Crudeness, Harassment Not Same: Paula Jones Case Dismissed

Heretofore, this column remained silent with respect to President Clinton’s widely publicized sexual diversions. On a public level, I didn’t think it was any of my business whether he did or did not do any of any of the things his accusers claimed. I wanted to wait for the legal proceedings to conclude before commenting.

In a surprising turn of events, those proceedings concluded on the 1st day of April with reports that President Clinton thought the judge’s opinion was an April fool’s joke. It was no joke. U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright dismissed Paula Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against Mr. Clinton.

Ms. Jones sued Mr. Clinton based on a claim of sexual harassment stemming from an incident alleged to have occurred when Mr. Clinton was governor of Arkansas. In her accusation, Ms. Jones claims that Mr. Clinton invited her to a Little Rock, Arkansas hotel room where the alleged incident took place.

I won’t go into the graphic details of Ms. Jones allegations here. I suspect most readers interested in those details have already read a description elsewhere.

Mr. Clinton asked the court to dismiss the case. In his petition for dismissal, he argued that even if everything that Ms. Jones alleged he did in the hotel room was true, it didn’t amount to sexual harassment.

It surely must have stunned Ms. Jones to witness the President of the United States drop his pants, expose himself and ask her to perform oral sex. As crude as such an act is, if it occurred as Ms. Jones alleged, Judge Wright ruled that such actions did not meet the requirements under the law for a claim of sexual harassment.

In her decision, Judge Wright opined in part, “While the court will certainly agree that plaintiff’s allegations describe offensive conduct, the court, as previously noted, has found the governor’s alleged conduct does not constitute sexual assault. Rather, the conduct as alleged by plaintiff describes a mere sexual proposition or encounter, albeit an odious one, that was relatively brief in duration, did not involve any coercion or threats of reprisal, and was abandoned as soon as the plaintiff made clear that the advance was not welcome.”

Here are some basic factors that must be present to sustain a charge of sexual harassment:

  •  A quid pro quo: This type of sexual harassment involves a request for sexual favors by a direct supervisor from an employee…the quid…coupled with a threat of bad things if denied or a promise of good things if granted… the quo. Ms. Jones did not meet this test. Judge Wright ruled that she did not suffer on her job because of her rejection of Mr. Clinton.
  • Persistence: One alleged act usually is not enough to sustain a charge of sexual harassment. In this case, Ms. Jones made no claim of persistence. The President argued that even if the allegations were true, the conduct was brief and isolated.
  • A hostile work environment: Courts may sustain a charge of sexual harassment without a quid pro quo, even without the employee losing pay or a promotion, if persistent conduct spoils the workplace.

This test was not met, even if the allegations were true, Ms. Jones was unable to demonstrate to the court conduct so “severe or pervasive” as to create an abusive work environment.

After all is said and done, I believe Judge Wright’s decision will stand as America’s legal primer in sex discrimination cases. This opinion establishes clear, unambiguous legal boundaries between unlawful sexual harassment and other boorish conduct.

Recent public opinion polls manifest extraordinary support for the decision and the President. In my view, these polls are ironic indications of the contempt citizens have for this intrusion into Mr. Clinton’s private life.

I can think of no communication, which is more private than the words, techniques and procedures we employ to communicate a sexual proposition. This lawsuit has reminded us that crude behavior, though it certainly should be discouraged, is not unlawful. Judge Wright did the right thing by throwing this case out of court.

Originally Published: 9 April 1998, Montgomery Advertiser
© Copyright – 1998 – Major W. Cox and Montgomery Advertiser.

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