I joined the radio host yesterday evening to talk about how sexual harassment law works in practice, in light of the reports that presidential candidate Herman Cain was a target in two employee actions alleging “inappropriate” conduct. More on the “hostile environment” branch of harassment law here.
Cynical? Even more so than usual? The Harvard lawprof lays out a theory that ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his accuser share an interest in cooperating to foil prosecutor Cy Vance [Newsweek]
Federal regulators and private complainants step up pressure for tougher university disciplinary action against offensive males — and speech-related offenses will be very much under scrutiny. [Greg Lukianoff/Daily Caller, Harvey Silverglate and Kyle Smeallie/Minding the Campus, Caroline May/Daily Caller]
More: The Yale Alumni Magazine notes that DKE (Delta Kappa Epsilon) brought the University “bad publicity.” And Dave Zincavage has been blogging critically about the affair. Further: Scott Greenfield.
A fraternity has already apologized for its role in loutish public expressions, but that isn’t nearly enough for some complainants who’ve initiated an investigation by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights that puts Yale at risk of losing its $500 million in federal funding if it isn’t sufficiently cooperative. Peter Berkowitz in the Wall Street Journal:
That Yale finds itself under pressure from the government, in the face of stupid frat-boy initiation rituals obviously designed to humiliate the pledges themselves, dramatizes how far government and higher education have drifted from the principles of freedom. … What is really at stake in the current investigation of Yale is the proper mission of the university. The complainants, not a few university administrators and faculty, and powerful forces at work in the Department of Education seem to think that one of a university’s top priorities is policing students’ opinions and utterances to ensure that they adopt government-approved ideas about sexual relations. That priority can’t be reconciled with the imperatives of a liberal education.
If a letter just sent to alumni by Yale President Richard Levin is any indication, the university may not intend to put up much of a public stand on behalf of its autonomy of governance, the toleration granted even some offensive utterances in a community of unbridled expression, or the importance of due process for students accused of wrongdoing. Indeed, Levin’s letter does not make even the tamest and most tentative attempt to argue that anything about the OCR complaint is legally erroneous or worth resisting. The full text of the letter follows: [click to continue…]
A new Massachusetts law that went into effect last year allows neighbors and other unrelated complainants to seek restraining orders against each other, a legal remedy formerly confined mostly to use between family members. But there’s been a surge of filings seeking the new “harassment prevention orders,” and according to the clerk of the Boston municipal court, the law has wound up empowering “every kook in the world” to “file a harassment order against their neighbor or landlord or someone who just annoys them.” Among cases: “One man took his neighbor to Malden District Court for allegedly blowing leaves on his property, and a woman in Boston Municipal Court insisted that actor Chuck Norris used high frequency radio transmissions to harass her at home.” [Boston Globe]
Scott Greenfield thinks some legal academics may stand in need of a civil liberties refresher course.
I’m interviewed by Cato’s Caleb Brown (appx. 11 minutes). I discuss the roots in legal academia of developments ranging from modern tort law (thank you, William Prosser) to sexual harassment law (thank you, Catharine MacKinnon) and quite a few others besides.
According to London Mayor Boris Johnson, writing in the Telegraph, the recent case of a man who is charging a 68-year-old female colleague with unconsented rump-slapping shows that Britain’s employment tribunal system leaves much to be desired:
This could turn out to be a ground-breaking case in the advancement of workers’ rights against the unfeeling boss class. But I sincerely doubt it. It sounds to me like a perfect indication of the levels of barminess now being attained by our system of employment tribunals. The hearing continues, it says at the bottom of the reports, and my first thought is how mad, how incredible it is that this poor man’s grievance – whatever it really is – has come to court.
The hearing continues, while across the country thousands of similar hearings drag their weary length before the matchstick-eyelid tribunals of Britain. Millions of man-hours are wasted, as business people are obliged to give evidence rather than getting on with their jobs. Huge fees are racked up by lawyers and “expert witnesses”, who are called on to pronounce on the exact meaning of an insult, and on all the unverifiable aches and pains and stresses that may constitute a disability.
The total cost of the system has been put at £1 billion for British business, and it is rising the whole time. …
Last month Prime Minister David Cameron proposed relaxing — though only slightly — the tribunals’ grip over firing, hiring, claims of harassment and other workplace matters.
“Third-party” harassment claims pose a legal headache for employers. [HR Capitalist]
Nocturnal ramblings of a less-than-conscious nature during a business trip to Africa were misportrayed by the company as sexual harassment or something else improper, argued the mining exec. A jury awarded him €10 million, by far a record for an Irish libel case. [Telegraph, Eichler/Atlantic Wire]
William Saletan investigates a curious genre of harassment case [Slate; more at Atlantic Wire]