Sexual Harassment Hearings Concerning Judge Clarence Thomas
By: Anita F. Hill
Source: Hill, Anita F. "Opening Statement: Sexual Harassment Hearings Concerning Judge Clarence Thomas." U.S. Senate 102nd Congress, 1st Session; Nomination of Clarence Thomas to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Courts of the United States. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993.
About the Author: Anita F. Hill was born in 1956 in Oklahoma. She is the youngest of thirteen children, reared in a religious household (Baptist faith), and has been a member of Antioch Baptist Church in Tulsa since 1983. In 1977, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Oklahoma State University. In 1980, Yale Law School awarded her a Juris Doctorate and, shortly after graduation from law school, she began working for a firm in Washington, D.C. As a result of her work with the law firm, she met Clarence Thomas, and she worked for him from 1981 until July 1983. During the trial, Hill taught law at the University of Oklahoma, and she is currently on the faculty of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.
In October 1991, Anita F. Hill, then a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her claims of sexual harassment. In her testimony and pre-hearing statements, she reported that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her a decade earlier while she was his aide. In her controversial testimony, she provided examples of several different occasions when the alleged misconduct occurred, but after three days of statements the U.S. Senate confirmed Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court by a fifty-two to forty-eight vote.
When Hill worked for Thomas, he headed the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Prior to working at the EEOC, Hill was his aide at the U.S. Department of Education. Thomas led the EEOC from 1982 until 1990, and no other public claims of harassment arose during that time. As a result, during her testimony Hill was closely questioned on how this level of harassment could have occurred, particularly if no other complainants had come forward. Hill persisted in her testimony and provided examples of Judge Thomas calling her into his office on the pretense of discussing work-related projects, but then asking her out to dinner. When she declined, he would ask for a reason for her refusal. In addition, Hill stated that Thomas would make sexually charged remarks about her clothes. Hill qualified her statements with assertions that she felt "extremely uncomfortable talking about sex with him" and that she felt "severe stress on the job." As a result, she began seeking other employment. In 1983, she began teaching at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Throughout his appointment process, Clarence Thomas was a controversial Supreme Court candidate. Thomas was appointed to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall—the first black justice of the Supreme Court. As a result, Thomas's appointment was already under intense scrutiny, the media coverage was heavy, and some critics viewed him as too conservative. Therefore, when Anita Hill came forward with her claims of sexual harassment, many surrounding Hill, Thomas, and the appointment process and proceedings were shocked. Hill said that she had discussed the matter with no one but her closest family members and friends in the years after leaving Thomas's employment, and he admittedly denied her accusations. During the hearings, a number of witnesses were called to support Thomas's good character. In addition, witnesses were called to denounce Hill's character, and U.S. media accounts heightened the attention that the issue received.
At this point, late 1982, I began to feel severe stress on the job. I began to be concerned that Clarence Thomas might take out his anger with me by degrading me or not giving me important assignments. I also thought that he might find an excuse for dismissing me.
In January of 1983, I began looking for another job. I was handicapped because I feared that, if he found out, he might make it difficult for me to find other employment and I might be dismissed from the job I had. Another factor that made my search more difficult was that there was a period—this was during a period of a hiring freeze in the government. In February of 1983, I was hospitalized for five days on an emergency basis for acute stomach pain which I attributed to stress on the job.
Once out of the hospital, I became more committed to find other employment and sought further to minimize my contact with Thomas. This became easier when Allison Duncan (sp) became office director, because most of my work was then funneled through her and I had contact with Clarence Thomas mostly in staff meetings.
In the spring of 1983, an opportunity to teach at Oral Roberts University opened up. I participated in a seminar—taught an afternoon session and seminar at Oral Roberts University. The dean of the university saw me teaching and inquired as to whether I would be interested in furthering—pursuing a career in teaching, beginning at Oral Roberts University. I agreed to take the job in large part because of my desire to escape the pressures I felt at the EEOC due to Judge Thomas.
When I informed him that I was leaving in July, I recall that his response was that now I would no longer have an excuse for not going out with him. I told him that I still preferred not to do so. At some time after that meeting, he asked if he could take me to dinner at the end of the term. When I declined, he assured me that the dinner was a professional courtesy only and not a social invitation. I reluctantly agreed to accept that invitation, but only if it was at the very end of a working day.
On, as I recall, the last day of my employment at the EEOC in the summer of 1983, I did have dinner with Clarence Thomas. We went directly from work to a restaurant near the office. We talked about the work I had done, both at education and at the EEOC. He told me that he was pleased with all of it except for an article and speech that I had done for him while we were at the Office for Civil Rights. Finally, he made a comment that I will vividly remember. He said that if I ever told anyone of his behavior that it would ruin his career. This was not an apology, nor was it an explanation. That was his last remark about the possibility of our going out or reference to his behavior.
As stated earlier, the U.S. Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas's appointment to the Supreme Court, but the social ramifications of the Thomas-Hill hearings continued to resonate. Initial polls from media outlets and private companies found that women, men, whites, and blacks were divided about both sides of the testimony—many felt that neither Hill nor Thomas told the complete truth. Additionally, a perpetual question arose about why Hill waited so long to come forward. She stated that the emotional effects of the events, her religious background and nature, and fear of losing respect in her work community prevented her from coming forward earlier. As a side note, some activist groups and media outlets added to the Thomas-Hill controversy by pointing out that Hill was questioned by an all-male panel and that the Senate remained a predominantly male body.
After the Thomas-Hill hearing, statistics show that more women reported sexual harassment claims. A number of famous, wealthy, and politically prominent men were accused, including President William Jefferson Clinton. (The accusations against President Clinton concerned alleged actions during his terms as governor of Arkansas and during his first presidential campaign.) These cases, as well as countless others, captivated the media's attention, and in the mid- to late 1990s Hollywood made several movies addressing sexual harassment issues—from the male and female perspectives. Corporate American also began to take the issue seriously, and many companies instituted strict policies against sexual harassment in the workplace.
Hill, Anita. Speaking Truth to Power. New York: Anchor, 1998.
Saguy, Abigail Cope. What Is Sexual Harassment?: From Capital Hill to the Sorbonne. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
Palmer, Barbara. "Ten Years Later, Anita Hill Revisits the Clarence Thomas Controversy." Stanford Report. 〈http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2002/april3/anitahill-43.html〉 (accessed March 24, 2006).