House Backs Protections for Federal Interns Against Harassment and Discrimination

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Interns at federal agencies would no longer fall into a loophole that denies them protections against sexual harassment in the workplace, under a bill approved by the House on Monday.

The Federal Intern Protection Act would amend Title V of the U.S. Code -- which governs the federal workforce -- to provide interns all the protections afforded to regular federal employees. The protections would include those given to federal workers under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Proponents of the bill noted that in the 1997 case O’Connor v. Davis, a court ruled that existing law did not cover a plaintiff asked to participate in an orgy, among other evidence of workplace harassment, because she was not an employee. The intern bill would also prevent discrimination based on age or disabilities.

“This is common-sense legislation that should have become law long ago,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and author of the bill. “Allowing this kind of behavior to go unchecked can have serious consequences on the lives and careers of young people interested in government service, and I am encouraged that the House passed our bill with unanimous support.”

The oversight panel held a hearing in July in which several whistleblowers at the Environmental Protection Agency spoke of an employee who repeatedly targeted women -- including interns -- at the agency. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, accused EPA management of harboring a “predator who was fed a steady diet of interns.”

Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., said everyone in the federal workforce, paid or otherwise, should be protected from harassment.

“It is unacceptable that interns working in the U.S. government continue to be denied the same safeguards that are provided to employees,” Meng said.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., plans to introduce companion legislation in the upper chamber. 

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