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Herman Cain and Sexual Harassment

Comparison to Sexual Harassment of Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas Case is Unfortunate                                            

One of the women who accused Republican presidential contender Herman Cain of sexual harassment released a statement through her lawyer last Friday saying that she "stands by" her complaint, which was made "in good faith about a series of inappropriate behaviors and unwanted advances. There was "more than one incident" of harassment involving Cain and his client over the span of a couple of months in 1999, attorney Joel Bennett said.

Bennett said his client, married for 26 years, will not reveal her identity because "she and her husband see no value in revisiting this matter now or in discussing the matter any further publicly or privately." "In fact," he added, "it would be extremely painful for her to do so."

Bennett released the statement after reaching an agreement to do so with the National Restaurant Association, the organization headed by Cain during the time of the alleged harassment. The group has an agreement with the alleged victim that includes a series of confidentiality and non-disparagement provisions. However, the Association agreed to put aside the confidentiality agreement and let the accuser go public. The accuser decided not to do so and that makes me question her motives in making any statements about the incident right now. To bring up an accusation (no less 22 years in the past), create a national debate on a candidate’s character, and then stay silent does a disservice to the seriousness of the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. It is unfair to Cain. We need to know the details to judge whether Cain truly was guilty of sexual harassment. Whether you like him or not, it is not fair to Cain to have the allegations out there with the media frenzy and not be able to confront his accuser.

You probably recall the Congressional hearings on the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. Twenty years ago, Anita Hill was a rising star in federal government working as an attorney-adviser to Clarence Thomas. Hill was an attorney and worked for Thomas at the Department of Education. She made international headlines during the hearings when she accused her former boss of sexual harassment, leading to a landmark court case that brought the issue front and center.

Some believe the similarities are too obvious to go unnoticed: Clarence Thomas and Herman Cain, two accomplished, conservative black men, each accused of sexual harassment on the brink of national greatness. Now, the woman who accused Herman Cain has made the comparison explicit. "I don't want to be another Anita Hill," she said through her attorney, explaining her decision not to make a public statement.

Anita Hill's entire life changed after testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the sexual harassment she faced while working for now-Supreme Court Justice Thomas. She went from law professor to national icon overnight — and that was before everyone had Internet. She was defamed as a liar, and worse. She was also, rightly, hailed as a hero: the first woman to make this country acknowledge workplace sexual harassment as a real, serious scourge.

I think the accuser’s reference to Anita Hill does a disservice to what I believe were good intentions in coming forward. She wasn’t looking for fame and fortune. Hill felt a person who had sexually harassed his employee had no business being on the Supreme Court. Who can deny the rightness of her position?

Herman Cain has been his own worst enemy in this matter. He first denied anything had happened, and then attacked the media, his opponents and finally his accusers' credibility. What’s worse, he has tied his situation to that of Clarence Thomas, who when accused of past sexual harassment in his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings, attacked opponents for what he called a "high-tech lynching."

Cain sat for an interview last Thursday with Thomas' wife, Virginia, a conservative activist, and later pleaded his case to Fox News host Sean Hannity. Liberals, he said, "are trying to attack me to intimidate other black conservatives to not go public or to not think about looking at other ideas on the other side of the spectrum." I don’t believe this is the case and it does no good for Cain to “play the race card.” It certainly doesn’t help to bring together an already fractured country that has spawn occupy movements throughout the U.S.

The world of politics, especially at the Presidential level, is a rough and tumble place to be. We live in a society where talk media personalities play “gotcha politics” as do political operatives and “investigative journalists”. Reporters are out there every moment looking to dig up dirt on a politician with an opposite political agenda. Why do you think so many in the country decry the decline in civility in our society?

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 7, 2011

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