A New York congresswoman is urging House Speaker Paul Ryan to release a woman from a confidentiality agreement she was forced to sign after accusing U.S. Rep. John Conyers of firing her because she rejected his sexual advances.
U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice sent a letter to Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, requesting the release. A Buzzfeed article detailed the woman's complaint against Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, and revealed that she was paid a $27,111.75 settlement.
It is one of 264 settlements paid by Congress over the last 20 years for sexual harassment and other workplace offenses, according to the Washington Post.
Other women have accused Conyers of harassment. But unlike the accuser who reached a settlement, the women are allowed to speak about Conyers' alleged conduct without fear of legal ramifications.
"Under the settlement, the complainant was forced into a non-disclosure agreement and has been unable to openly discuss the workplace harassment and abuse she was subjected to, while Rep. Conyers and his attorney, Arnold Reed, have been free to make their case to the public," Rice, D-Garden City, said.
In her letter, Rice noted that Reed has said Conyers will not release the former employee from the non-disclosure agreement. It's unclear, Rice added, whether the House Ethics Committee, the Office of Compliance or other entities have the authority to release the accuser from the agreement.
Rice urged Ryan to intervene and "right this wrong."
Congress hasn't been immune from a rash of sexual harassment allegations against men in powerful positions, whether they are Hollywood producers or corporate executives.
In addition to Conyers, U.S. Sen. Al Franken has been accused by Leeann Tweeden of forcibly kissing her while both were on a USO tour in 2006. Tweeden also posted a photo showing Franken groping her while she was sleeping.
At least three other women have accused Franken of groping them at various events, including the Minnesota State Fair.
Rice, a former Nassau County district attorney, has spoken out against both of her congressional colleagues. During an interview with CNN, she called on Conyers and Franken to resign.