Outten & Golden was horned to host Professor Anita Hill on October 12th at our office. Professor Hill discussed both her role in the evolution of raising awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace since the Thomas hearings twenty years ago, as well as the mes in her new book Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race and Finding Home (Beacon Press, 2011).
Allegra Fishel, an Of Counsel Attorney and member of O&G's Sex Discrimination & Sexual Harassment Practice Group, asked Professor Hill what gave her the courage to step forward about her case of sexual harassment and how to encourage other women to do so given the risks involved. Professor Hill acknowledged that at the time she perhaps was better poised to come forward; she was an attorney, a tenured professor at the University of Oklahomand had the support of her friends and family which were all factors that made it less daunting to present her statement despite the enormously public nature of the hearings in Washington. She admits that for women who are faced with the concern of simply earning enough to provide for their families, it may be too difficult personally to challenge the harassment. However, she emphasized an ethical imperative for other women who are better situated with resources and support to speak up. Regardless of what may seem like "career suicide," Professor Hill urged women to prioritize their role in uprooting the pervasive practice of sexual harassment in the workplace.
I asked a question on how to address the general lack of empathy for people of color that I experienced in a law school discussion of the seminal contracts case Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Company, which Professor Hill eloquently writes about teaching in Chapter Six of her book. Professor Hill encouraged finding ways to analogize the situations people of color can find themselves in, victim to predatory lending and unconscionable contracts, to scenarios others can relate to, such as amassing credit card debt to buy an iPhone, etc., in order to bridge the gap in understanding.
For more information about the impact Anita Hill has made on the issue of sexual harassment, please see an interview with the O&G partner and Chair of the Sex Discrimination & Sexual Harassment Practice Group, Kathleen Peratis.