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THE HERMAN CAIN TRAIN WRECK: WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?

By now, Herman Cain’s epic rise and fall is old news but I always think that it’s useful to ask after one of these political pageants:  what have we learned?

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As I keep lamenting in this space, I’m amazed that we’re still dealing with the subject of sexual harassment.  I wrote my first book on the subject in 1993:  Sexual Harassment:  A Reference Handbook and I sometimes feel as if I’ve personally trained the whole country on the subject.  Evidently Cain, however, missed that memo.unknown

What can we glean from his travails?  Three things:

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Sex One More Time? Really? Really?

arnold So we just survived another sexual misadventure by powerful men: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Strauss-Kahn led the brigade with allegations of messing with the help. Arnold–with a ten year employee with whom he admittedly fathered a son and –Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a powerful head of the International Monetary Fund with a maid at his high end New York hotel.

What I haven’t seen much discussion in the press on this issue is a recognition of the basic fact that both of these situations occurred at WORK! This is a place where you’re supposed to be safe from sexual advances and able to focus on well…work.

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Anita Hill Again?

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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas, called Anita Hill over a recent weekend to ask her to apologize for her sexual harassment claim against her husband twenty years ago.

Talk about holding a grudge.

“Good morning Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas,” the message said. “I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”

Posted in Discrimination, Harassment, Worker rights on October 26, 2010

Archive for the ‘Worker rights’ Category

Shirley Sherrod, Sensitivity, Race and Wait Up! Before You Fire Someone

shirley-sherrod1The airwaves and blogosphere have been buzzing the past week, of course, over the firing of Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod. Just in case you missed the debacle, her boss, Agriculture Secretary Tom Valsack, fired her (or ordered her to immediately type her resignation over her BlackBerry, depending on whom you believe) over a speech she made this year to the NAACP. In a two-minute clip that went viral on conservative blogs and Fox News, Sherrod, an African American whose father was murdered as part of a hate crime, implied that she wasn’t inclined to help white farmers who needed her help.

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Are You Stuck in FOMO? Read this!

fomoHey everybody! Turn off your computers and think for a change. (Okay, after you’ve read this post.) I’ve written about this before but the problem is only getting worse so I feel the need to beret you again.

All of our interconnectivity has lead social scientists to coin a new symptom: FOMO, or “fear of missing out.” For those of you who are wired 18 hours a day–with cell phones, email and Facebook connected directly to your veins–you may be damaging not only your personal relationships but also your brain.

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Hating to Speak? What’s Protected in the Workplace

coulter-ann-cp-81713941 Public opinion surveys consistently show that the #1 fear of most people — greater than drowning — is the fear of public speaking. Obviously, Ann Coulter has no such fear. While I hate to write about her for fear of giving her more publicity than I think she deserves, I have to mention the recent Ottawa debacle. It’s not that I don’t want to give credit to credible conservative commentators’, I do. George Will, for example, is both reasoned and readable — two things that Coulter is not.

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Does Your Workplace Feel Like Life in the Sandbox?

tea-party-picWhy can’t we all grow up? That’s the thought that comes to me while watching the kvetching, screaming and tantrum throwing that’s surrounded the health care vote. For some time, both sides have been like four year-olds, squabbling over buckets and rakes in the sandbox. My disgust turned to horror this week when the brawl turned truly ugly by the degenerating into racial slurs and escalating into violence. Unfortunately, I see the same kind of escalation in the workplace.

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Sex, Sex and More Sex: The David Letterman Saga

ap_letterman_091006_mn Did we really need one more celebrity sex scandal? Like it or not, that’s what we’re getting with the latest revelation from Letterman. Blackmailed for sleeping with staffers over the years, Letterman refused to cave and decided to go public with his announcement about the whole sordid thing. He turned the shakedown into brilliant late night theater and grabbed the last laugh.

Or did he? Some pundits have said “who cares,” arguing that he was single at the time and these women were consenting adults. But what’s been lost in the whole milieu is that these were all staffers who worked directly under Letterman’s supervision and control!

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Sonia Sotomayor and Does Diversity Matter?

sotomayor Many words have been written about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s 2001 assertion in a speech, later published as a law review article, where she said: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” These rather innocuous comments have fueled a firestorm (never mind that Justice Alito made similar ones.)
While this all seems like a tempest in a teapot to me, one case where gender would have made a difference is the recent U.S. Supreme Court May 18, 2009, 7-2 decision that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (the “PDA”) should not apply retroactively. In AT&T vs. Hulteen the Supremes found that AT&T is permitted to pay lower pension benefits to female employees if they took maternity leave prior to the enactment of the PDA. Predictably, the lone woman Supreme Court Justice, Justice Ginsburg, dissented.
As I wrote in my book on Sexual Harassment, this decision had its roots in a 1976 decision. Prior to that time, those of us who practiced employment law assumed that only women could get pregnant. In G.E. vs. Gilbert, a woman was fired for being pregnant and sued, claiming sex discrimination. The case worked its way up to the Supreme Court. There, the Supremes – all of whom were male at the time – evidently knew something we did not, since they ruled, quite absurdly, that pregnancy discrimination by employers “was not a gender-based discrimination at all.”
Congress fired back a scathing response to the Supremes by passing the PDA scolding, essentially, “Yo Supremes! Only women can get pregnant.”
So we thought we had that straightened out until last month with the AT&T case. (In her dissent, the current lone woman on the Court, Justice Ginsburg wisely suggested overruling Gilbert so it “can generate no more mischief.”) It is hard to imagine any woman who has ever been pregnant, or has contemplated being pregnant, finding that pregnancy discrimination is not sex discrimination.
While I agree with Sotomayor’s critics that, of course, you don’t want one’s background to lead to race based decisions, you do want, above all else, a judge with wisdom. Wisdom comes from study, yes, but more often from life experience. A diverse and yes, “rich” as Sotomayor tagged it, experience is critical for wisdom.
Coco Channel captured an enduring truth in one sentence: “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” Louis D. Brandeis, the first Jewish Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court, also captured the importance of uniqueness when he said, “America has believed that in differentiation, not in uniformity, lies the path of progress. It acted on this belief; it has advanced human happiness, and it has prospered.” As we teach in our diversity courses if differences make us a better nation, a more relevant organization a more innovative and successful company, we’re going to have to learn to cope with differences while also putting them go good use. I’m proud of the diversity of my own team.
Most of the American public argees. A new Associated Press – GfK Poll suggested that Americans have a more positive view of Sotomayer than they did of any of former President George W. Bush’s nominee’s to the high court. Half backed her confirmation. In the same poll, 63 percent supported affirmative action for women while fewer, 56 percent favor affirmative action for racial or ethnic minorities. Surprising, the poll did not define affirmative action, a critical error since, as I wrote in my book on Affirmative Action most people are confused about the legal definition of this term.
Is Sotomayor different? Yes. Does that difference matter? Yes. We do need a court that reflects the richness of American diversity at least enough to understand that only women can get pregnant.

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Elizabeth Edwards’ Trail of Tears and What about John?

rielle-hunter-and-childIn the rush to beat up on Elizabeth Edwards over her book tour this week, for publicly exposing her pain over John’s infidelity, the allegedly, resulting baby (who she insists, strangely, on calling ‘it”) and her reaction to the betrayal, we seem to have forgotten an important point in this saga: The other woman, Rielle Hunter, worked for John.

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