Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sexual Harassment and Herman Cain

It seems that sexual harassment, like beauty and obscenity, often lies in the eye of the beholder. I will elaborate on this.

20 years ago we had the spectacle of the Anita Hill allegations against Clarence Thomas. These allegations seemed to be specious, as illustrated by an attorney I knew who said, incredulously, that "He never even touched her." The allegations involved silly comments, the one most often repeated being when Thomas supposedly said that "somebody put a public hair in my Coke".

Hill obviously has an "eggshell personality", and is not suited for any high-powered job. The most intelligent thing I have heard on this whole fiasco is from the actress Angie Dickinson, who said that "Clarence Thomas has to be able to say to Anita Hill, 'Hey Anita, nice boobs', and Anita Hill has to be able to say 'You'll never know' and walk away."

A guy I knew in my later law practice years, who did some para-legal work for me, had been a bank officer, and near the end of his career was working for the FDIC in its role of taking over failed banks and trying to convert the assets to cash. He says he lost a quarter of a million dollars because of something he said while he and a group of his fellow employees were going out to lunch together. Walking behind some women ahead of him, he noticed one had a run in her stocking and told her that. He was accused of sexual harassment, had to go to sensitivity training, and lost bonuses and promotions he would otherwise have been in line for, and ultimately was forced to take early retirement.

And now we have Herman Cain. Hopefully we will find out more of what this man was accused of doing. His reactions to the whole mess have been hopelessly inept, and shows his incompetence to lead the country. But if it was, as he states, that he made a comment in an elevator about a woman's height, it seems similar to my friend's case.

Like I said initially, these examples show that it all comes down to the eye of the beholder in these kinds of situations. I am not, of course, referring to true sexual harassment, just to comments that some might construe as innocent, but others who are overly sensitive react to with uneasiness.

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