NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO
OCTOBER 6, 1991
LIANE HANSEN, host: This is "Weekend Edition." I'm Liane Hansen.
A woman who served as personal assistant to Clarence Thomas for over two years has accused him of sexually harassing her. National Public Radio has learned that the woman brought her accusation to the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, but it was not investigated until the week of the committee's vote. Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court is scheduled for a vote in the full Senate Tuesday night, but some senators believe the vote should be delayed while the accusation is investigated further. NPR's Nina Totenberg reports.
NINA TOTENBERG REPORTING:
In an affidavit filed with the Senate Judiciary Committee, law Professor Anita Hill said she had much in common with Clarence Thomas and that she initially believed that common background was one of the reasons he hired her as his personal assistant 10 years ago.
Hill was raised in poverty on a farm in Oklahoma, she said, the youngest of 13 children with strict disciplinarian parents. Like Thomas, she graduated from Yale Law School and, after a brief stint in a law firm, was hired by Thomas as his personal assistant at the Department of Education in 1981.
According to Hill's affidavit, Thomas soon began asking her out socially and refused to accept her explanation that she did not think it appropriate to go out with her boss. The relationship, she said, became even more strained when Thomas, in work situations, began to discuss sex. On these occasions, she said, Thomas would call her into his office to discuss work or, if his schedule was full, would ask her to go to a government cafeteria for lunch to discuss work.
According to Hill's affidavit, Thomas, after a brief work discussion, would, quote, `turn conversation to discussions about his sexual interests. His conversations,' she said, `were vivid. He spoke about acts he had seen in pornographic films involving such things as women having sex with animals and films involving group sex or rape scenes. He talked about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises or breasts involved in various sex acts,' close quote.
Hill said she repeatedly told Thomas she did not want to discuss those kinds of things but sensed that her apparent disgust only urged him on.
`After some months,' she said, `the conversations ended.' Thomas had a girlfriend, and she thought the episode was over. When Thomas became head of the EEOC, Hill said, she moved with him, but some months after she went to the EEOC, said Hill, Thomas resumed his advances. He never touched her, she acknowledged in an interview, and he never directly threatened her job. But, she said, she was 25, and she began to worry that she would soon suffer professionally if she did not submit.
ANITA HILL: I felt as though I did not have a choice, that the pressure was such that I was going to have to submit to that pressure in order to continue getting good assignments, being able to work and be comfortable in the work environment, which--if I had submitted to his pressure, I would not have felt comfortable any way, but I--I felt that that was part of the bargain that he was trying to ma--what message that he was trying to send to me--that if I did not submit, that I was not going to be--continue to be a good employee.
TOTENBERG: In 1983, after being hospitalized for what she believes was stress-related stomach pains, Hill resigned her job and took a teaching job at Oral Roberts Law School in Oklahoma. She says she will always remember her last conversation with Clarence Thomas at the EEOC.
HILL: Well, he made a statement about his behavior, that it was--if I ever did disclose it, that it would be enough to ruin his career. My response was that I really just wanted to leave the experience behind me. I just wanted to get out.
TOTENBERG: Hill says that back in the early 1980s, she told only one person about what was happening to her, a friend she'd gone to law school with. The friend, now a state judge in the West, agreed to talk to NPR on condition her identity not be revealed. And she said that Hill had, indeed, told her, at the time, of the alleged harassment. When Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court, Hill said she initially decided not to reveal her experience because she did not want to relive it. But in early September, she changed her mind.
HILL: Here is a person who is in charge of protecting rights of women and other groups in the workplace, and he is using his position of power for personal gain, for one thing. And he did it in a very--just ugly and intimidating way. But he is also really, in spirit and I believe in--in action, too, violating the laws that he's there to enforce.
TOTENBERG: The law defines sexual harassment as including a hostile environment. By the time Clarence Thomas was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee the week of September 10, Hill had contacted the staff of the Judiciary Committee's chairman, Joseph Biden. She says that while Biden's staff seemed interested, it was not until 10 days later, after repeated calls from her, that she was interviewed by the FBI. Her friend, the state judge, was also interviewed, as was Clarence Thomas. Thomas, according to Senate sources, told the FBI he had asked Hill to go out with him, but when she declined, he said, he dropped the matter. According to sources who've seen the FBI report, nothing in it contradicted Hill's story except nominee Thomas, who denied any harassment.
