AFTER THE FACT: Anita Hill

Posted by on Sep 26, 2018 in After the Fact

Earlier this month, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh, the current Supreme Court nominee, of sexual harassment. But this is not the first time in recent history that such claims have been made against a Supreme Court nominee. In 1991, a woman named Anita Hill testified that Judge Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor. Thomas was ultimately confirmed and remains a Court justice. But Hill’s testimony forever changed the national dialogue surrounding the rights of women in the workplace.

Who Was She?

close up of microphones at news conference

The drama surrounding the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination echoed Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas several decades ago. Credit: wellphoto/Shutterstock

Anita Faye Hill was a lawyer who, in the early 1980s, was the attorney-adviser to Clarence Thomas, the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. She also served as Thomas’s assistant when he became chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1982.  In 1991, Clarence Thomas was nominated by President George H.W. Bush as a replacement Supreme Court justice for the retiring Thurgood Marshall.

Anita Hill came forward and accused Thomas of sexually harassing her during the years when he was her supervisor. She publicly testified at his nomination hearing. According to her testimony, Thomas asked her out on several occasions and often talked about very inappropriate sexual topics.

Clarence Thomas’ supporters quickly spoke out against Hill and worked to challenge her credibility as awitness. Hill took a lie detector test, and her statements were evaluated as true. Thomas, on the other hand, refused to take a lie detector test and denied that the entire incident had ever occurred. Thomas claimed that the story had been invented by pro-choice liberals who did not want to see a conservative justice appointed to the Court. In the end, he was still confirmed to the Supreme Court, but by the narrowest margin since the 1800s.

What Happened Next?

The Hill-Thomas scandal forever changed the way that people viewed sexual harassment in the workplace. Shortly after Thomas was confirmed, Congress passed a law giving victims of harassment the right to seek damages, back pay, and reinstatement. Sexual harassment complaints with the EEOC rose by 50 percent, and companies began requiring their employees to undergo training to educate and work to prevent workplace harassment. On a national level, public outcry over the scandal caused a record number of women to run for Congress in 1992.

Where Is She Now?

Anita Hill is now 62 years old. She is a professor of social policy, law, and women’s studies at Brandeis University, and is on the faculty of Brandeis’ Heller School for Social Policy and Management. Hill has written several books, and is also a frequent speaker on issues of commercial law, race, gender, and equality in the workplace.

Last year, Professor Hill was selected to lead the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace. She recently contributed an op-ed piece to the New York Times in support of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

 What Do You Think Anita Hill once famously said of her experience, “I did what my conscience told me to do, and you can’t fail if you do that.” Think of a time when you stood up for what your conscience told you to do, even if it wasn’t an easy or popular choice. What did you learn from that experience?