The True Significance of Herman Cain’s Sexual Harassment Troubles

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We can’t say much about the veracity of the sexual harassment complaints leveled against Herman Cain 15 years ago, given the lack of specific detail or even the names of the accusers. But this mini-scandal provides an opportunity to revisit one of the most pernicious examples of government intrusion into our lives and workplaces.

As with most bad laws, good intentions paved this road to Big Brother’s regulatory hell. No one should get away with sexual quid pro quos, sleazy innuendos, the abuse of power to gain sexual favors, or grubby groping in the mailroom. But sexual harassment these days is seldom about those obvious offenses. Consider the legal definition of harassment, which occurs when “unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment,” as the FCC Encyclopedia explains the law. You’ll notice that harassment is no longer about victimized women, but a whole host of “protected characteristics,” which include “race, color, religion, sex (whether or not of a sexual nature and including same-gender harassment and gender identity harassment), national origin, age (40 and over), disability (mental or physical), sexual orientation, or retaliation.”

We shouldn’t be surprised that enshrining into law notions as vague and subjective as “intimidating,” “hostile,” or “offensive,” and then applying them to such a broad group of potential victims, will end up with the government intruding into people’s lives at the expense of their rights and freedom. Such elastic terms will mean whatever anybody, no matter how hypersensitive, neurotic, stupid, humorless, or Machiavellian thinks they do at any given time. Additionally, such subjectivity ends up in grossly unfair applications of harassment law. Flirtation that is clumsy or unwelcome suddenly becomes criminal harassment depending on the undesirability or repulsiveness or status of the perpetrator. Clever banter or sophisticated sexual wit likewise changes into harassment depending on the mood of the victim and her changing feelings for the person.

The consequences of the ad hoc standards at the heart of sexual harassment law are most obvious in politics. Bill Clinton’s antics as governor and president were textbook sexual harassment behavior. Yet the feminists and progressives gave him a pass, instructing puritanical, repressed Americans that it was none of their business. What a change from the sputtering high dudgeon on display when Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court, or from the scrutiny Herman Cain is being subjected to based on anonymous accusers and vague charges about “inappropriate” behavior, even as the media barely mentions the numerous genuine sexual assaults and rapes going on at various Occupy Wall Street venues.

Yet it isn’t just in politics that sexual harassment charges are weapons to be used against one’s enemies. The same thing happens in mundane office disagreements or personality clashes. When I was the chairman of my department, I was considered “management” and so had to be involved with sexual harassment complaints. Every single one was the result of a factional squabble among faculty that had nothing to do with sexuality or even gender discrimination. Actual charges included such silliness as the offender’s wearing overpowering cologne, or failing to acknowledge something the complainant put in the offender’s mailbox. No matter how juvenile, such charges can be effective. Faced with an investigation, most people will start monitoring their behavior and restricting their speech just to be on the safe side, since employers anxious about liability will err on the side of caution: they will investigate all charges, no matter how flimsy, and buy off accusers, as Cain’s were, rather than face a potentially more expensive lawsuit and the intrusion of federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioners inquisitors into their business. It’s simply more cost effective to enable a “chilling effect” on an individual employee’s freedom than to take on a government bureaucracy backed by the coercive power of the courts.

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  • mrbean

    Sexual harrasment charges are often used as a way of causing harm to a man that a woman doesn't like and then settling out of court for a large sum of money – because many companies high legal fees vs a lower payoff above any truth.

  • mrbean

    Image if Mr Peter Puffer who works at your office is a closet homosexual, and solicits you and you reject him calling him a pervert and report him – then he turns around and accuses you of harrassing him because of his sexual orientation and he sues the company for big bucks because you created a hostile workplace for him. Who will win this one – say in Canada?

  • anonymous

    I have experienced sexual harassment charges in a big way at a university where I was working. One time a girl at work who liked me kissed me. A couple of days later I put my arm around her. She promptly went to the supervisor of my department and complained that I was sexually harassing her. After many years of other jobs I returned to that university only to find out that her friend, who I had nothing to do with, had tried to block my being rehired by complaining that I had sexually harassed her as well. A former girlfriend of mine who was a student at the University also accused me of sexual harassment. She went to my boss to complain and to the University police because she had gotten herself into trouble and I had told her parents to try and enlist their help in helping her.

    • anonymous

      One more thing, the University has become much tougher on sexual harrasment charges. I don't think today they would have rehired me. In fact while being an employee I and all people in managerial positions had to watch a video stating that if anyone comes to you complaining about being harassed you have to report it to you superior or you will become liable. These institutions are afraid they will have to pay large settlements to people who make harassment accusations and it's much cheaper for them to fire the accused employee than to keep him.

