Judge Wright's wrong reasoning on sexual harassment
IN HER DISMISSAL of the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit against Bill Clinton, Judge Susan Webber Wright seems to suggest that men might be able to get away with one free hit on the woman of their choice in the workplace.
Jones failed to prove she suffered any employment or economic reversals after her meeting with then-Gov. Bill Clinton, a meeting at which she alleged he exposed himself and asked her to perform oral sex. Judge Wright said even if the allegations were true, it did "not constitute severe or pervasive abusive conduct for purposes of establishing a hostile work environment claim." Furthermore, she said, Paula Jones "did not as a result of the alleged conduct suffer emotional distress so severe that no reasonable person could endure it" (emphasis mine). It appears the judge is applying a subjective test for severity.
If dropping one's pants and asking for oral sex from a subordinate is not considered severe, what is? As the husband of a working woman, the father of two daughters, the father-in-law to two women and the grandfather of two girls, I don't want a predatory male in their current or future workplaces thinking he can get away with exposing his genitals without suffering an appropriate legal penalty.
Judge Wright also wrote that an individual plaintiff may pursue a sexual harassment claim under the Fourteenth Amendment, "but such a claim must show an intent to harass because of her status as a female and not because of characteristics of her gender which are personal to her." What does this mean? What is the moral and legal distinction between a crude and boorish exposure of one's private parts to a female based on her "status as a female" and the same act based on "the characteristics of her gender which are personal to her." This sounds like the stuff of law-school debates, not real-life situations.
Judge Wright quoted the law which says: "(A) supervisor's mere threat or promise of job-related harm or benefits in exchange for sexual favors does not constitute quid pro quo harassment." It should. Is it only the woman who submits to such pressure who has legal recourse, or should the man who is guilty of the conduct be made to pay for it anyway, even if the woman rejects his advances?
It is true that some women have filed sexual harassment claims based on politics, greed, revenge and the most superficial of comments about their clothing or hair, so the law should be written in such a way that men would be protected from frivolous and unfounded lawsuits. After all, most women can turn off most men by expressing a desire not to be bothered. Modern women can flip the bird at men who so much as honk at them in traffic. Others may cool off men with a crude verbal remark. By the law should be invoked against those whose initial act (as alleged of Clinton by Jones) is so offensive that it constitutes sexual harassment in and of itself, or for repeated verbal abuse or unwelcome physical touching.
It defies logic that Judge Wright could say the alleged exposure by Bill Clinton "(does) not demonstrate conduct that was so severe or pervasive that it can be said to have altered the conditions of plaintiff's employment and created an abusive working environment." In order to have reached such a conclusion, the judge said Clinton would have had to have done it more than once. As for "severity," one might reasonably conclude that the alleged behavior by a sexually aroused governor for whom Paula Jones worked constituted a "severe" act.
But it's all over now, unless an appeal is filed. But it's not over
for some women in the workplace. Still, men had better be
careful. Judge Wright's ruling applies only to Bill Clinton, who
has paralleled skills in escaping dangerous
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3/31/98:Revenge of the children
3/29/98: The Clinton strategy: delay, deceive, deny, and destroy
3/26/98: Moralist Gary Hart
3/23/98: CNN's century of (liberal) women
3/17/98: Dandy Dan
3/15/98: An imposed 'settlement' settles nothing
3/13/98: David Brock's Turnabout