An impassioned Mikulski joins Sarbanes to vote 'no'

October 16, 1991|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity CommissionWashington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Both Maryland senators cast their votes last night against the confirmation of Judge Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, just hours after Barbara A. Mikulski, one of only two women in the Senate, said that the chamber would "flunk the course" in sexual-harassment awareness if it confirmed the nominee.

"She's disappointed by the vote," said John Steele, Ms. Mikulski's press secretary.

Both Ms. Mikulski and Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes had decided to oppose the nomination before Anita F. Hill's allegations of sexual harassment had surfaced. But Ms. Mikulski has appeared even more outspoken in her opposition since those charges.

In an interview on CBS News after the vote last night, Ms. Mikulski said she hoped that "sexual harassment will now be treated seriously and that we will not doubly victimize the victim -- both by the event itself and by the trauma of the proceedings."

Mr. Sarbanes said last night that he had based his decision to oppose the nomination on Judge Thomas' record in the executive branch.

He said that the charges of sexual harassment were "serious allegations" and raised important questions but that he "didn't have to reach [a] judgment" about the veracity of the charges by Ms. Hill, a law professor.

Earlier yesterday, in a speech on the Senate floor, Ms. Mikulski angrily denounced "the strategy of smash and smear" that she said the Bush administration and some senators adopted to discredit Ms. Hill in the second set of hearings.

"The people who gave us Willie Horton have now smeared Anita Hill," Ms. Mikulski said in a speech that advocates of women's rights described as "one bright star" on an otherwise dark day.

Ms. Mikulski said the "smear" strategy victimized not only Ms. Hill, "but also the confirmation process and the women of this country. . . . The very serious issue before the hearing -- the issue of sexual harassment -- was of little or no real concern to the Thomas team. To them, it was a problem to be disposed of, not a case to be considered.

"As a result," she said, "a woman was treated in a way that sends a wrong and dangerous message to all women who are subjected to sexual humiliation and want to fight back or even think about taking a stand. The message is: 'Don't accuse anyone, no matter what he does, or you will become the accused.'

"The message to women is: 'Your courage in coming forward will be met with suspicion and scorn, with unproven, unsupported charges of being mentally unbalanced, fantasizers, jealous or opportunists."

Ms. Mikulski said that although the nation had gone through a "teach-in" on sexual harassment, she thought the Senate was about "to flunk the course" with a vote to confirm Judge Thomas.

Patricia Ireland, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women, said that group received a number of calls from women applauding Ms. Mikulski.

"It was quite stirring," Ms. Ireland said. "Ninety-eight percent of those guys [in the Senate] will never understand the way she understands."

Although Mr. Sarbanes has been less outspoken about the issue of sexual harassment, he said on the Senate floor last week that there were "too many unanswered questions, too many serious doubts" about Judge Thomas for him to vote to confirm the nominee.

Sexual harassment and the law

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The act does not proscribe all conduct of a sexual nature in thworkplace. It does, however, outlaw "unwelcome" sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature in cases where:

1. Submission to or rejection of such conduct is used to determine whether to hire or fire people, or otherwise make decisions about their jobs.

2. Such conduct "unreasonably interferes with an individual's job performance" or creates an "intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment."

A victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. Victims or harassers can be of either sex and need not work together. The harasser's conduct, though, must be unwelcome.

Charges of sexual harassment may be filed at any field office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Further information on EEOC-enforced laws may be obtained by calling toll-free 1-800-USA-EEOC.

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