No trend yet in local claims of harassment

October 18, 1991|By Sandy Banisky

Government agencies that field discrimination complaints have noted a few more questions from the public this week about sexual harassment. But they say it's too soon to tell if Senate hearings into an allegation against Supreme Court Justice-designate Clarence Thomas will prompt an increase in sexual harassment complaints.

The statute of limitations on such charges is 180 days, said employees in area human relations offices.

"It's only been four days" since the televised Senate hearings ended, said Henry Ford, deputy director of the Maryland Human Relations Commission.

"I think it's too early to tell if there will be a flood of complaints," he said, "but we do think we will have more. What the Thomas hearings did was tell people this was illegal.

"I don't know if it's a positive or negative at this point, but it definitely was an education to the whole country."

Mr. Ford said colleagues in his office -- which handles complaints of discrimination based on race, sex, aging, religion and other factors -- are divided on whether the hearings will encourage people to come forward or persuade them to keep silent.

"That's much-discussed around here," Mr. Ford said. "Will women think, 'I wouldn't dare ignore it,' or, 'I wouldn't let them do to me what they did to Anita Hill'?"

Ms. Hill, an Oklahoma law professor and former assistant to Justice-designate Thomas, accused him of making lewd remarks to her in their Washington office 10 years ago.

The Baltimore Community Relations Commission has logged "a slight increase in calls," said Evelyn Davis, a community relations representative. "Basically, people want to know what constitutes sexual harassment."

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