The first congressional staffer to win a sexual harassment case against a member of Congress says she is "speechless" at the cultural shift that has occurred since her 1989 case.
In remarks to the New York Post, the 65-year-old Dorena Bertussi said the complaint process was a "joke" when her settlement with then-boss, former Rep. Jim Bates, D-Calif., was settled with nothing more than a tepid apology. She told the Post that "I just laughed my way through it."
She returned to Congress last week for a hearing on rewriting sexual harassment laws on the same day Sens. Al Franken, D-Minn,, and Trent Franks, R-Ariz., announced they were stepping down over harassment allegations, the Post reported.
"I'm speechless," Bertussi told the Post, adding: "There's no comparison" between 1989 and now, and commented about a bipartisan effort to correct the problem, "I think these people are serious."
Bertussi went to Washington to work for Bates in 1987 and was shocked at his behavior, including a crude comment about her breasts and an incident in which she alleged he straddled her leg and humped it, the Post reported.
She reported the events in 1988 to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, a precursor to the Ethics Committee.
"It became an opportunity to stop it," Bertussi told the Post. "I didn't want him to escalate and hurt more people."
In October 1989, the committee's report upheld the sexual harassment claims by Bertussi and another staffer, Karen Dryden, and ordered Bates to apologize, the Post reported.
Bates denied the humping allegation but said he was sorry for "kidding and flirting with women on my staff," the Post reported. He lost his election in 1990.
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