During Herman Cain’s tenure as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, at least two female employees complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior by Cain, ultimately leaving their jobs at the trade group, multiple sources confirm to POLITICO.
The women complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable, the sources said, and they signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts to leave the association. The agreements also included language that bars the women from talking about their departures.
Before I comment on Cain's response or the merits of the actual accusations, it seems reasonable to define the term "sexual harassment". Because legal definitions vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, I'm going with a generic summary of several standards I've read today. Here are the common elements:
1. Employee is pressured to submit to unwanted sexual attention/advances as a condition of continued employment ("You *do* want to keep your job, don't you honey?")
2. Decisions regarding pay, benefits, promotions, etc. are conditioned upon submission to unwanted sexual attention/advances.
3. Unwanted sexual attention/advances/comments are of sufficient severity/frequency that they create a hostile working environment.
That's the test Cain's accusers would have to meet. So far, we don't have many specifics, so no one knows whether actual sexual harassment occurred or not. Three things about this story strike me:
1. So far, we have anonymous accusations made by two women who (if Politico is to be believed) were paid not to discuss the matter further.
One can't help recalling the NY Times' frequent use of anonymous j'accusations from unidentified Defense Department employees who demanded anonymity because talking to the media violated the conditions of their employment. This is a weighty point against the accusers. Why should anyone believe two women who (by their own admission, if we believe the Politico) took what amounts to a bribe ... and then, having voluntarily accepted hush money, violated a freely given promise not to discuss the matter further?
Because most sexual conduct occurs in private, most accusations of sexual misconduct revolve around the credibility of the accuser. Having already shown themselves to be quite willing to take hush money and then violate the condition they agreed to as a condition of accepting such money doesn't exactly smack of integrity, does it? Which leads me to #2:
2. Because sexual conduct usually occurs in private (and because Politico is still sitting on all the juicy details - not to mention the identities of his accusers - out of a notably one-sided "sensitivity" to the seriousness of the charges), no one - whether on the liberal or rethug side - has any real basis for judging the merits of these claims. First of all, we don't know whether Cain's alleged conduct met any of the conditions specified above. Merely making unwanted sexual advances does not constitute sexual harassment. One could argue that any time a man makes sexual advances toward a woman (and she doesn't leap into his bed) he risks not just rejection but possible accusations of harassment.... all of which are good reasons for management not to proposition the help. But it's worth noting that the law stipulates that unwanted sexual conduct has to be severe and repeated often enough that it creates a hostile working environment.
For all we know, it may have been. Or not. Either way, we don't know enough yet.
3. Trying to dismiss these allegations by playing the race card, bringing up Bill Clinton's serial misbehavior, or referring to high tech lynchings (subtle, that...) are off topic distractions. I have to say that the responses of Cain's campaign staff leave something to be desired here.
Either there's enough here to convince people that Cain is more likely than not to have done what he was accused of (and if he did, that's something voters should know) or there's not enough evidence that he did and that's as much as we'll ever know about the matter. In all likelihood, we'll never know for sure.
Which leaves us pretty much where we seem to be today - with some of Cain's supporters loudly maintaining that there's nothing to see here and some of his detractors pronouncing him guilty without so much as a trial by media. And the rest of us playing wait and see.
Which may be the point of all this. I don't have much brief for premature declarations of either innocence or guilt. We just don't know enough yet. And perhaps we never will.