The Most Famous Sexual Harassment Case Before the #MeToo Era
Today, it is not unusual to see stories about sexual harassment or sexual misconduct on the front page of newspapers—or, perhaps more accurately, internet news feeds. This has not always been the case. For many years, sexual harassment was largely a taboo topic. Countless victims suffered in silence while the perpetrators and their employers were never held responsible for their actions.
While the modern-day discussion of sexual harassment was prompted, to a large extent, by the allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein and the resulting #MeToo movement, many historians suggest that specific allegations made almost 30 years ago were instrumental in creating awareness of sexual harassment for the first time in the United States.
Sex Talk on Television
In 1991, a former U.S. Department of Education staffer testified before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee regarding how she had been treated by her former boss. The woman’s name was Anita Hill, and her boss was a Supreme Court nominee and federal judge Clarence Thomas. Ms. Hill worked as attorney-adviser to Thomas when he was the Assistant Secretary of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights beginning in 1981. Thomas was named chairman of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1982, and Hill went with him as an assistant. She would leave that job in 1983.
Eight years later, Thomas—who had become a federal circuit court judge—was tapped by President George Bush to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Confirmation proceedings were held and completed without anything usual happening. Then, however, a report surfaced of an interview of Ms. Hill by the FBI in which she alleged improper behavior by Thomas. The confirmation hearings were reopened, and Hill testified during televised confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate.
According to Ms. Hill, Thomas asked her out on many occasions. After she declined, he reportedly continued to talk about sexual topics, including “women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes.” She also said that Thomas would describe “his own sexual prowess” and himself in graphic detail. Hill said that she had been afraid to come forward because—and even followed Thomas to his new position—because she was pursuing her dream job in the field of civil rights. She feared that she would lose everything.
A New Landscape for Discussion
Hill’s allegations caused a firestorm of controversy regarding the appointment of Thomas to the Supreme Court, but, in the end, Thomas was ultimately confirmed. He remains on the U.S. Supreme Court and is currently the court’s most senior member.
In the wake of the scandal, however, new laws were passed to help sexual harassment victims and formal complaints regarding such behavior skyrocketed. After seeing sexual harassment being discussed on television, the public slowly started becoming more comfortable talking about the issue instead of allowing it to continue unabated behind closed doors. While sexual harassment is still a problem in many American workplaces, we have come a long way, and victims have more options for recourse than ever before.
Call an Illinois Sexual Harassment Attorney
If you have been the victim of sexual harassment at work, you do not need to bear that burden alone. Contact an experienced workplace sexual harassment lawyer in DuPage County for help. Call 630-665-7300 to schedule a confidential consultation with a compassionate member of the team at MKFM Law today.