Ron Paul to sexual harrassment victims — Go home?

Unlike Herman Cain, his former competitor in the GOP presidential race,  Ron Paul is not facing accusations of sexual harassment.

However, Paul, a member of the U.S. Congress from Texas, may be accused of having stunningly little understanding of the problem.

Earlier this month, Paul told Fox News he is standing by statements he made in a 1987 book, Freedom Under Siege, that workers who are targets of sexual harassment must bear some responsibility for the abuse and do not require any special legal protection.

“Why don’t they quit once the so-called harassment starts?” wrote Paul. “Obviously the morals of the harasser cannot be defended, but how come the harassee escapes some responsibility for the problem about sexual harassment in the workplace.”

Earlier this month, host Chris Wallace of  Fox News Sunday asked Paul whether he still agreed with those 1987 statements.  Paul said he does, adding that neither verbal and physical harassment  warrants a federal law.

Regarding the issue of verbal harassment, Paul said:  “If it’s just because somebody told a joke to somebody who was offended, they don’t have a right to go to the federal government and have a policeman come in and put penalties on those individuals. They have to say maybe this is not a very good environment. They have the right to work there or not work there.”

Paul said workers who are victims of physical sexual harassment also do not require protection from a federal law because there already are laws prohibiting assault and rape.

“Because people are insulted by rude behavior, I don’t think we should make a federal case about it. I don’t think we need federal laws to deal with that. People should deal with that at home,” he said.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual harassment, which is a form of sex discrimination. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

The U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly has said that Title VII doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious.  Harassment becomes illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

In other words,  to be actionable, victims of sexual harassment must feel their very freedom to work  is … under siege.

Herman Cain: Sexual Harasser?

Since this article was written another woman came forward and claimed that she had an affair that lasted more than a decade with Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain .  After denying it, Cain dropped out of the race on 12/3/11. 

*    *    *

Three women independently say Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain sexually harassed them when they worked for him while he served as President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association between 1996 and 1999.

A fourth woman, Sharon Bialek,  said that during this time period she contacted Cain to ask for a job. Sitting in a parked car with Cain, she says, Cain pushed his hand under her skirt and pushed her head toward his crotch.  “I was very, very surprised and very shocked. I said, ‘What are you doing? You know I have a boyfriend. This isn’t what I came here for.’ Mr. Cain said, ‘You want a job, right?’”

Other women may have come forward but for a vague threat of retribution made last week by Lin Wood, Cain’s defense attorney, who said that any new women who are thinking of coming forward with allegations against the candidate should “think twice” before they do.

So there Cain stood, Saturday night, behind a podium in South Carolina, alongside other Republican candidates, answering questions about foreign policy in a nationally televised debate, as if there is no question but that he possesses the character to occupy the highest office of our land, the President of the United States.

What happens when a worker is subjected to sexual harassment by the CEO of the company? Most are shocked and emotionally traumatized. They fear, justifiably, that they will lose their job or suffer retribution if they do not submit. This is not like innocent flirting or misguided chivalry. Sexual harassment is on a continuum of violence that includes rape and bullying.

Karen Kraushaar, one of the two women who settled sexual harassment claims while they worked at the National Restaurant Association while it was led by Cain, told the New York Times:

When you are being sexually harassed in the workplace, you are extremely vulnerable. You do whatever you can to quickly get yourself into a job someplace safe, and that is what I thought I had achieved when I left.”

Ms. Kraushaar now works as a spokeswoman for one of the three inspectors general at the Treasury Department.

In our criminal justice system an individual is deemed innocent until proven guilty but this is an election and not a criminal trial where an innocent defendant might be imprisoned or executed.

What does it take to raise serious questions about whether a person possesses the good moral character that one would at least hope to see in a future U.S. President?

Is it enough that four women independently accuse the same man of essentially the same type of abusive behavior over a period of years? Suppose one of these women is lying? That would leave three.  Is that enough?

Kraushaar and another woman who worked for Cain at the National Restaurant Association received substantial financial settlements (one got a year’s salary) from the association in exchange for their silence and agreeing to forfeit their right to sue for damages. Generally employers do not shell out tens of thousands of dollars without proof of wrongdoing. Had there been no settlements, it is quite possible that at least one lawsuit would have been filed against Cain and the restaurant association.  Presumably that is what the restaurant association paid to avoid.  What weight should society now place on Cain’s claims of innocence?

If that’s not enough, Cain initially said there were no financial payoffs to the women.

Cain has inferred that the allegations by the women represent a Machiavellian plot dreamed up by Democrats to assassinate his character but isn’t it more likely that the Democrats would prefer Cain, a former head of Godfather Pizza, to former governors Mitch Romney and Rick Perry?

Ultimately, this is less a question of politics than it is a question of character. Cain was a man who had supervisory authority over three women who say he sexually harassed them, and he had the power to hire the fourth. What did he do with that power? When all is said and done, Cain sounds more like a workplace bully than a credible candidate for  U.S. President.