Rep. Raúl Grijalva lashed out Tuesday at the newspaper that published details of a severance package his office paid to an employee who complained of frequent drunkenness and a hostile workplace.
"Last week, the Washington Times contacted me seeking comment on what it described as a sexual harassment claim that, in fact, had never been made," Grijalva said in a new statement. "Once the paper realized its original story was provably false, staff regrouped over the holidays and decided to run a misleading article trying to link me to sexual harassment complaints made against other people."
Grijalva did not deny the details of the severance package that the Washington Times reported. In 2015, an employee threatened to sue over Grijalva's frequent drunkenness and a hostile work environment, the Times report said.
After she made that threat, the report says, Grijalva's office stopped paying her in an effort to force a settlement, which eventually was reached. She received her salary for five more months -- a total of $48,395.
The complaint wasn't about sexual harassment, Grijalva noted in two written statements. The woman worked in Grijalva's Washington D.C. office.
The news comes amid a growing scandal about how members of Congress are able to use taxpayer money to quietly settle complaints against them. The uproar has been about payouts for sexual harassment paid out through salaries, which are less noticeable than a lump-sum settlement. The Office of Compliance has paid $17.2 million in settlements over the last 20 years, but not all were for sexual harassment, and not all were for problems in congressional offices, the Washington Post reported.
In his original statement, Grijalva noted that the Office of Compliance was not involved in the case of his ex-employee, who was not named in the Times story.
In the later statement he explained: “The fact is that an employee and I, working with the House Employment Counsel, mutually agreed on terms for a severance package, including an agreement that neither of us would talk about it publicly. The terms were consistent with House Ethics Committee guidance. The severance funds came out of my committee operating budget. Every step of the process was handled ethically and appropriately."
Grijalva went on to demand an apology from the Washington Times, but he did not specify any facts that were incorrect in the story.
Grijalva, 69, got his start in politics as a Tucson activist. He later was elected to the Tucson Unified School District board and the Pima County Board of Supervisors. In 2002, he was elected to Congress from the newly created third congressional district, which includes the western parts of the Tucson area and stretches west to Yuma and north to the western reaches of metro Phoenix.
Contact columnist Tim Steller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 520-807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter