Mrs. Clarence Thomas: Out Damn’d Spot
An analogy between Macbeth and one of the most bizarre, polarizing, and deeply personal confirmation hearings ever conducted by the U.S. Senate in 1991 on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court may not seem clear. Not the first time my analogies have been off the wall. But there’s a legitimate HR or employment point here.
Anita Hill testified that Thomas had sexually harassed her while she worked for him. Thomas denied the accusation and ended up being confirmed on a 52-48 vote. The hearing was classic. He said, she said. No eye witnesses. Both parties seeming to be sincere in what they said. Hill later wrote a book standing by her accusations. Justice Thomas also wrote a book in which he call Hill his “most traitorous adversary.”
A few days ago, Mrs. Clarence (Virginia) Thomas left a voice message for Anita Hill asking her to apologize for her testimony and explain why she had done what she did. No reasonable person would have possibly thought that an apology was forthcoming. I’m not saying that Mrs. Thomas is hallucinating like Lady Macbeth was when she uttered the famous line, “Out damn’d spot,” but Lady Macbeth seemed to be unable to get the blood of King Nelson (whom she helped murder) out of her mind. Virginia Thomas’ spot seems to be the psychological blood she thinks Anita Hill spilled.
It’s difficult to get over something deeply personal, yet deeply personal disputes arise daily at work. They’re almost never resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Part of HR’s job is to lead employees involved in the dispute back to normalcy. Being unable to let a bad experience makes for an unhealthy, ineffective employee. After a deeply personal dispute at work, HR needs to follow-up with all employees involved to make sure normalcy has returned. Though this is rare, some training about letting go of past disputes would also be a good thing.