Sexual harassment and the clarence thomas hearings
The sexual harassment allegations filed by Professor Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas and the proceeding Senate Judiciary Hearing thrust the issue of sexual harassment into the political arena, the workplace, and every day life.
Sexual harassment is a very broad term and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. The National Organization of Women (NOW) defines sexual harassment as "any repeated or unwarranted verbal or physical advance, sexually explicit derogatory statement, or sexually discriminating acts made by someone in the workplace which is offensive or objectionable to the recipient or which interferes with the recipients job performance." (Redress for Success, page 74) Before 1972, there was no penalty for sexual harassment of women at the workplace. Not until, that is, the Education Amendments of 1972 were enacted. Title IX of the Education Amendments states that "sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination and is illegal." (What is Sexual Harassment?, page 20) After the Education Amendments were enacted, women began to see that the law was on their side and that it was designed to protect them. Women now saw that
Verbal harassment or abuse
Subtle pressure for sex
Unnecessary patting or pinching
Constant brushing against another employee's body
Demands for sex accompanied by threats of termination
Demands for sex in return for preferential treatment
qualified as components of sexual harassment.(Redress for Success, page 75) Soon after that women began to realize that they could be sexually harassed by anybody, such as by employers, supervisors, co-workers, customers, or even by subordinate employees.(Redress for Success, page 74) With this new understanding that they deserved equal treatment as their male counterparts, women began to hold men responsible for their actions and use the laws to their advantage. The sexual harassment allegations made by Anita Hill in 1991 were not the first and were by far not the most controversial. May cases and hearings prior to the Clarence Thomas Hearing set the stage for the out break of hysteria in 1991.
Back as far as 1975, women began to realize that men could not act as they did and still stay within the perimeters of the law. The case of Monge v. Beebe Rubber Company brought the issue of sexual discrimination out into the open in late 1974. The circumstances were that Monge had been fired after her supervisor demanded sex favors that Monge chose not to give. Monge was subsequently fired and she sued for her job back. Previously similar cases had been thrown out of court for lack of evidence (most sexual harassment cases are her word versus his). Also, before 1972 (the Education Amendments), there was no legislation to back women up in their quest for social and economic equality. The Supreme Court ruled that Beebe Rubber Company was unlawful in firing Monge and she was awarded her job back. This sensational ruling set the stage for an outburst of cases of similar circumstances. To further substantiate the newly formed definition of sexual harassment, the ruling in the case Algermarle Paper Co. v. Moody stated that sexual harassment is only illegal if
Sex is a condition of employment
Submission or rejection to sexual suggestions affects decisions concerning the individual
When sexual advances hinder job performance or create an intimidating environment
Based on these definitions, in the case Corne v. Bausch and Lomb, Inc. in 1975 the Supreme Court ruled that if a supervisor sexually harasses a subordinate employee, causing that individual to quit her job, that does not constitute sexual discrimination; he was merely satisfying a personal urge. Along the same line, the case Halpert v. Wetheim stated that the use of coarse language that was not directed at the plaintiff did not constitute sexual harassment. This ruling was reinforced in the Neeley v. American Fidelity Assurance Co, which specified that a supervisors conduct (telling dirty jokes, putting his hands on the employees shoulders) is an action of personal standing, not sexual harassment.
In 1977, however, those rulings was overturned and Corne and Halpert were compensated for their losses. The case that overturned those rulings was Barnes v. Costle, which ruled that if a woman was fired due to refusing to submit to sexual advances, that that was in violation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 and the employer who fired her in liable for his acts. Further advances in equality were achieved in the Marentette v. Michigan Host, Inc. decision, which stated that requiring provocative dress as a term for employment violates Title VII of the Education Acts of 1972.
