Rep. Brenda Lawrence’s chief of staff resigns

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence announced Thursday that she has accepted the resignation of her chief of staff following allegations that he sexually harassed several former office staffers.

“I will move forward with an investigation focused on the current and future climate of our workplace environment,” Lawrence said in a statement.

“No employee should ever be made to feel intimidated, harassed or otherwise discriminated against in their place of work. Every employee should feel free to present their concerns with the expectation that those concerns will be quickly and directly addressed and resolved.”

Last week, Lawrence placed chief of staff Dwayne Duron Marshall on administrative leave Nov. 7 while she investigated allegations that he sexually harassed multiple former staff members.

Marshall has not been in the office or functioning as chief of staff since then, Lawrence spokeswoman Nicole Julius said. His last day in the office was Nov. 6.

In his resignation letter, the 54-year-old Marshall said he also “retired” on Monday and intends to enter the private sector.

“Working with Mrs. Lawrence in her Congressional Office has been a highlight in my career that spans nearly three decades,” he wrote in the letter.

“... My future endeavors will continue in a new opportunity in the private sector. I thank Congresswoman Lawrence for the opportunity to serve her office.”

The resignation comes at a time of mounting sexual harassment scandals involving public figures from Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein to Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota.

Franken on Thursday called for an ethics investigation of his own behavior after a woman accused him of kissing and groping her without her consent during a USO tour in 2006.

In recent weeks, several female members of Congress have pushed to overhaul the protocol for handling harassment complaints on Capitol Hill.

Lawrence herself introduced a bill last month to mandate that congressional offices enroll employees in anti-harassment training.

The Southfield Democrat put Marshall on leave last week after POLITICO published allegations that Lawrence had kept him on the payroll despite complaints by female staffers about his behavior.

After the report, Lawrence said she would have fired anyone engaged in sexually harassing behavior in her office had she been notified. She claimed that “none of the concerns brought to my attention involved allegations of sexual harassment.”

Marshall notified Lawrence of his resignation earlier this week, Julius said.

Lawrence said she has initiated an “assessment” of the workplace environments in her Southfield and Washington, D.C., offices.

“Validating an environment of zero tolerance for harassment of any kind is a high priority of mine. Moreover, creating an environment of open communication and awareness of rights and resources are critical components of a secure workplace,” she said.

“It is my goal to establish a clearly defined communication process as it relates to employee concerns. Through this workplace assessment, I intend to establish an office environment that would be a model for offices on Capitol Hill.”

Three former female aides told POLITICO they personally brought complaints to Lawrence about Marshall inappropriately touching them or commenting on their appearances.

The anonymous aides told POLITICO that they did not use the words “sexual harassment” in their complaints to Lawrence, but they did raise concerns about Marshall’s alleged actions.

The aides reported that Lawrence was well aware of Marshall’s conduct in the office, and two said they told Lawrence that Marshall’s behavior was the reason they were quitting.

A source with knowledge of Marshall’s behavior told The Detroit News last week that Lawrence has had a difficult time retaining employees because of Marshall. The source wished to remain unnamed for fear of retaliation.

Lawrence’s bill, introduced last month, would require congressional staffers to take an online course on sexual harassment.

The former Southfield mayor, who had a 30-year career in the U.S. Postal Service, was certified by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as a harassment complaint investigator.

There is no requirement for sexual harassment training in the House of Representatives, though staffers must undergo training for ethics and cybersecurity.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said this week the House will implement a policy of mandating anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and their staffers.

Ryan’s announcement followed a Monday hearing in which Reps. Jackie Speier, D-California, and Barbara Comstock, R-Virginia, testified about male members of Congress who engaged in sexual harassment, including one who exposed himself to a female aide who delivered materials to his home.

They did not identify the members.

Speier has introduced legislation mandating annual anti-harassment training for members of Congress and their staffers. She also is pushing to overhaul the complaint process on Capitol Hill, boost transparency and improve support for victims and whistleblowers.

Speier has said victims currently must wait nearly 90 days after an incident before filing a complaint.

They must first go through up to 30 days of “counseling” on workplace rights and the administrative procedures with the congressional Office of Compliance.

To continue pursuing the matter, the victim is required to sign a nondisclosure agreement before undergoing “mediation” for another 30 days, Speier testified. The alleged harasser is provided with free legal counsel.

Victims must then wait out a 30-day “cooling-off period” before they may file a formal complaint.

“Now, 90 days have elapsed and that employee is still required to work in that legislative office, or else they’re not eligible for services through the OOC,” Speier said at the hearing.

“Interns and fellows don’t even have this process to access. They have nowhere to go.”

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