1991: Biden Tried To Block Creation Of Senate Office Dealing With Sexual Harassment

In 1991, then-Senator Joe Biden helped campaign against the creation of the Office of Senate Fair Employment Practices, which receives sexual harassment complaints and was created as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Biden joined others in claiming that creating the office would be unconstitutional, as the Washington Free Beaconreports, but his efforts were unsuccessful.

Although Biden has presented himself as a champion of women’s rights, pointing to his co-sponsoring of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, in 1991 he joined then-Republican Senator Warren Rudman (N.H.) in his campaign against creating the Office of Senate Fair Employment Practices; the Beacon noted that Rudman “raised a point of order aimed at declaring the amendment unconstitutional and striking it from the Civil Rights Act.”

Before the office was created, members of Congress were exempt from workplace discrimination laws, but Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) proposed an amendment to the civil rights law to charter the office to offer “procedures to protect the right of Senate and other government employees … to be free from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability.”

The Beacon contacted the Biden campaign about Biden’s 1991 vote; the campaign admitted that Biden agreed with Rudman and “voted for a point of order on an amendment” that would have established the Office of Senate Fair Employment Practices.

In an October 1991 New York Times piece titled, “Senators Extend Anti-Bias Laws To Their Staffs,” Jean B. Dugan, the press secretary for North Dakota senator Quentin N. Burdick and chairwoman of the Capitol Hill Women’s Political Caucus, celebrated, “We are still being treated differently than other Americans but at least now there will be a better system in place and some outside recourse.”

The Beacon noted, “Because it passed by voice vote, Biden’s final position is unclear. He, along with others who opposed the creation of the Office of Fair Employment Practices—including Rudman, Cohen, and, Thurmond—voted in favor of the larger legislative package, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which passed the Senate by an overwhelming margin.”

The Beacon added, “Biden also voted against an amendment to the Civil Rights Act that would have allowed Senate staffers to sue for damages in a jury trial. The measure failed 54-42.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 stated that it “Allows compensatory and punitive damages for intentional employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability, except when: (1) the practice is unlawful because of its disparate impact; (2) the complaining party may recover under provisions of Federal law relating to equal rights under the law; or (3) the covered entity, in a disability discrimination case, demonstrates good faith efforts to make a reasonable accommodation that would provide an equally effective opportunity and would not cause an undue hardship on the operation of the business. Allows such punitive damages under these provisions where: (1) the respondent is not a government, governmental agency, or political subdivision; and (2) there is malice or reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of an aggrieved individual.

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