  • sandykramer

    Herman Cain is just the latest target of the Democratic dictum, aimed at any and all Conservative Black Republicans who strive to exit massah's political plantation: "You are presumed GUILTY unless proven innocent."

    • sedoanman

      When it comes to sexual harassment, a man is presumed guilty even if proven innocent. That's the intended way the law is suppose to work.

    • curious

      What are the previous democratic dictum that you have put together to allow you to come to this conclusion?

  • sandykramer

    Armstrong Williams has said:
    "(Y)ou can’t for a minute tell me Politico wouldn’t have run the story if it had been Romney, Perry, Paul or Bachmann. It has nothing to do with his skin color." When you can dig out something in print dealing contemporaneously with JFK's or FDR's peccadilloes, then I might give some creedence to your assertion.
    The fact is, indisputably, that Herman Cain is just one more target of the Democratic dictum applied to every conservative Black Republican: "You are guilty until proven innocent."

    • FriendofGaryCooper

      You're forgetting Bill Clinton's peccadilloes, aren't you? The media-at least the conservative media-went after Clinton. Herman Cain's troublles, such as they are, have
      nothing to do with the color of his skin.

      • Interested Party

        Everyone should have gone after William Jefferson Clinton. He was accused of rape. He was also impeached but would not leave. Even "if" Cain is guilty of sexual advances; why would the new accuser go to meet with Cain alone? To see if she could get another position? And why didn't she say something back then? The story would have looked like she was a disgrunltled employee. It looks too strange that she would pay her own way and room. I guess they could find out in hotel records if her suite was really upgraded by Cain. Credit card statements or Hotel Records. I bet they are kept.

  • Amused

    Oh deluded and dishonest Thornton sexual harrassment is sexual harrassment . If there was nothing there, there would be nothing here . This is got nothing to do with government intrusion . And as the simpleton above thinks , it's got nothing to do with Democratic dictums …that's just a load of partisan B.S.
    Former and present employees still at the NRA , who witnessed Cain's everyday behavior , have already stated that they knew this would inevitably come up , WHY ? Because they may have not witnessed the act for which the the settlement was issued over , but they witnessed the obvious . And to all the partisans out there , well "whats good for the goose ,is good for the gander " . Anyone running for public office , knows well that if there are skeletons in the closet , they will invariably be brought to the fore .

    • Steeloak

      And if there are no skeletons in the closet, some will be duly manufactured – at least if you are a Republican.

      Interesting now that the non-disclosure ban has been lifted, no one is coming forward with any further information. Funny how chatty “Anonymous” sources are, and how silent they are if they have to reveal themselves.

      Time will tell, but I suspect there never was any “there” there. This was a case of terminated employees using the “Sexual Harassment” scam to get revenge & shake down their former employer.
      Many women have already come forward who have known & worked with Herman Cain for many years. They have said publicly that he has never behaved in the way depicted.

    • Stephen_Brady

      Do you work? If you do, and you stand in the way of an ambitious woman … or simply a woman who wants$25k-50k cash … you will be charged with sexual harrassment. Take it to the bank …

      … that is, take your money to HER bank …

      • ronwagn

        The sexual misdeeds of Bill Clinton were far beyond anything that Herman Cain is accused of. They are well known. Paula Jones $850,000 settlement. Accusations of rape of an RN. Jennifer Flowers tapes and reports. Monica Lewinsky's BJs and the lies to congress. You are being dishonest to yourself and others. There are orders of magnitude of difference.

        • Amused

          yea and I can name atleast a dozen Republicans caught ,and forced t6o resign over the past several years .Clinton was no exception / As I said ANYONE running for public office is fair game for the scrutiny of the press .That's the way it is ….so dont cry foul when it involves "one of your party " ….but then again , all that goes down the ole'memory hole eh ? What a bunch of hypocrites ! The best way to avoid such things is to bring one's own behavior under control and maintain a mode of behavior that puts one above suspicion . A lesson lost on Cain AND Clinton , and all the others who wound up in scandals and yes , even after paying hush-money . And to the mysogomists , such violations of trust and squealing and blabbing about such matters includes men as well as women . Cain's toast . Move on .

        • Herman Caintonette

          We got a picture of the man from his other activities. And by the same token, we are starting to get a picture of Herman Cain, from a multitude of sources. Why is it that we shouldn't apply the same standard?

      • Herman Caintonette

        Don't take her out for drinks and dinner. Period.

    • guest

      the only deluded dupes are the politically correct and sexual harassment accusations crowd. granted that harassment does happen, but a reasonable definition needs to be used instead of the shockingly flimsy definitions currently in vogue allowing any person with some ill intention to potentially ruin the life of innocent others. and the legal system is scandalously stacked against the accused in such cases. it would not be unusual if any statistical study shows that perhaps 95 percent of harassment charges are either outright fake or the result of mental instability occassionally.

