By Susan Antilla
She doesn’t want to be another Anita Hill. Can you blame her?
But her silence, like that of many women with harassment complaints, is an obstruction to fixing a big workplace problem.
Since Sunday night, three unnamed women have been cited in press reports as claiming to have been sexually harassed by Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain. Two reportedly filed complaints at the National Restaurant Association, which Cain ran from 1996 to 1999. The Associated Press said that a third considered filing a complaint, but didn’t.
Cain says he didn’t harass anyone. I haven’t heard enough to conclude he did or didn't. But I’m not surprised that the lawyer for one accuser said Wednesday night that his client won’t go public because she “doesn’t want to become another Anita Hill.”
Hill put up with death threats and publication of a best-selling book that criticized her only to later be recanted by the author. She hasn’t had an easy 20 years since she testified in the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She went public only because she didn’t think her former boss had the respect for the law that the high court demanded.
Most women stay silent. Some complain to human resources and get paid to go away only if they promise never to speak. Some go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has resources to pursue only a fraction of the complaints it gets, and only names names if it files a lawsuit. Many companies won’t even hire you until you give up your right to sue in the event of a dispute, which ensures that accusations are kept out of public view.
Watch what happens if anyone does go public about Cain. The investigative spotlight will shine on the details of her every romantic liaison. That will be a teaching moment to even more women that it pays to zip your lip.
(Susan Antilla is a Bloomberg View columnist.)-0- Nov/03/2011 17:31 GMT