House unrest over harassment
House Speaker Robert DeLeo has vowed to make all things right in his chamber when it comes to the burgeoning issue of workplace sexual harassment. But when it came time yesterday for what was expected to be orderly adoption of new rules to strengthen protections against harassment, Diana DiZoglio and Angelo Scaccia broke with the script and declared that things have been very wrong in DeLeo’s House.
DiZoglio, a Democratic state rep from Methuen who was at the center of a gossipy 2011 incident while working as a State House aide, rose during yesterday’s session to charge that DeLeo’s office got her to sign a nondisclosure agreement that prevented her from discussing the harassment she was subjected to in the wake of the episode.
“These silencing tactics have no place in this House. They cover up misdeeds by politicians and others and they empower perpetrators to move from one victim to the next,” she declared in her sharp rebuke to the powerful House leader.
A 2012 House investigation concluded that there had been no inappropriate conduct between DiZoglio and state Rep. Mark Cusack, with whom she was seen entering the empty House chamber during a late-night party in the Speaker’s office. But DiZoglio says she was subjected to gossip and rumors after the incident. She told Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham earlier this week that she was propositioned because of it and that there was widespread chatter about her sex life.
As for the nondisclosure agreement that was part of the severance deal, DeLeo says there have been 33 such pacts with House employees during his reign and that none of the cases involved sexual harassment. The new rules adopted Thursday by the House free anyone who signed a nondisclosure agreement since 2010 to discuss their case.
DiZoglio wasn’t the only one to challenge DeLeo yesterday. Scaccia, the longest-serving member of the House, ripped DeLeo for silencing House employees who leave with severance deals and said none of the three previous Speakers used nondisclosure agreements. He said Attorney General Maura Healey should look into the issue.
“Mr. Speaker, you’ve been getting away for too long in this House with the sound of silence,” Scaccia said, riffing off the famed Simon and Garfunkel song.
He also taunted DeLeo for not showing up on the House floor to hear the debate. “Mr. Speaker, where are you? Come out. Come out of your office and chair,” he said.
Tension was thick in the House chamber as DiZoglio and Scaccia spoke. The sexual harassment issue has become a lightning rod issue nationally, and the charge that DeLeo’s office played a role in silencing a young woman alleging harassment is a serious one.
But the stunned reaction to the reps may have had as much to do with the fact that two Democrats dared to challenge the speaker on an issue as it did with the subject of their ire.
“Debate in the House usually amounts to little more than political theater to introduce the results of backroom deals. The debate over new sexual harassment reporting and investigation rules, however, seems to have gotten out of DeLeo’s typically firm control and blew up in his face,” writes WGBH’s Mike Deehan.
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