Hill is now a tenured law professor at the University of Oklahoma Law School. The dean of the school and the former dean of Oral Roberts speak highly of her, calling her an outstanding professional, a woman of the highest integrity. Last night the White House, responding to inquiries from NPR, issued a statement saying that it had been informed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 23 about the allegation against Thomas and that the president had directed the FBI to conduct an investigation. Two days later, the White House reviewed the report and, quote, `determined that the allegation was unfounded,' close quote. A White House spokesman said the president continues to believe that Judge Thomas is eminently qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, but several senators contacted by NPR say they are troubled by the Hill allegations and the long delay in investigating them by Chairman Biden. Senator Paul Simon of Illinois.
PAUL SIMON (SENATOR, Illinois): I did not know about it until after our vote, and--and I heard about it and then asked to see it.
TOTENBERG: Do you know why nobody on the committee knew about it, or many people on the committee didn't know about it...
SIMON: I think...
TOTENBERG: ...until after the vote?
SIMON: I think that question you'd have to direct to the chairman.
TOTENBERG: Are you mad?
SIMON: No, it's--it's--it's a judgment call.
TOTENBERG: A Biden staff assistant said last night, all committee members had been informed before the vote. Simon and other senators who did not want to go on the record last night said the Hill episode raises, once again, the question of Thomas' credibility.
SIMON: I think the que--the question of credibility is the serious question here--is a serious question here.
TOTENBERG: And put against the backdrop of the hearings, how does that work out?
SIMON: Well, I think there was a credibility factor before, and it just adds some weight to the credibility question.
TOTENBERG: Simon and other senators said they would press to have Tuesday's vote on Thomas delayed.
SIMON: I think it--it would be wise to take a serious look at it, and I doubt that that can be done before a Tuesday-night vote.
TOTENBERG: Changing the time of the vote could prove difficult. According to Senate sources, both Majority Leader George Mitchell and Minority Leader Bob Dole were briefed about the Hill allegation last week before agreeing to the vote for Tuesday. Moreover, Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Biden had read both the FBI report and the Hill affidavit last week when he cast his vote against Thomas, but Biden went out of his way to praise the nominee's character.
JOSEPH BIDEN: I believe there are certain things that are not at issue at all, and that is his character or characterization of his character. This is about what he believes, not about who he is.
TOTENBERG: Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Biden was not available for comment last night. I'm Nina Totenberg in Washington.
HANSEN: Nina, we'd like you to stay with us for just a moment. You've asked a lot of questions, but your report raises a lot more. The first one is, did Anita Hill come to us with the story?
TOTENBERG: No, she didn't. I heard about it from a number of sources. I did reach her. She refused to talk to me at all until I had obtained a copy of her affidavit, the affidavit that she submitted to the judiciary committee. She then confirmed its authenticity and agreed to talk.
HANSEN: Why didn't she go public earlier?
TOTENBERG: Well, she says she was afraid of retaliation, that she didn't want to relive the whole episode, and she thought that going to the Judiciary Committee was the discreet way to operate, she says.
HANSEN: Nina, what impact do you think this is going to have? I mean, this is bombshell timing.
TOTENBERG: Well, I really don't know. Certainly there were many members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who, in the days just before the vote, did find out about this. Some of them thought it was significant; some of them didn't. Some of them may have voted taking this into consideration; some of them didn't think it was significant. There is the fact, of course, that anybody can make this kind of an allegation and ruin a career, even if it's not true. And certainly, the Senate has got to be terribly aware of this. On the other hand, women have increasingly said that men don't take charges of sexual harassment terribly seriously, and the United States Senate is almost all male. I think it's an extremely difficult qu--question to handle. It's too bad that it comes up so late.
HANSEN: NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Thank you very much, Nina.
TOTENBERG: Thank you, Liane.
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Excerpt from Nina Totenberg’s breaking National Public Radio report on Anita Hill’s accusation of sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas. October 6, 1991.
Credit: Nina Totenberg, “Thomas Accused of Sexual Harassment”, Weekend Edition, NPR, Oct. 6, 1991. Used with permission of National Public Radio.