Upton: No harassment claims against him, staff

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Rep. Fred Upton wouldn’t answer this month when asked by a local newspaper whether his office has used public money to settle a complaint involving him or one of his employees.

When pressed by the Herald-Palladium as to why he wouldn’t respond, the 64-year-old Republican from St. Joseph said, “I don’t want to answer that.”

Upton, Michigan’s senior Republican in Congress, made the remarks during an interview with the Herald-Palladium’s editorial board that was published Jan. 13.

Upton’s office said Wednesday that neither he nor any aides have had any settlements related to sexual harassment.

“In more than 30 years in office, neither Fred, nor any staff member, has ever had any sexual harassment allegation, claim or settlement,” spokesman Tom Wilbur said in a statement provided to The Detroit News.

“There was one completely unrelated employee dispute that was satisfactorily resolved a number of years ago.”

That unrelated dispute was a non-sexual harassment allegation, according to the office. Wilbur would not provide further details.

Taxpayers paid more than $342,000 to settle workplace discrimination disputes at the offices of House lawmakers between 2008 and 2012, including eight settlements related to sexual harassment and/or sex discrimination accusations, according to data released last month by the House Office of Compliance.

Settlements through that office, which handles employee harassment and workplace complaints, are often confidential.

A bill under consideration in the House would require members to repay the U.S. Treasury for sexual harassment awards or settlements within 90 days. The legislation would not apply retroactively.

Upton’s office has previously said it has “strict, zero tolerance harassment policies,” and that the congressman and his staff have been through anti-harassment training.

Such training is now required by the U.S. House in the wake of misconduct allegations against members including former Rep. John Conyers Jr., the Detroit Democrat.

Conyers, 88, resigned in early December after nearly 53 years in Congress amid claims of sexual harassment from former female aides.

At least a half-dozen other lawmakers facing claims of sexually inappropriate behavior have resigned, retired or said they won’t seek reelection in recent months. Most recently, GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania declined to seek reelection following allegations made by a former staffer.

Upton was considering joining the race for U.S. Senate in Michigan until deciding against a run late last year. He has served in Congress since 1987 and chaired the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee through 2016.

Upton told the Herald-Palladium that he opted not to run for the Senate in part because the prospect of raising $250,000 a week to win was “daunting.”

“We came pretty close. I had a lot of encouragement from folks. But it came down to a number of different factors. It’s a big state. I didn’t go to Flint until two years ago,” Upton said.

“The idea you have to raise $250,000 a week was daunting. I’ve never lost an election, but this would have been an uphill battle. It’s a tough state. So the question was, do you want to give up a year of your life? The answer was no.”