  • ClaireSolt

    To conduct these witch hunts in the press denies the accused due process. I well remember that they went on and on about Mark Foley even though he resigned immediately. Furthermore, no charges were ever filed against him, though the matter was referred to state and federal authorities.

  • Crossbow87

    I've noticed another aspect to this that is unfair as well. I have worked in two different female dominated workplaces (a small restaurant owned by a single woman and in an administrative position at a University hospital) and on more than one occasion the women would begin conversations about who they each thought was attractive; Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, etc. They did this in front of the few male employees and the conversation would then lead to implying who they would like to have sex with. One woman said she wanted to be with David Duchovny and Ewan McGregor at the same time. I never really wanted to join the conversation and could care less about people doing it around me but the fact is, if I uttered one word that was in any way similar to what my co-workers were saying, I would have been investigated for harassment. Apart from the intrusion into our personal conduct the article talks about, I believe it has helped shift some of our morals in the wrong direction. Women behaving badly is okay, men will loose jobs and have lawsuits filed against them if they do.

    • ronwagn

      I worked as an RN for twenty years and experienced a lot of sexual advances including being groped right at the door of the nurses station. I was not about to charge anyone with anything, as I had no witnesses, and I am a man. It would probably have marked me for future retaliations. My wife loves to watch the sexually charged blatant medical series on TV. Nobody complains about them. Women are just as guilty of sexual abuses as men, they are not charged with them because men aren't about to play that game. The laws are, in large part, a restriction of free speech and should be ruled unconstitutional.

  • Celestine

    Sexual harassment claim procedures are stacked against the accused. The normal burden of proof is reversed and the accused must prove that an alleged event did not happen. Any lawyer will tell you that proving a negative is virtually impossible. Most times the initial claim is brought before the EEOC or its state equivalent. These agencies essentially act as prosecutor and place enormous discovery burdens on the employer of the accused. Records for the entire workforce can and often are demanded going back a number of years. Finally, the threshold level for a guilty finding is not clear cut. Most often it is an entirely subjective thing, either in the mind of the claimant or the bureaucrat hearing the claim. This is why cost of defense settlements are so common in these claims. Harassment "law" runs counter to our legal traditions, and does the country more harm than good. There are perfectly good standard legal causes of action that can protect an agrieved worker from workplace harassment: contract, assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional harm, etc. As so often is the case with govenment the innovation is worse that the status quo.

  • Stephen_Brady

    "If a woman believes she has been harassed, she has been."

    This is what faculty and staff were told at the two days of sexual harassment "training", prior to the beginning of the Fall Semester, some years ago.

    My question, "So, this accusation has nothing to do with objective fact?"

    Her answer, "The woman's belief that she has been harassed IS objective fact."

    My statement, "Ah, the existential prosecution."

  • ronwagn

    I was taught in nursing school to not question the veracity of the patients pain. That it is subjective and not something that can be assessed objectively. That was purely politically correct misinformation. Any nurse or physician knows that prescription drug abuse is rampant. Many physicians get rich off of it, and many do not want to lose their patients. Our judicial system needs to be overhauled. Political correctness is a term started by Mao Tse Tung It needs to be gotten rid of. Freedom of Speech is far more important.

  • oldtimer

    If the persons who brought up these charges signed an agreement not to talk about this, and accepted money, what they are doing is basically lying because they said they would not talk about it. So how can you trust them, maybe they are being offered money again. They should have to pay back what they got.

  • Moshe Pupick

    M., 11/07/11 common era

    Nowadays, even an innocent comment from a boss at work (e.g., "Honey, that's a nice hairdo.") could result in years of civil litigation. All of the diesel dykes at NOW would be out in full force, condemning such a boss to feminist hell. I LIKE Herman Cain. A 2nd Obama term is too horrid even to contemplate.

  • Eric G

    I attended mandatory military sexual harrassment training last year. It was conducted by two female Military Employment Opportunity personnel; and a retired male first sergeant asked the trainers, "Would a male calling a female "b*tch" in the barracks be sexual harrassment?" "Yes," the trainers replied. "Then why," he asked, "is it okay for a woman to wear a shirt and sport a bumper sticker that proudly states 'I'm a B*tch'?," The instructors had no real answer.

    The retired First Shirt than summarized the word itself is not the problem but the subjective application of it as well as subjective application of harassment laws and regulations.

  • BLJ

    Another example of PC gone amok. In Herman Cain's case it was the fact that he was gaining traction with voters and the powers that be cannot have a self made black man sniffing the Presidency.

