Did Bill Clinton "sexually harass" Monica Lewinsky? Uh, no.


This blog is non-partisan, but . . .

Bill Clinton 1996.flickrCC.Cliff
"OK. Maybe I did have sex with that woman, but I didn't harass her."

If you're following the 2016 presidential elections at all, you know that Hillary Clinton's political opponents are trying to attack her by making an issue of Bill's sexual misconduct. One of the things being said by some of Hillary's opponents is getting under my skin from an employment law standpoint.

It is said that Hillary isn't a true champion of women's rights because she sided with Bill instead of the women he was doing his thing(s) with. Fair enough.

Specifically, this week Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker said that Bill's inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky "was a clear case of sexual harassment by the very definition promoted by feminists -- that is, a person in a superior workplace position making (or responding to) sexual overtures toward an employee, regardless of consent."

In her defense, Ms. Parker includes the qualifier "by the very definition promoted by feminists." But she should have come right out and said that the "feminists'" version of sexual harassment (if this is indeed the "'feminists'' version") is not the legal definition of sexual harassment.

Under the law, a person "in a superior workplace position" can legally make or respond to sexual overtures toward an adult employee. If the employee rejects the overtures, then that should be the end of it, and there should be no continued pursuit, and no retaliation based on the rejection. If the overture is the answer to the employee's dreams, then ok - it's not sexual harassment. If the employee initiates the overtures, then the boss's "acceptance" is not sexual harassment.

It's an affair.

Monica and Bill: Not a sexual harassment scenario.

The Supreme Court settled this issue about a thousand years ago, when it held that sexual harassment had to be "unwelcome" to the recipient to be legally actionable. That's why co-workers who date, or who have consensual sexual relationships or even extramarital affairs, are not necessarily guilty of sexual harassment. This is true even if one party to the relationship is the "boss," and the other party is a subordinate.

I actually read the Kenneth Starr report when it was issued. (I know - I have no life.) Monica Lewinsky was 21 years old, and she had the hots for Bill Clinton. His behavior toward her was not "unwelcome" to her in any respect. Does that mean I condone it? No. But let's not be too loose about accusing people of "sexual harassment" when they've done nothing of the sort.

DISCLAIMER: I have no comment on the legal significance of Bill Clinton's other relationships, actual or alleged, at this time. I take no position on what Hillary Clinton's response should be to her husband's relationship with Monica Lewinsky or to any other actual or alleged relationships.

Image Credits: From flickr, Creative Commons license. Bill Clinton (1996 photo) by Cliff; "Garden of Hedonism" by Scott.

Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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