History Lesson

I only mention this because someone else brought it up today…

Once upon a time there was a senior vice president of a major corporation. He was prone to sexually harassing his female subordinates, but so far he had gotten away with it, and his ascent up the corporate ladder proceeded unobstructed. Eventually he became the CEO. One day, one of these former victims of his harassment filed an employment discrimination suit against him (sexual harassment is a form of discrimination under the law because the assumption is that the individual’s conduct would’ve been different if the employee were the other gender, and that the environment you have to work in is a condition of employment).

Now this guy really liked being CEO, and didn’t want to get fired for cause in the short term, or fail to get his contract renewed when it expired. The problem for him was that there is a pre-trial phase of litigation called “discovery” in which both sides in the suit get to demand various forms of damaging evidence from the other side, and the court can compel its production. The reasoning here is that you don’t let the defendant win by hiding or destroying evidence of liability in his possession. Why is this a problem? Because the plaintiff can depose scads of the defendant’s former female employees about his conduct, and he knows this would reveal that, yeah, he’s the kind of guy who does this sort of thing. Instead of “he said, she said” it would become “he said, angry mob of women said.” One of the people likely to be deposed was a current subordinate of his, with whom he was currently having sex. When this came out, the scandal alone would get him fired.

So here’s what he did: he tried to line up a plum job for the current subordinate, in exchange for her lying under oath about their relationship. If no prior victims other than the plaintiff came forward, between his own lying under oath and that of his current subordinate, he was sure to win the sexual harassment suit. Read everything up to this point again. The sexual harasser hoped to cause his victim to lose her sexual harassment suit by bribing a key witness into perjuring herself. This is the stuff of which movies are made: malefactor, even in the courtroom, is untouchable, because he’s bought off or intimidated anyone who might testify against him, and so for his victims, justice is denied. Movies like this usually end with a crucial piece of evidence escaping the malefactor’s control, truth outs, the victim becomes the vindicated. Movies like this are easy to understand too: we know what corporate villains look like, we know that corporate villains abuse their power to get stuff they want, we know that corporate villains lie to cover their tracks, and we know that really powerful corporate villains can make everyone around them lie too by bribing or intimidating them, so that their own victims become victims twice over, by being disbelieved and having justice denied them.

Now we generally don’t like this sort of thing. Our legal system, whatever its many flaws, knows that the aspiration to justice is pretty hopeless if parties can lie with impunity, bribe or intimidate others into lying, destroy evidence, etc. because there can be no justice unless there is some semblance of truth first. This is why these kinds of activities are also illegal.

Well the story has a happy ending. Despite the CEO’s attempt to suppress evidence of his history of sexual harassment, in part by bribery, the truth came out anyway, and though he was able to conceal the facts long enough to get his contract renewed, he was fired before his new contract expired. The woman he harassed was vindicated, the integrity of the justice system was preserved.

Actually, that’s not quite what happened, because profits were substantial during his tenure as CEO, and a powerful faction of shareholders who had prospered were not about to let the CEO’s misconduct stand in the way of continued success, and after considerable maneuvering, they succeeded in preventing our hypothetical sexist pig, liar and criminal from being fired. The way the CEO played the “trial by media” game was relevant too: by the time the whole thing was over and done with, no one understood anymore what it had been about. People would remember that he almost lost his job, but no one ever remembered the words “sexual harassment” in connection with that. The underlying lawsuit was eventually settled and forgotten. He lived happily ever after.

Which I guess goes to show that if you want to be a sexual predator and perjurer, and make a mockery of our laws against employment discrimination, your best bet is to be CEO of the biggest corporation of them all, the federal government of the United States of America, and to be named William Jefferson Clinton.

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One comment on “History Lesson

  1. Pliny the Elder says:

    But no one cares about the facts . . .

    I know from experience with this particular case.

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