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. 

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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.

Veronica v. Jugheads?

July 11, 2011 – Veronica would never work here.

The New York Daily News reports that Archie Comic Publications is suing co-Chief Executive Officer Nancy Silberkleit  for alleged bullying.  Silberkleit says the company is best by jugheads resistant to female supervision.

Meanwhile, Oregon.Live.com published an article in last year quoting Silberkleit, a former third grade art teacher, as stating she was stunned by the old boys’ network she encountered upon assuming the post of co-CEO following the 2009 death of her husband, Michael Silberkleit, the son of an original co-founder of the company, Louis Silberkleit.

“I’m a mother coming into a very male-oriented business,” Silberkleit told Oregon Live. “I’m not getting any support. I felt very alone.”

The lawsuit seeks to bar Silberkleit from the company’s Westchester, NY,  headquarters and to stop her from representing the company at Comic Con International later this month in San Diego.

The lawsuit alleges Silberkleit  is a foul-mouthed tyrant prone to outbursts about male genitalia and that several employees are fearful of her “erratic” behavior and bullying.

Several employees allegedly complained about Silberkleit’s antics, including an incident in 2010 in which she is said to have asked if sex toys were stored in an office safe, adding, “I need to adjust my balls.”

In April 2010,  Silberkleit is said to have walked into a meeting  “and referring to a book yelled out ‘PENIS, PENIS, PENIS, PENIS”” and then said, “My balls hurt.”

Her co-CEO is Jon Goldwater, the son of another co-founder of the company, John L. Goldwater. The company was founded in 1939.

Complacent Employer Hit With $95 Million Award

Note:  On July 7, 2011, U.S. District Court Judge J.  Michael Reagan granted Aarons’ motion to reduce the compensatory damages award for Alford’s Title VII sexual harassment claim pursuant to the statutory cap from $4 million  to $300,000.00 and the Court vacated the $50 million punitive damages award. Title VII authorizes the award of both compensatory and punitive damages but provides a cap on the total amount of damages recoverable based on employer size. See 42 U.S.C. § 1981a.   Reagan states in his opinion: “The Court notes that this remittitur results solely from the statutory cap and is not an expression of the Court’s opinion or the reasonableness of the jury verdict as to Count XII.”

East St. Louis, IL –A federal jury has awarded $95 million to a young woman who alleged she was the victim of a campaign of sexual  harassment and assault by a supervisor at  one of 1,800 stores operated by the rent-to-own company, The Aaron’s Inc.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported on June 10, 2011 that the jury in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Illinois awarded the woman, Ashley Alford,  $95 million in compensation, including $15 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages.  A cap on damages in federal sexual harassment cases will reduce the award to about $41.6 million.  A spokesperson for Aaron’s said the award does not accurately reflect the evidence in the case and Aaron’s plans to appeal.

The Aaron chain’s entire profit in 2010 was $118 million.

Alford’s attorney, David S. Ratner, said the award could be an all-time record for an individual plaintiff in  sexual harassment case.

Alford, who is in her mid-20s, began work as a customer service representative at the store in 2005. She said her supervisor, the store’s then-general manager, Richard Moore, engaged in a year-long escalating campaign of sexual harassment, beginning with crude sexual jokes and  ending with assault.

In the fall of 2006, Alford alleged, Moore sneaked up behind her as she was sitting on the floor of the stockroom and hit her on the head with his penis. In another incident,  Moore  allegedly threw Alford to the ground, lifted her shirt and masturbated over her as he held her down. Moore  is awaiting trial on a criminal charge related to the accusations in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

It appears that Aaron’s was complacent. Alford called a company harassment hotline in May 2006, but an investigator never contacted her.  At some point after the call, the suit claims, she was approached by Moore’s supervisor, who confronted her in front of Moore about his alleged harassment and warned Moore to “watch his back” because of the complaint.

In their verdict, jurors found that Moore had assaulted and battered Alford, and found Aaron’s liable for “negligent supervision,” ‘sexual harassment” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

In a press release, Chad Strickland, Vice President of Associate Resources for Aaron’s, Inc., said Moore’s alleged acts “are not only completely inconsistent with everything our Company believes in and stands for, but are also far outside the scope of his employment and were never condoned by the Company.”

According to its web site,  “Over 55 million households across North America know and trust the Aaron’s name. Aaron’s, Inc. New York Stock Exchange ticker symbols are AAN and AANA.”

Aaron’s stock was down .04 percent on June 13, 2011.