FBI harassment case shows why women keep quiet

MIKE LITTWIN

October 13, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

It was one of the Neanderthals, I don't remember which one, maybe Hatch or Simpson, who kept saying he couldn't understand why Anita Hill didn't complain about being sexually harassed by Clarence Thomas.

If it was so bad, the esteemed senator wondered aloud, why didn't she just say something?

The meaning, barely veiled, was that if Hill hadn't filed a complaint, the harassment must not have happened.

This was tree-falling-in-the-forest logic. And, for me, it was one of the highlights of the Thomas hearings.

It was the answer to the Final Jeopardy question: Just how clueless can an elected official actually be?

If Hatch or Simpson or Thurmond or Specter or whichever one it was wants to know how Hill, an articulate and intelligent woman, could have stood silent in the face of harassment, they have only to look to Suzane Doucette.

Doucette was not silent.

Doucette filed complaints, even lawsuits. She testified at a congressional hearing. What she demanded was that she be heard.

She's being heard all right. The next sound you hear from her might well be Doucette opening the door at the unemployment office.

She's out of a job.

The FBI, for whom she was a much-decorated agent, put her on unpaid leave. In other words, the agency forced her out. She has turned in her badge.

And she keeps talking.

"My case is not unique," Doucette said at a press conference. "FBI management will quell any and all dissension when reports of misconduct . . . are made."

The story she tells is of a nine-year, mostly successful career with the FBI. She did the usual FBI stuff, working on bank robberies, kidnappings and drug busts. She thought she was one of the boys, and even married into the business. Her husband is also an agent. The day she made her spurs, she said, was when she rappelled out of a helicopter in pursuit of some bad guys.

Doucette knew of problems involving other women. As an

example, she cites the use of surveillance equipment to surreptitiously videotape a female agent.

Then, she says, it got personal. According to her story, while she was working in Tucson, a supervisor grabbed her from behind, put her in a choke hold and promised her promotions if she would agree to have sex.

Doucette wanted promotions. Later, she would apply for the agency's career development program. But she refused her supervisor's offer. And she refused to listen when a male agent told her she would ruin her career by filing a complaint.

Is her story true? I have no idea. A New York Times story, though, says that some FBI officials privately concede she is telling the truth. The FBI has had its public problems with other bias cases, but this isn't an FBI story.

This is a universal story.

Was Hill being honest in her testimony? No one knows but Hill and Thomas. But if she was harassed while working for Thomas, Hill figured out an essential truth that Doucette chose to ignore: If you want to further your career, you keep your mouth shut.

Many women don't have to be told this by anyone. They know it already. They know what they put up with. They know that, when they complain, they're told they're not team players. They're told they have to laugh off what is called essentially playful behavior.

When it's the boss whose unwelcome behavior is the problem, they have to figure a way to deflect his attentions without offending.

When a woman does file a complaint, you know what comes next. Hill found out. There's always someone to suggest that she was the spurned lover who is acting in revenge. Others say she should just grow up.

And I'd like to see some data on women who have won harassment cases. Do you think doors suddenly open for them? Or do you think the woman is marked, like Hester Prynne? My guess is you can lose by winning, and that the same holds for minority employees who file bias cases.

What Doucette says she wants is to get her job back. She says she loves being an FBI agent and doesn't know what she'll do next, other than continue her fight with the agency.

Let's say she was telling the truth, she wins her case and she gets her job back. That would be a happy ending, of a kind. Except you wonder how many women, watching this exercise, would want to take the same risk.

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