The greatest preliminary scandal involving sexual discrimination and harassment which ultimately led to the hysteria of the Thomas hearing was the Tailhook Scandal. At the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, on September 7th, 1991, Paula Coughlin, including a dozen other women, was man- handled, groped, squeezed and abused at a Naval Officer party after the annual Tailhook Convention for Naval Officers. The government tried to cover up the incident, but that was unsuccessful. Finally, women were fed up with dealing with unexcusable sexual misconduct. In the end, one admiral had been reduced in rank, and two others were censured for failing to intervene and stop the harassment. This seemingly unsuccessful event for social equality was in fact a turning point. It broke the seal of the sexual harassment issue for all the nation to see. The Los Angeles Times, in 1992, said that the Tailhook Scandal was "a chilling message to women."(Rights and Respect; What You Need to Know About Gender Bias and Sexual Harassment, page 35)
Clarence Thomas and Sexual Harassment Allegations
In October of 1991, one month after the Tailhook Scandal, Professor Anita Hill testified before a Senate Judiciary Committee regarding sexual harassment charges made against Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas. Note, this was not a suit or trial. It was simply a Senate Committee assembled to find out if Clarence Thomas was indeed fit to serve on the Supreme Court. There were no official charges of sexual harassment filed against Judge Thomas, but none were needed. This hearing thrust the sexual harassment issue into the open. The allegations were that Thomas had sexually harassed Anita Hill while both worked for the federal office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) during the 1980's.
The Senate Committee tore into Anita Hill throughout the entire hearing. They questioned why she had waited so long to come into the open with the allegations, or why she chose that specific point in time to make the allegations. Anita Hill brought many other women with her to prove that Thomas was not simply "satisfying a personal urge." All of her attempts to sway the Committee failed. Hill was destroyed by harsh interrogation by both the Committee and by Thomas himself. The ruthlessness by which she was attacked for every allegation by Thomas was astounding. The public, too, was astonished. The overall opinion of the nation was that Thomas had not sexually harassed Hill and that she was making most of it up for her own reasons. Black men especially rallied for Thomas. They saw that the principal of having a black Supreme Court Justice was more important than standing up for the rights of women. Nearly all women agreed with Hill in that Thomas had broken a law and that he should be held accountable for his actions.
Professional criticisms were slightly different. Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, noted that the Hill-Thomas hearings "prompted a sea change. . . in the societal and corporate understanding of sexual harassment and the laws in place to stop it." ("Rights and Respect, page 29) People, for the first time, began to realize that sexual harassment happened on all levels, to all people, and that it was wrong and had to be stopped. An ad in the New York Times stated that "Clarence Thomas outrageously manipulated the legacy of lynching in order to shelter himself from Anita Hill's allegations."(Rights and Respect, page 31) This is in the utmost a correct statement. Thomas stated that Hill's allegations were a modern day lynching of the black man and that her only reason for bringing up the allegation were to better her own position. On the other hand, David Brock, a guest writer for the American Spectator, stated that "Anita Hill is a bit nutty and a bit slutty."(Rights and Respect, page 32) This points out the utter hatred for Hill. Brock, a white male, represented the general opinions of that group almost to the tee. Marcia Greenberger fully represented the women's point of view.
The Senate Judiciary Committee's vote to confirm Judge Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court was 52 to 48, the closest vote to confirm a Supreme Court nomination in history.
The Impact of the Hill-Thomas Hearing
The nation, along with Congress, was evenly split across the sexual harassment issue. The reason that this hearing, and not the Tailhook Scandal, thrust the sexual harassment issue into the national spotlight was because judges were supposed to be fair and just, not sexual dominators. If the allegations of sexual misconduct had been confirmed by the Committee, it would have created a great turmoil within the government. The public would trust no government official, even those chosen to lead the nation.
The hearing drastically changed traditional gender role expectations. Men, according to Help Yourself; A Guide for Dealing With Sexual Harassment, page 19, must be "competitive, aggressive, the initiator of social and sexual interactions, responsible, have all the answers, fearless, emotionally stable, secure, strong, self-assured, financially successful, and sexually experienced." After the hearing, along with quickly changing attitudes towards gender role expectation, men saw their roles differently. Being the initiator of social and sexual interactions, being strong and sexually experienced and self-assured could land them in jail. This forced men to stop and think if the woman wanted his sexual advances to continue or not. A new respect for women came with this realization of right and wrong. Women were no longer thought of as "good moms and homemakers, polite, pretty, neat, smelling nice, sensitive and intuitive, supportive of 'her' man, needless, quiet, happy, passive, coy, dependant, and feminine." (Help Yourself, page 19) Women were finally beginning to be seen as equals, deserving equal treatment.
Even with the realization of right and wrong actions concerning man to women interactions, sexual harassment continue
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