The Internet was busting at the seams yesterday, filled with stories about an ill-defined scandal, involving a 15 year old Sexual Harassment Claim filed against Republican Candidate for President Herman Cain.
Politico.com broke the nebulous story:
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.
…Cain was president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association from late 1996 to mid-1999.
Cain explained the situation on Greta Van Susteren’s show on Fox News last night. Byron York of the Washington Examiner reports:
Cain told van Susteren that he remembered one woman who was a writer in the Association’s communications department. “I can’t even remember her name, but I do remember the formal allegation she made in terms of sexual harassment,” Cain said. “I turned it over to my general counsel and one of the ladies that worked for me, the woman in charge of human resources. They did investigate…and it was found to be baseless.”
Van Susteren asked Cain how often he saw the woman. “I might see her in the office because her office was on the same floor as my office,” Cain said. Van Susteren asked whether the woman traveled with Cain, who spent a lot of time on the road speaking to restaurant associations around the country. “No, never,” Cain said.
Cain said the woman was “younger than I was,” but he could not recall her age. Pressed, he said, “It would have had to have been late 30s, early 40s.”
Van Susteren asked what Cain did that led to the accusation. There were reportedly more than one accusations in the complaint, but Cain said he recalled just one incident. “She was in my office one day, and I made a gesture saying — and I was standing close to her — and I made a gesture saying you are the same height as my wife. And I brought my hand up to my chin saying, ‘My wife comes up to my chin.’” At that point, Cain gestured with his flattened palm near his chin. “And that was put in there [the complaint] as something that made her uncomfortable,” Cain said, “something that was in the sexual harassment charge.”
Van Susteren asked whether the woman complained at the time. “I can’t recall any comment that she made, positive or negative.”
Cain also offered new information about the settlement of the case. Politico, which broke the sexual harassment allegation story, said that the woman received a money settlement “in the five-figure range.” When van Susteren asked about that, Cain said, “My general counsel said this started out where she and her lawyer were demanding a huge financial settlement…I don’t remember a number…But then he said because there was no basis for this, we ended up settling for what would have been a termination settlement.” When van Susteren asked how much money was involved, Cain said. “Maybe three months’ salary. I don’t remember. It might have been two months. I do remember my general counsel saying we didn’t pay all of the money they demanded.”
In 1997, businessweek.com ran an article titled, “Avoiding a Time Bomb: Sexual Harrassment”. Here is an interesting excerpt:
These days, business owners who fail to deal with the issue of sexual harassment are running big risks. Companies of all sizes increasingly face lawsuits, lawyers say. Since Anita Hill testified in 1991, complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have more than doubled, to 15,342 in 1996. Unfortunately, many are frivolous; last year the EEOC found ”no reasonable cause” for action in 38.8% of cases. Management lawyers say it has become common for terminated employees to fire back with sexual-harassment claims. ”Some people call it the whiplash of the 1990s,” quips Nancy E. Pritikin, a management lawyer at San Francisco-based Littler Mendelson. And small businesses are more vulnerable to ”these after-thought claims,” she says, because they have fewer formal procedures.
While some forms of sexual harassment are obvious–a demand for sexual favors, for instance–the law defines it as any ”unwelcome sexual conduct” that creates a ”hostile work environment.”
That leaves room for interpretation that could prove fatal, even to a company as large as California Acrylic Industries Inc. Despite $125 million in sales, the Pomona (Calif.) hot-tub maker was so debt-laden that its net worth stood at just $5.9 million when it was hit with a $1 million sexual-harassment verdict in 1993. The company was saved only because a court cut the award to $350,000, says Mary Maloney Roberts, Acrylic’s Oakland (Calif.) lawyer. Fear of crippling verdicts propels most small companies into settlement talks long before trial, says Roberts, even if they’re convinced the allegations are baseless.
A nebulous story from 15 years ago, filled with unsubstantiated accusations, released by a political website known for their Liberal slant, in order to influence the 2012 Presidential Election.
To quote Captain Renault from the classic movie, “Casablanca”:
I’m shocked. Shocked.