Ethics Panel Gives Rep. Bates Light Penalty in Sexual Harassment Case : Congress: Woman who brought charges against San Diego lawmaker is ‘disgusted.’
In its first decision involving sexual harassment, the House Ethics Committee on Wednesday rebuked Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego) for improper conduct toward two women on his office staff and warned him that future misconduct would bring stronger discipline.
The committee, acting in the first of four cases involving alleged sexual misbehavior by members of the House, imposed the lightest possible punishment on Bates for violation of House standards. Also, it directed him to send personal written apologies to the women who filed complaints against him.
Bates, 48, said he was pleased that the 12-member panel had issued its ruling after considering the case for one year, adding: “I accept the committee’s action and hope I can put this behind me.”
However, one of the women involved said that she was “disgusted” by the outcome, contending that the committee was too lenient and that the fourth-term lawmaker should have resigned his seat.
“I think it sends a very bad message to the women on (Capitol) Hill,” said Dorena Bertussi, one of the complainants, who now works for another member of the House. “It’s outrageous. I don’t think the committee did a thorough job at all.”
Bertussi said she is considering filing a lawsuit against Bates for his conduct toward her when she worked in his congressional office for six months in 1987.
“He took my leg between his in full view of the staff and did a bump and grind on my leg,” she said. “There were lots of comments on my breasts. I knew after working there for two weeks I would have to leave, but I stayed six months so I could get another job.”
The other complainant, Karen Dryden, no longer works on Capitol Hill and could not be reached for comment.
Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the panel, joined with Rep. John T. Myers (R-Ind.), its ranking GOP member, in writing the formal “letter of reproval.”
“Your improper conduct and concurrent violations of relevant standards deserve reproval,” they wrote, in what Myers termed a “very strong letter.” In addition to the sex harassment charges, the panel found that Bates had broken House rules by conducting impermissible campaign activity from his Washington office.
Dixon and Myers said that Bates’ expressions of regret for his actions and his adoption of a written office policy forbidding sexual harassment were factors weighed by the committee in deciding to mete out the least possible punishment.
“The committee recognizes and has taken into consideration not only your acknowledgment of errors, but also those steps you have taken to avoid any perception that you interact with staff in an untoward manner,” the letter said.
Bates said he had hired a consulting firm to develop sensitivity training for him and others in the office concerning attitudes toward women employees.
“Sexual harassment is defined as anything that’s offensive to another person,” Bates told a reporter. “By that standard, I’m guilty, regardless of whether I intended it that way or not . . . . I think I was insensitive in the past. Hopefully, this will be a learning experience that I can benefit from.”
Bates, who won his 1988 reelection race with 60% of the vote, despite the allegations of sexual misconduct and charges that he had assigned his staff to do political work on government time, originally blamed Republican opponents for bringing the charges.
When asked if the committee’s ruling would affect him at the polls, Bates replied: “I don’t know--I don’t think so.”
Other members of the House facing investigations by the Ethics Committee on charges of sexual misconduct are Donald E. (Buz) Lukens (R-Ohio), who has been convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old girl; Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who has admitted having sex with a male prostitute who later ran a sex-for-hire business out of Frank’s apartment, and Gus Savage (D-Ill.), who was accused of fondling a Peace Corps volunteer during a trip to Zaire.
The House established its Ethics Committee--officially the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct--in 1967 as it was punishing Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.), who had been indicted for tax evasion, sued for libel and charged with keeping his non-working wife on the payroll of his office. The committee enforces the House’s Code of Official Conduct, which was toughened in 1978 in the post-Watergate era. Unlike most committees, which are dominated by Democrats, the Ethics Committee’s 12 members are evenly divided between the parties.
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