Bill: Sex harass protection

Employees of the federal courts—the judicial branch of our government—currently are inadequately protected from on-the-job sexual harassment. Advocates and their allies on Capitol Hill are joining in raising awareness, and pressing for passing reform legislation on the issue.


In the executive branch, federal employees have legal protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Supreme Court and related decisions since the 1990s that have defined and honed those protections. Yet, for employees in the judicial branch of the federal government, a five-decades-old Supreme Court decision remains the sole and increasingly unworkable linchpin of sexual harassment protection available. Such workers were not and still are not covered employees under laws safeguarding rights in this area. 

The single Supreme Court case, Bivens vs. Six (1971), in part filled in for a lack of any specific statute to protect “third branch” feds, by affirming their right to redress under the more general “equal protection” clause offered by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Unfortunately, according to employee advocacy organizations, over time federal courts increasingly have diluted and even ignored this ruling, and legislative action is needed. 

In November, leaders with two of those reform organizations co-authored an editorial on Bloomberg news advising how to fix the problem, primarily by passing the Judicial Accountability Act, a bill pending in Congress offering these vulnerable employees the same protections enjoyed across the rest of government. Their argument built on previous essays, for instance one published by Roll Call shortly after the bill was introduced last summer.

The authors of the newer piece—Ally Coll of the Purple Campaign against sexual harassment and Dylan Hosmer-Quint of the judiciary reform group Fix the Court—note that “indifference” to sexual harassment is a pervasive problem, but only employees with our federal court system are stuck working without specific legal protections and sanctions aimed at bosses and co-workers who engage in it.

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