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Anita Hill On Workplace Harassment


More than 50 companies have said they'd rather not be seen on Bill O'Reilly's show because of revelations that Fox has paid out $13 million to settle sexual harassment complaints about him. And recently, Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber, has made detailed and well-publicized complaints about a culture of harassment and derogation of women there.

Anita Hill wrote about persistent harassment of women in the workplace in The Washington Post this week. She is professor of social policy, law and women's studies at Brandeis University and, of course, became a national figure during the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991. Professor Hill joins us from Waltham, Mass. Professor, thanks so much for being with us.

ANITA HILL: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Is Fox News discovering that sexual harassment claims can be a bad business plan?

HILL: I think the message is clear from advertisers as well as from consumers - direct consumers of the media that this is not tolerable, that the advertisers and consumers understand that they have a vested interest in this. The realization from advertisers, of course, is that the ads being associated with the show is not good for their brand. It's not good for their bottom line. And it also, perhaps, doesn't reflect their own business values internally.

And I think for consumers, the same is true. It's not good. They don't want to be associated with it. And they don't want to pay for this kind of behavior that's going on - that seems to be going on. And that's certainly indicated from the facts and Fox.

SIMON: It's their money that would go into a settlement at least in part.

HILL: It is. Eventually, the costs of these settlements get passed along to somebody, and they're not entirely absorbed by O'Reilly himself or by Fox the network - that these costs do get passed on. And consumers and advertisers don't want to pay for harassment.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you, though, professor, you say in The Washington Post article that Bill O'Reilly ought to be fired. As a professor of law, should someone be fired when these claims have been settled out of court and he still denies them? Is it a slippery slope when someone is fired over accusations?

HILL: Well, it's not necessarily a slippery slope. I think what we don't know is the entirety of the evidence. But we also - we do know that there have been at least five women who have filed formal complaints, that there have been investigations and that, apparently, there was enough evidence. And when you take the totality of it, there was enough evidence that Fox themselves determined that they should settle these complaints.

It is not unheard of for an employee like Bill O'Reilly or anyone - any other employee to be fired for multiple infractions. Internal policies allow that often. I don't think this should be an exception.

SIMON: Quick...

HILL: And I do - I would just add that if, in fact, Fox wants to convince its consumers - if Fox wants to convince its advertisers that it is not a place that supports and suborns sexual harassment, they're going to have to, not only make some very difficult choices, as they would, I'm sure, in the case of firing Bill O'Reilly, but they're also going to have to reform their own internal processes, which also seem to be quite lacking in terms of making sure that these complaints are taken seriously and that the entire environment is not permeated with this kind of toxic activity.

SIMON: Well, let me use the couple of minutes we have left to then ask you about the internal practices. According to Susan Fowler posting at Uber, she says she found the human resources department there to be singularly unhelpful because, in the end, the H.R. people work for the company that signs their paychecks. What can be done to help H.R. look out for the employees not just the employer?

HILL: Well, they - I think you have a very strong case that Susan Fowler makes that the H.R. practices in that - in the Uber did not - were not helpful. I think you should also take a look at the information that has been in the press about the Sterling jewelry case. And in full disclosure, I'm of counsel to the firm work - representing the class action and Sterling jeweler - jewelry.

But the process is, one, did not allow for full disclosure about prior complaints that had been made against Susan Fowler's - the person who she accused of her harassment. She was told that, in fact, she was the only one who had complain. She later learned from other people that they had also complained about this individual.

The processes seem to have a complaint process sort of, you can call it. But, in fact, nothing was done when there were calls and anonymous calls made about individuals. Nothing was done. So they're really practices and policies that are in name only. They're not employee-friendly policies. They're name only. And, in fact, what it seems to be is the culture and climate is baked in to the processes in a way that turns them really as tools for the company.

SIMON: We've run out of time. Thank you, Professor Anita Hill.

HILL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEON INDIANS' "ERA EXTRANA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.