Sexual Workplace Harassment and the Clarence Thomas Confirmation Proceedings – Has Anything Really Changed?

Those around in the 90’s can probably remember the Clarence Thomas confirmation proceedings almost as well as the OJ Simpson trial, as both were highly televised events.  Justice Thomas’ confirmation hearing was one of alleged scandal, and brought up uncomfortable issues of both race and sex.

A new HBO movie “Confirmation” seeks to revisit that contentious hearing. Wendell Pierce stars as Justice Clarence Thomas and Kerry Washington plays Anita Hill.  In sworn testimony, Hill reluctantly accused Thomas of sexual harassing her while she was a law clerk.

Why the Anita Hill Story?

The film’s director, Rick Famuyiwa, remembered the emotional conflict he experienced as a college student viewing the confirmation trial. The emotional conflict rose from “seeing two very credible black people on this stage on opposite sides of this important issue…and this panel of all-white, old men sitting in judgment of them.” Famuyiwa was inspired to make the film when twenty-five years after the trial he learned that many younger people were not familiar with Hill’s story.

Critics of the film believe that it portrays both Hill and Thomas in a humanizing light and does not take a side in the case. Somewhat surprisingly to those unfamiliar with the story, the movie’s villain is actually Joe Biden.  At the time, Biden was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and made it a point to quash Hill and her defenders.

The Female Hero

The film draws many striking parallels to a recent docudrama revisiting the OJ Simpson Trial. Most prolific is that both the show and the movie shed a positive light on women subjected to sexism and harsh criticism during the early 90’s. The People v. O.J. Simpson worked to help restore lead prosecutor Marcia Clark’s good name which was marred by the trial. In Confirmation, Hill is portrayed as a heroine.

Unlike Clark, Hill’s reputation was not as tarnished after her testimony, which brought increased awareness and discussion regarding the topic of sexual harassment. Because of her courage, more women than ever were elected to public office in 1992, official sexual harassment complaints doubled, and a workplace discrimination law was passed. It is important to remember the role that Anita Hill played in highlighting sexual harassment. As one commentator said, however, even Hill’s contributions do not “balance out with the very last shot of the movie: documentary footage of Justice Thomas in his robes.”

Our View

We believe that society in general has become much more enlightened to what constitutes wrongful sexual harassment in the workplace.  In past decades, prevailing views of sexual harassment were that it only occurred when egregious conduct occurred, such as inappropriate touching or worse.  Now, most managers and executives know that sexual harassment constitutes virtually any pattern of unwelcomed behavior, commentary, or treatment directed at a woman or a man based upon gender, as well as workplace conditions that are offensive based upon sexualized content or situations.

Additionally, since women now make up higher percentage of managers, executives, and CEOs, there is much less chance that sexual harassment will go unchecked at companies.  Finally, most companies have adopted policies prohibiting sexual harassment and discrimination, and virtually all large companies have programs in place to make sure all employees understand that sexual harassment and discrimination will not be permitted.

Nonetheless, there are still those who engage in sexual harassment at work.  Our firm is there to hold these sexual predators, and their employers, fully accountable for the sexual harassment that has taken place.  We take sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and all other wrongful employment practice cases seriously.  If you’ve been harassed, illegally discriminated against, or otherwise been subjected to wrongful workplace conduct, please call us to find out how we can help.