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. "Quid pro quo sexual harassment tends to involve things like 'sleep with me and I'll promote you' or 'sleep with me or you're fired,' where the sex act is treated as a condition of employment." "Hostile work environment," Tagliarina stated, "usually involves repeated acts or comments that add up to creating an intolerable working environment. One statement or act does not usually rise to this level, but there is no magic number or severity that triggers this designation."
Tagliarina believes the reported claims against Farenthold "signal hostile working environment sexual harassment," as "the statements were targeted, degrading, and certainly sexual in nature." It is "easy to see the comments as conditions on working there," given the power dynamics, and they were "definitely offensive." Moreover, if Greene was fired because of her objections to Farenthold's remarks, as she alleges, this would also constitute sexual harassment, by suggesting her lack of acceptance of this work environment was the motivation for her termination.
Representative Tenney concluded that “we have good people who are being vilified maybe because they were at a party and acted inappropriately once or they made an off-hand remark. That doesn’t mean you should resign from your job and be stricken and people publicly chastised.”
Tenney previously stated the evidence was “overwhelming” against Representative John Conyers (D-MI), and called for him to step down or resign. Her recent comments resemble those she made last month regarding Roy Moore and while answering questions about her experiences with sexual harassment. "The thing that worries me the most is that there are a lot of terrible things happening but there are a lot of innocent people being accused." (3:00 mark)
On her experiences, Tenney said: “I don’t know too many women who haven’t been sexually harassed. I’ve been in that situation a number of times in many work situations." Tenney was grateful for her parents who encouraged her “don’t be a victim” and “rise above it, figure out your way out of these things.” Tenney explained: “I just dealt with the issues myself.” (4:51 mark)
Tenney believes “sexual harassment is a disease,” a “borderline personality disorder and they can’t stop themselves.” This is a serious issue, but Tenney urged being “very sensitive” that accusations of sexual harassment can be used as a “weapon.”
Representative Tenney referenced false sexual assault accusations this spring at a talk she gave at Colgate University. Regarding sexual violence, Tenney said: “I had almost none in my four years at Colgate. None. I mean a couple of false claims. One of my friends was falsely accused, but it was so rare. And we had the aggressive, paternalistic fraternity lifestyle with people drinking all the time at age 18 and I’m wondering what the phenomenon is.” Reacting to the “safe space” placard in the bookstore, Tenney said: “for my generation, I can’t relate to it, you know? Who hasn’t been oppressed though? Who hasn’t been bullied? … We need to be stronger and not get so sensitive."
This article was updated at 11:33pm, December 24, 2017.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.
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