Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, a Democrat from Michigan’s 14th district, says she would have “promptly investigated” any complaints of sexual harassment in her office – but she never received any.
On Tuesday, Politico published anonymous allegations from three of Lawrence’s former staff members. The women say they repeatedly told Lawrence that her chief of staff, Dwayne Duron Marshall, was harassing female staffers: giving them back rubs, complimenting their legs, getting angry if they didn’t wear makeup or heels, and even following one former staffer to her car one night.
“It is unfortunate that I am just learning of these allegations by unidentified former employees for the first time,” Lawrence said in a statement released by her office. “My office will nonetheless take all necessary steps to root out and address inappropriate behavior…The Chief of Staff has been placed on administrative leave pending results of the investigation.”
The accusations come just a couple weeks after Lawrence championed the issue of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, even introducing a bill to require all congressional offices get training on the topic.
“You have to set a tone, you have to establish this benchmark of zero tolerance,” Lawrence told ABC News recently. “So this is the first step of setting the tone of zero tolerance for sexual harassment. There are some people who actually believe that what I’m doing is ok. What this training does is say it’s not ok, that if you feel like you’ve been sexually harassed, you do have a process to go through.”
But Lawrence’s former staffers told Politico the congresswoman brushed off their complaints about her chief of staff's behavior.
“She’s complicit because she knows,” said one of the three ex-staffers who said she spoke with Lawrence about Marshall. “She knows he makes comments. She knows he rubs the backs and rubs the shoulders…She’d say, ‘I know there are some problems, but he has his good points too,’ and ‘[the good] outweighs the bad.’”
Lawrence didn’t give a straight answer when Politico reporter Rachael Bade asked if Lawrence ever received any kind of complaints about Marshall.
“You were clear that this article is about sexual harassment. I have never had a conversation with any employee about feeling sexually harassed in my office. And I’m not going to go off into another area if you’re calling me about something else.”
In her statement today, Lawrence says she’s asking Congress for assistance and “outside independent management resources to investigate and assess the current environment in my office.”
Marshall, for his part, vehemently denied any sexual harassment in a comment to Politico.