Isiah, Clarence: two revisionist ex-bosses

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I haven’t read Clarence Thomas’s new book–I was going to write “yet” just there, but then I remembered I’m not ever going to read it. But I’ve read elsewhere that he makes some unkind remarks about his former employee, Anita Hill. Today Hill responds in a scathing op-ed in The New York Times, charging that Thomas–like so many employers accused of abuse and bad treatment of employees–is blaming the accuser. Indeed, she writes, the Supreme Court Justice is guilty of revisionism when it comes to her record and behavior:

In the portion of his book that addresses my role in the Senate hearings into his nomination, Justice Thomas offers a litany of unsubstantiated representations and outright smears that Republican senators made about me when I testified before the Judiciary Committee — that I was a “combative left-winger” who was “touchy” and prone to overreacting to “slights.”

For example, he claims she lacked the qualifications to work for him:

He claims, for instance, that I was a mediocre employee who had a job in the federal government only because he had “given it” to me. He ignores the reality: I was fully qualified to work in the government, having graduated from Yale Law School (his alma mater, which he calls one of the finest in the country), and passed the District of Columbia Bar exam, one of the toughest in the nation.

Now, what Hill doesn’t go into is: why would Thomas hire someone who isn’t qualified for the job? Surely he had no shortage of applicants. She goes on to list other facts Thomas seemingly forgot, such as the fact that he hired her–this underqualified, oversensitive left-winger–not once but twice.

The revisionism by her former boss extended beyond Hill’s performance on the job to her personal character and faith:

In a particularly nasty blow, Justice Thomas attacked my religious conviction, telling “60 Minutes” this weekend, “She was not the demure, religious, conservative person that they portrayed.” Perhaps he conveniently forgot that he wrote a letter of recommendation for me to work at the law school at Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa. I remained at that evangelical Christian university for three years, until the law school was sold to Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va., another Christian college. Along with other faculty members, I was asked to consider a position there, but I decided to remain near my family in Oklahoma.

All this reminded me of another employer harassment case against another prominent black man named Thomas playing out before the TV cameras right now: Isiah and Madison Square Garden vs. Anucha Browne Sanders. Just minutes ago, the jury awarded Browne Sanders $11.6 million in her bias suit against her former bosses. Thomas responds:

“The jury didn’t see the facts,” Thomas said after the panel found Browne Sanders was subjected to a hostile work environment and fired for complaining. They deadlocked on whether Thomas must pay. “I am innocent,” he said, vowing to appeal.

Thomas (Isiah, that is) and MSG’s tactics included questioning Browne Sanders’ competence on the job as well as her qualifications. Sound familiar? Anita Hill says it does–and not just to her:

Regrettably, since 1991, I have repeatedly seen this kind of character attack on women and men who complain of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. In efforts to assail their accusers’ credibility, detractors routinely diminish people’s professional contributions. Often the accused is a supervisor, in a position to describe the complaining employee’s work as “mediocre” or the employee as incompetent. Those accused of inappropriate behavior also often portray the individuals who complain as bizarre caricatures of themselves — oversensitive, even fanatical, and often immoral — even though they enjoy good and productive working relationships with their colleagues.

Finally, when attacks on the accusers’ credibility fail, those accused of workplace improprieties downgrade the level of harm that may have occurred. When sensing that others will believe their accusers’ versions of events, individuals confronted with their own bad behavior try to reduce legitimate concerns to the level of mere words or “slights” that should be dismissed without discussion.

I guess bosses haven’t changed much in 16 years. But they better watch out. Juries apparently have.