Several women who worked for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign experienced “sexual harassment and demeaning treatment as well as pay disparity” problems, according to a new report in the New York Times. When these concerns were brought up to campaign superiors, they were sometimes dismissed, and in one case, laughed off, the women said.
Female campaign staffers have been telling their stories in recent weeks “in emails, online comments and private discussions,” the Times reports, and as many expect Sanders to launch a bid for the Democratic nomination in 2020, some say the toxic culture of his 2016 campaign could be a liability.
On CNN Wednesday, Sanders said he knew nothing of the allegations. “I was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case,” he told Anderson Cooper. But Sanders did admit that his campaign did not do “everything right, in terms of human resources.” He also apologized “to any woman who felt she was not treated appropriately.”
One of those woman is Giulianna Di Lauro, who worked as a Latino outreach strategist for Sanders. She told the Times of an uncomfortable day spent with a handsy campaign surrogate. When she reported the man’s behavior to a campaign higher-up, she was not taken seriously, she says:
When she reported the incident to Bill Velazquez, a manager on the Latino outreach team, he told her, “I bet you would have liked it if he were younger,” according to her account and another woman who witnessed the exchange. Then he laughed.
Jeff Weaver, who ran Sanders’s campaign in 2016, admitted to the Times that there were problems on his team. “Was it too male? Yes. Was it too white? Yes,” he said. “Would this be a priority to remedy on any future campaign? Definitely, and we share deeply in the urgency for all of us to make change.”
The Times report adds specificity to the concerns raised in a letter, first reported on by Politico, signed by former campaign staffers who want a meeting with Sanders to “discuss the issue of sexual violence and harassment on the 2016 campaign.” It also adds a new issue: pay disparity among the sexes.
[Samantha Davis], the former state director, said that she was originally paid about $2,400 a month as a senior staff member and saw in the campaign’s records that a younger man who was originally supposed to report to her made $5,000 a month. She said that she brought the issue to the campaign’s chief operating officer, who adjusted her salary to achieve parity.
“I helped at least a dozen women request raises so that they would be paid on par with their male peers,” Ms. Davis said.
Friends of Bernie Sanders, his campaign committee, told the Times that pay was based on job duties and experience, never “on any consideration of an individual’s gender or of any other personal characteristic.’’