Michigan’s Democratic Rep. John Conyers settled a sexual harassment claim with a former employee in 2015 for more than $27,000, in a congressional system designed to keep these types of allegations secret, BuzzFeed News reported.

“It is a designed cover-up. You feel like they were betrayed by their government just for coming forward. It’s like being abused twice,” said Matthew Peterson, a law clerk who represented the woman, referring to Congress’ process of dealing with sexual misconduct complaints.

Former staff members accused Conyers, 88, of making repeated sexual advances on female staff, according to affidavits included in the complaint. The high-ranking, longest serving member of Congress allegedly requested sexual favors from the women, rubbed their legs in public, and transported other women to Washington with whom he was suspected of having affairs. The former staff member filed her complaint in 2014 with the congressional Office of Compliance. It accused Conyers of firing her because she declined his sexual advance. Once filed, her complaint entered a lengthy process that required a confidentiality agreement. Ultimately, Conyers’ office paid the settlement from his congressional budget, silence the woman.

The process made the former staffer feel “basically blackballed” and having no way to complain out of fear of  retribution, she said. Congressional workers have no human resources department to file grievances. The process gives them 180 days to report a sexual harassment incident to the Office of Compliance, which triggers a process that includes counseling and mediation, along with the confidentiality agreement. The government has paid more than $17 million over the last 20 years to resolve workplace complaints filed by congressional staff, including claims of sexual harassment and other violations.

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