    Society today is geared to taking down males. Just watch TV. Every male figure is portrayed in some sort of negative manner. No wonder there are so many men who are hen pecked by wifes or girlfriends.

  • mrbean

    I believe that we should get the names of all these women and their allegations including the fourth one and if found untrue, a vendetta should be launched to ruin their careers, families, and lives. Just as you bring a gun to a knife fight so you bring a vendetta of destruction in response to a smear campaign.

  • mrbean

    All you guys who think too much with your little head, remember a good rule: "Never get your honey from where you get your money."

    • Amused

      Why mr.Bean , I though you incapable of common sense !!

      • Herman Caintonette

        Romance your wife, and you won't need to look elsewhere.

  • Asher

    So this woman comes forward after many accusations. I find the allegations of this scandal over the top simply because he didn't know this woman at all, and he is already grabbing her genitals and pushing her head down to his crotch…I don't buy this at all! Just as my neighbor said, "Herman Cain even tried to look up her nannies skirt." You see how easy it is to( make things up like I just did,) and then get the Media to move forward on a Witch Hunt. Herman Cain is being destroyed because of the Left Wing Media Propaganda machine!

    • Herman Caintonette

      Remember the tale of Paula Jones? Virtually indistinguishable on the facts. Unless you withheld judgment in that case, your refusal to believe the victim is evidence of your hypocrisy.

      Personally, I don't care. Cain has proven himself to be a lightweight — so much so, he makes Sarah Palin look like Averill Harriman.

  • Herman Caintonette

    BT: "But sexual harassment these days is seldom about those obvious offenses."

    The latest accusation changes the game. It is Paula Jones redux. http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/07/acc

    David Horowitz's comments are worthy of review: "Where were the female guardians when Clinton lawyer Robert Bennett and spinmeister James Carville berated Jones as lying trailer trash? In the face of such double standards, who can take self-styled feminists seriously anymore?

    Only conservatives, it appears, can be sexual harassers.

    As for liberals, like Ted Kennedy and Clinton, they can have their way with women — any way they want. They can screw them, abandon them, ruin them, even leave them to drown, and feminists will look the other way. In fact, they will fight to keep them in power."
    http://www.newsrealblog.com/2011/01/08/110524/2/

    Now, the shoe is on the other foot, and Team Horrorwitz is doing what they accuse their opponents of doing. As if anyone should be surprised….

  • Amused

    Hermain Cain is being destroyed because he tripped over his dork , and probaly never had the forethought at the time , that one day he would make a run for Potus . What a fool , that he could possibly even think that this would be kept under the rug .

  • alphakilosingh

    Herman Cain must fight. He should ignore the charges, and let his attorneys handle the accusers in courts.
    The seat of the President is his for the taking, if he can pip his opponents in this battle.

  • HiHeels

    I was lmao watching Brit Hume be really serious telling everyone Mr Cain is in trouble, Karl Rove swears this man will not be the nominee and Charles Krauthammer thinks Mr Cain will succumb to these allegations. I remember when the gop would not back or defend Sarah Palin. Mitt's vengeful staffers were little saboteurs and now Mitt Romney has advised Fox , he will not make any appearances to be grilled by the panel. I want to hear Karl, Charles and Brit say this will help Mitt. I am really ticked and have been since the defamation of Sarah Palin. the gop sent the envelope and i filled it with stones , washers and nuts and sent it back. Like santa leaving coal in a stocking if obama will let santa have coal this year

    • TOWG

      You made me laugh ! I thought I was the only one pissed off at the GOP enough to send back those requests for more of my $$$ with empty envelopes.

  • Amused

    Republicans are biting themselves …again .As far as Palin ? That was McCains bad choice , and it cost the election .No one in their right mind would ,with McCain being as old as he is ,want Palin one heart beat away from the Presidency .

    • http://unclecephas.blogspot.com Kepha

      I don't know. Palin at least knew that the USA shares a border with Russia, albeit a maritime one (less than 6 miles between Big and LIttle Diomede Islands). I, for one, was shocked at how long the "sophisticates" of the DC area (where I live) thought they had Palin on that one. But, what do I know? I just teach social studies.

    • mrbean

      Amused and his buddies have their tongues so far up Obama's A$$ that their lips are smeared with blood from his hemmoroids and the dingleberries are embedded in their chins.

  • Herman Caintonette

    Stop the presses! We actually agree. While Clinton was a cad, that was about all that could actually be proven … until he perjured himself. And it would seem that Herman is another churlish lout, who has changed his story more often than his socks.

    What infuriates us OWS types is that Clinton was never prosecuted criminally. One set of rules for Platinum Citizens, and another for the rest of us….

  • anonymous

    She claimed to be with him at several tea party conventions and nobody remembers her