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Conyers Denies He Settled Sexual Harassment Claims

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (2nd L) is joined by Representative John Conyers (D-MI) (L), Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) (2nd R) and Representative John Lewis (D-GA) (R) as they announce legislation to restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, struck down in 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 16, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan denied Tuesday that he has ever settled a sexual harassment allegation with a former member of his staff hours after a report to the contrary emerged.

Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee and the longest serving member of Congress, told the Associated Press that he only just learned of the allegations, and denied any wrongdoing.

The 88-year-old lawmaker allegedly reached a $27,000 settlement with an unnamed female former staffer, according to a Monday night BuzzFeed News report, which also included four affidavits signed by former staff members, who claim they witnessed Conyers touching female staffers inappropriately or requesting sexual favors.

The report indicates the settlement occurred in 2015 and included a confidentiality agreement that precluded the accuser from taking the allegations public. The monetary settlement was reportedly paid out of Conyers’s office budget rather than the congressional settlement fund typically utilized to compensate victims of workplace harassment.

The accuser filed a claim with the Office of Compliance in 2014 alleging that she was fired for rebuking Conyer’s advances. The anonymous former staffer claims on one occasion she was asked to work out of Conyers’s hotel room and once there she was told to “touch it,” in reference to Conyers’s penis, or find him a woman who would.

“Rep. Conyers strongly postulated that the performing of personal service or favors would be looked upon favorably and lead to salary increases or promotions,” the former employee said in the settlement documents obtained by BuzzFeed.

The revelation comes amid a bipartisan Congressional effort to reform the sexual harassment grievance process on Capitol Hill. The Office of Compliance has paid out $17 million to 264 claimants over the past two decades. Some unknown portion of the accusers filed grievances related to sexual misconduct, according to a recent Washington Post report.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called the allegations “deeply troubling” and noted that the lower chamber is working to change its sexual harassment policies.

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