I see on Memeorandum that the Herman Cain brouhaha is in full, frothing flower:
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.


Joseph W. said...

...took what amounts to a bribe...

That's the only phrase I quibble with in your post. Settling potential lawsuits is a perfectly honorable thing for a plaintiff to do, at least if there is any kind of merit to the suit. (Which, as you rightly say, is exactly what we don't know.) "Bribe" connotes a dishonorable act.

Cass said...

Settling potential lawsuits is a perfectly honorable thing for a plaintiff to do, at least if there is any kind of merit to the suit.

I agree that the word may have been poorly chosen, Joseph (and furthermore that my usage may not fit the *legal* definition of bribery ... though it does fit the common definition). I also agree that there's nothing dishonorable - per se - in taking money to settle a lawsuit in lieu of pursuing your claim and recovering in court.

Here's where I have a problem.

Violating the conditions of a settlement agreement by reneging on the conditions of that agreement (that you discuss it no further) is not honorable and shows a lack of integrity. There's no getting around the fact that you accepted money in return for a promise not to do something, then decided to do it anyway.

Having done so, that person will have to be a tough time convincing me that they were motivated by principle. The principled response would have been to continue your suit with the object of removing a threat to other women. I can easily accept that someone might decide that wasn't important, but such a decision begs a whole lot of uncomfortable questions.

Grim said...

The conditions they agreed to, though, were that they would not discuss what the behavior of a certain restaurant-industry guy may have done that led to their leaving. Discovering that the guy in question is no longer a restaurant-industry guy, but may be about to become President of the United States, raises the scale of the issue.

Does that license breaking your word? No, it can't do that; but it might put you in a bind between two evils. On the one hand, breaking your word is a violation of your duty to keep your word. On the other hand, staying silent when you are the only one who has information that might prevent a malefactor from attaining the highest office in the land is also a violation of your duty -- in this case, your duty as a citizen.

When someone is in a bind in which they must commit one wrong or the other, we can't properly judge them based on whether they committed a wrong. Of course they did; how could they not, when both options constitute a violation of some duty? The question we have to ask is whether they chose correctly in determining which duty to violate. Is it more important that they keep their word, or that they do their duty as a citizen?

In this case they appear to be doing neither, of course, since leaking an anonymous argument is neither keeping your word to silence, nor performing the full and honest accounting that would allow the citizenry to evaluate the claim. I assume this is for dishonorable reasons, i.e., so they won't have to return the money (which they may not have to return). Still, violating an oath, though not licensed by a greater evil, may sometimes be forgiven if it is done to avoid the greater evil.

Joseph W. said...

If it's like any settlement agreement I know, even talking about the fact that there was a claim and that it involved sexual harassment would violate the contract.

But for Cain to insist on his money back, he'd have to sue for it, and once that was done there'd be nothing to hold them back from "remembering with advantages, what feats he did that day." So as a practical matter you're right - the "halfway" version still leaves his hands tied.

Cass said...

And that's my problem.

I am not automatically suspicious (as so many conservatives these days seem to be) when a woman claims to have been sexually harassed. I've seen too many things I wish I hadn't seen to have quite the same innocent view of the world that I had before I was properly out in it.

But there is no easy path for people who have legitimate claims like that. There is no way the law can make their path completely smooth - remove all risk and discomfort from an innately risky and uncomfortable situation - without incenting false accusations.

Had either of these women come forward publicly (i.e., not anonymously) I would be far more inclined to believe she was motivated by conscience. Hiding behind Politico, though, only reinforces my gut feeling that I can't trust such accusations on their face.

More is needed before I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Right now, my inclination is to give Cain the benefit of the doubt (as indeed our legal system ought to do). Unfortunately such brave, anonymous accusations tend to generate a lot of heat and precious little light.

That said, I wouldn't disregard the story either.

Cass said...

In this case they appear to be doing neither, of course, since leaking an anonymous argument is neither keeping your word to silence, nor performing the full and honest accounting that would allow the citizenry to evaluate the claim.

Couldn't have said it better.

MikeD said...

I would include that "accusation" is not the same thing as "a finding of guilt". Hell, my wife was accused of sexually harassing a female co-worker who had been a former friend of hers. It was utter nonsense, the woman claimed my wife had naked pictures of her and was showing them to their co-workers in the office. When EVERY SINGLE PERSON interviewed had no idea what the investigator was talking about (including my wife), only then did they tell my wife what the investigation was about. To this day, my wife has no idea what motivated this woman to accuse her (and no idea why she would do so in such an easily refuted manner). Nothing happened to my wife, and as far as we know nothing happened to her accuser (I'm sure she got some form of reprimand, but it wasn't like she was fired or anything).

The point is, it is quite easy to accuse someone of something. To say that this means the accusation is true is not just unfair, but intentionally deceptive. And to equate settlement with an admission of guilt is just as much a lie. I do accept that sexual harassment occurs, and it should not. But I think that in this particular case, the charge of "witch hunt" is pretty much spot on.

Grim said...

I always think of John Derbyshire's "Race on Wall Street" when I read stories like this. As Cassandra said, I can't discount the possibility of a story of this sort having some truth behind it; but the plain reality is that suits alleging explosive discrimination (racial or sexual) offer some pretty powerful incentives to those positioned to make them. They are nearly guaranteed to result in a settlement, because the corporations will almost certainly lose more money from publicity around the lawsuit than from the settlement.

Now, given evidence of the accuser's high character, we might say that incentives (say, five-figure ones) aren't enough to be driving this case. The problem is, as Cass points out, what we've seen so far isn't suggestive of a very high character.

Texan99 said...

I take accusations of sexual harassment very seriously, but I am deeply skeptical when they surface long after the fact, just as the accused is shooting for high office.

Cass said...

In this case they surfaced at the time, though.

They were not made public b/c not making them public was a condition of settlement. The fact that they were not made public until now shouldn't be at all surprising given the existence of a legal agreement not to publicize the accusations supported by consideration (the settlement). In fact, the agreed upon silence is what we should expect.

But the agreement is a double edged sword that (on the one hand) protected Cain from having the matter disclosed but (by virtue of the accusers accepting money to remain silent and then violating the agreed upon terms) calls into question their integrity.

If they came forward publicly and under their own names, I might take their accusations more seriously. Doing so while hiding behind Politico strains credulity.

E Hines said...

...in a bind between two evils. On the one hand, breaking your word is a violation of your duty to keep your word. On the other hand, staying silent when you are the only one who has information that might prevent a malefactor from attaining the highest office in the land....

This strikes my simple, binary mind as open and shut. The empirical evidence is that the land survives quite nicely with the occasional malefactor of this type in its highest office. On the other hand, violating one's word permanently destroys one's honor and integrity.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

I'm not sure I agree that the nation will survive much longer, without a fairly severe course-change; a good man instead of a malefactor might be helpful as well, assuming that our political class has any left to offer.

However, even if you are right, it doesn't settle the question. Women of low character get sexually harassed too. We may find it more difficult to believe their word when they make the claim; but if they did happen to be telling the truth, their character would not in any way excuse the mistreatment.