Hopeful for glowing letters of recommendation, references, and job offers, federal interns work hard to make their unpaid hours worthwhile, so what does an intern do when a new superior abuses the power imbalances at play and takes advantage of her?
In September of 2015, the House of Representatives had a hearing during which Environmental Protection Agency EEO officers testified about an agency investigation regarding sexual harassment. The investigation was triggered by a complaint from a twenty-four-year-old female intern. EPA EEO specialist Ronald Harris testified that over a dozen more women came forward. The investigation revealed that, for at least a decade, Paul Berman, a sixty-two-year-old EPA scientist, made inappropriate, unwanted sexual advances at interns. His acts ranged from petting and groping to kissing them.
This testimony led Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to write the Federal Intern Protection Act. Prior to the passage of this act, federal interns had no meaningful recourse for experiences like this. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protect employees from sexual harassment and discrimination. Interns were only protected if they received “signification remuneration.”
On January 15, 2019, Representative Cummings’ bill passed. He said, “One of my highest priorities as Chairman is to protect the right of every federal employee, every federal job applicant – and indeed of every citizen – to equality of opportunity.” Ranking Member Cummings added, “While the clear majority of federal workplaces are in compliance with the standards for a model Equal Employment Opportunity program promulgated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sadly, some still are not. It is part time for these failures to be corrected.” Now, all federal workers are protected from sexual harassment and discrimination, chairmen and interns alike.