Another former staff member to Michigan Rep. John Conyers alleged that she endured persistent sexual harassment by the congressman, according to court documents.
A former scheduler in the Conyers' office attempted to file a sealed lawsuit against him this February in the US District Court for the District of Columbia that alleges she suffered unwanted touching by the Democrat “repeatedly and daily.” She abandoned the lawsuit the next month, after the court denied her motion to seal the complaint.
The woman was not involved in the 2015 sexual harassment and wrongful dismissal complaint that Conyers settled in 2015, which was revealed Monday by BuzzFeed News, and is now under investigation by the House Ethics Committee.
The lawsuit centered on behavior that took place later, from 2015 to 2016, but involves similar allegations. The woman said that shortly after she started to work for Conyers he began to make sexual advances in the form of inappropriate comments and touching.
“These behaviors and actions were so common and pervasive that they created a hostile work environment,” she alleged.
Unlike the settlement agreement at the center of a BuzzFeed News investigation released Monday, these court filings are public documents. BuzzFeed News was not able to reach the woman for comment. We are redacting her name to protect her privacy.
Asked for comment on the court filings Tuesday, a Conyers spokesman said: “[The former staffer] voluntarily decided to drop her case.” The congressman “vehemently” denied the previously reported allegations.
In the court documents filed earlier this year, the former staffer said she had a “fatherly affection” for Conyers, as well as “extreme admiration and respect for his legislative work as a Civil Rights icon.” It was because of this that “Plaintiff was extremely uncomfortable addressing this inappropriate behavior with Defendant Conyers nor did Plaintiff wish to embarrass or disparage Defendant Conyers by sharing her concerns with other members of the office staff."
She also cited his “age and failing mental capacities” in the suit, saying she was hired, in part, to keep track of his “whereabouts,” call to wake him up every morning, and deliver his medication, including on weekends. She said she asked a male staffer she’d earlier dated to be her “fake boyfriend” and make regular stops by the office in the hopes of halting Conyers’ advances.
But the former staffer says the advances only grew more frequent over time, and from May to July of 2016 she was exposed to daily harassment by Conyers that included “rubbing on her shoulders, kissing her forehead, covering and attempting to hold her hand” as well as on some occasions urging her to come to his home.
She says in court documents that the harassment caused her to suffer “insomnia, anxiety, depression and chest pains.”
Compounding her stress, the former staffer alleges in the complaint, was that Conyers’ wife Monica Conyers referred to her as a “whore” and accused her of wanting to have an affair with her husband. The former staffer described the situation as a “time bomb waiting to happen.”
She said she eventually became so unwell that she tried to go on sick leave in 2016. Her court filings outline a series of events wherein documents were stolen from her flash drive by a coworker and shared with her superiors. When her boss, Conyers’ chief of staff Raymond Plowden — who is also listed as a defendant in the former staffer’s suit — demanded medical documents to justify her sick leave, she said she chose not to provide them due to the “atmosphere of mistrust.” Her position was then terminated.
The woman also listed Yolonda Lipsey, Conyers’ district director, in the lawsuit as well, accusing both Lipsey and Plowden of retaliating against her for reporting Conyers’ behavior.
The former staffer filed a motion this February to file a lawsuit that would be sealed from the public, saying she did not wish to “irreparably harm” Conyers. In March, her application for a seal was rejected. That month she sought to withdraw her lawsuit with prejudice, which would not allow her to re-file the suit in the future.
She had been seeking $39,000 in lost wages and damages, $15,000 for mental anguish and emotional distress, and $50,000 in punitive damages because Conyers was “a habitual, repeated offender.”
BuzzFeed News was unable to reach Monica Conyers for comment. Lipsey and Plowden did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The court documents come to light after revelations that Conyers settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 that alleged years of sexual harassment. BuzzFeed News obtained documents related to the case in which another former employee alleged she was fired because she would not “succumb to [Conyers’] sexual advances.”
BuzzFeed News has also withheld that woman’s name at her request because she said she fears retribution and the documents were not public.
The documents included allegations that Conyers repeatedly made sexual advances on female staffers. They alleged he made requests for sex acts, had staffers contact and transport women whom they believed Conyers was having affairs with, caressing staffers' hands sexually, and rubbed women's legs and backs in public. Other allegations included flying women in using congressional resources and asking staffers to stay in his hotel room with him.
The staffer in the center of that case was “rehire[d]” as a “temporary employee” but instructed not to go to the office or do any work. The congressman did not admit fault in the settlement, and on Tuesday in a statement he continued to deny the allegations, but confirmed the settlement had occurred.
“In this case, I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so. My office resolved the allegations — with an express denial of liability — in order to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation. That should not be lost in the narrative. The resolution was not for millions of dollars, but rather for an amount that equated to a reasonable severance payment,” said Conyers’ statement.
Several Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have called for an investigation.
Earlier Tuesday, Conyers reportedly denied the allegations and told the Associated Press he knew nothing about claims made about inappropriate touching. He told the AP he had learned of the story just hours earlier (BuzzFeed News contacted his office multiple times on Monday before publication). In a later statement, Conyers' office said he "was under the impression the [AP] reporter was speaking of recent allegations of which he was unaware of and denied.”
Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Paul McLeod at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lissandra Villa is a politics reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
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