A former staffer was accused of sexual misconduct. Now this Los Angeles congressman is changing his office policy
Rep. Brad Sherman says he’s changing the way his office operates in response to sexual misconduct allegations against a former senior aide.
“I know we have a wave of concern now about sexual harassment, but sexual harassment has been both morally wrong and politically toxic for the last 20 years. So whether I’m motivated by my own sense of decency or my own sense of self-preservation, there’s no way I would tolerate anything,” Sherman said.
The former aide, Matt Dababneh, worked eight years for the Sherman Oaks congressman before being elected to the Assembly in 2013. No one reported Dababneh’s alleged behavior to him or other staff members, Sherman said. Nor did they go to the Office of Congressional Ethics, the little-known Capitol Hill office tasked with resolving sexual harassment complaints. Dababneh resigned last month.
Starting this month, senior staffers will ask junior staffers a list of questions every six months in order to determine whether staffers saw or experienced anything that made them uncomfortable.
“People are more comfortable talking to someone of their own gender, and so we’re having a senior female employee who’s going to be asking females, a senior male employee is going to be asking males, at least every six months, we may make it every three months,” Sherman said.
Each congressional office is allowed to set its own internal policies, and Sherman said his previous approach to combating sexual harassment was more passive. New staffers received a written copy of the office’s sexual harassment policy, which included details on how to report complaints, but not every staffer went through the voluntary sexual harassment training. The House recently voted to make such training mandatory for members and staff. There is also an effort underway to change the sexual misconduct reporting process for House staffers.
After a wave of sexual harassment allegations hit the political world last fall, reporters began looking into Dababneh’s behavior.
In December, Dababneh was accused by multiple women of misconduct, including of masturbating in front of a lobbyist while a member of the Assembly and making inappropriate comments about sex while working as Sherman’s district director.
Dababneh announced on Dec. 8 that he would resign from the Assembly. He has strongly denied the allegations against him.
Sherman said people should have the common sense to know what behavior isn’t acceptable in a work environment.
“You don’t need a course to tell you that the things that Matt Dababneh is accused of are just reprehensible,” Sherman said.
Sacramento lobbyist Samantha Corbin, organizer of the “We Said Enough” campaign that has pushed for harassment reforms at the state Capitol, said in a statement that her group would prefer Congress to install a uniform code of conduct and that Sherman’s new policy should be conducted by an impartial third party rather than senior staff.
“The approach of asking same-gendered senior staff to inquire from their own junior staff whether or not they’ve been victimized within the office lacks the independence that would invite candor and runs the risk of intimidating junior staffers [into] silence or fear of superiors in whose hands their careers lie,” she said.
A December article in The Sacramento Bee cited eight former staff members who said an environment in Sherman’s office that included frequent yelling made junior staffers feel complaints wouldn’t be taken seriously if they reported sexual harassment.
Sherman was voted second “meanest” House member in an anonymous survey by a Washington, D.C., magazine in 2012, and he has a high staff turnover rate. Sherman disputes the Bee’s characterization of his office but said he expects his staff to meet high standards.
“I am one of the more demanding bosses here on Capitol Hill,” he said.
Jessica Yas Barker, who worked as Dababneh’s subordinate in Sherman’s district office and has accused him of making inappropriate sexual comments, said she had no reason to believe Sherman was aware of Dababneh’s behavior. Barker said Dababneh’s comments about sexual conquests and women in the office were a major factor in her decision to leave the job, though she didn’t tell her superiors.
Sherman says he would have acted if he had known.
“I’m quite aware that everything Matt Dababneh is accused of makes him a political liability and if I had been aware of one inch of it there would not have been a reason for him to continue to be associated with me,” Sherman said.
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Read more about the 55 members of California’s delegation at latimes.com/politics
11:50 a.m.: This article was updated with comment from the “We Said Enough” campaign.
This article was originally published at 3 a.m.
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