Powerful Democratic lawmaker John Conyers, the longest-serving US congressman, settled a wrongful dismissal complaint after a former staffer said she was sacked because she would “not succumb to (his) sexual advances,” BuzzFeed News reported.
The 88-year-old representative from Detroit, a prominent civil rights activist, said Tuesday that he “expressly and vehemently denied the allegations,” but would cooperate if the US House of Representatives decides to probe the matter further.
Conyers is the latest public figure to be accused of sexual harassment in an ever-widening scandal following the downfall of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein last month.
In addition to the 2015 settlement worth just over $27,000, BuzzFeed said it had also obtained notarized affidavits from other staff members accusing Conyers of making repeated sexual advances, caressing their hands and rubbing their legs and backs in public.
The employee who was fired said on one occasion, the congressman asked her to work from his hotel room and began talking about his sexual desire, urging her to touch his penis.
Conyers did not admit liability as part of his settlement, which came about as part of a process that BuzzFeed described as secretive and designed to make victims feel they had no choice but to accept what was on offer.
Two other staffers meanwhile alleged in their 2014 testimony that Conyers used congressional resources to fly in women they believed he was having affairs with.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Republican, described the report as “extremely troubling,” adding that a process was underway to reform the way Congress deals with such cases.
Conyers is the most senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee and would be in line to head it if his party gains a majority in next year’s elections.
US politics has recently been hit by several sexual misconduct scandals — Democratic Senator Al Franken stands accused of groping by two women and could face an ethics committee, while Republican senate candidate Roy Moore is reported to have preyed on teenage girls when he was in his thirties.
Last week two female lawmakers from the House of Representatives said they knew of two male colleagues who engaged in harassment on the Hill.
And on Monday, Democratic congresswoman Diana DeGette told MSNBC that former representative Bob Filner attempted to pin her against the wall of an elevator and kiss her several years ago.