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.
Fortunately, we have made progress since 1991. Today, when employees complain of abuse in the workplace, investigators and judges are more likely to examine all the evidence and less likely to simply accept as true the word of those in power. But that could change. Our legal system will suffer if a sitting justice’s vitriolic pursuit of personal vindication discourages others from standing up for their rights.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Anita Hill says this in an Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times: