Sexual Harassment and the Clarence Thomas Hearings

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Sexual Harassment

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.

Landmark Cases

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...
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