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Mrs. Clarence Thomas: Out Damn’d Spot

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.

  1. ACU Frank says:

    In most work-related cases, though, one of the parties leaves the organization (whether by choice or not) fairly soon. That may not heal everything, but at least the conflict doesn’t continue to come up like this one. Anita Hill has been vilified and re-victimized over and over during the past two decades… I guess this latest shot shouldn’t surprise any of us.

  2. Excellent point, Frank. Thanks for the contribution.


  3. Frank is right, but oh! What a mess if no one leaves! Everyone concerned has to really work hard towards reconciliation or it will blow up in your face again and you will be forced to discipline one or more of the parties.

    I have to say, Mrs. Thomas is a piece of work. Even if Ms. Hill lied, who could possibly expect an apology after she wrote a book about it? Either Mrs. Thomas is unbalanced or she is CRAZY for attention.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Nae. I don’t know what to say about Mrs. Thomas other than what I said in my post.

    It can be a huge problem if all or some of the employees involved in the dispute stay with the employer. It’s not impossible, however. I’ve seen it work a few times when HR meets with each person, is honest about the possible problem that can exist in the future, asks each person how he/she feels about that, how a problem can be avoided, and then pay close attention for a couple of weeks — maybe longer — to the employees in question.

    And back to something I think I said in my post, I think providing employees training on dispute resolution, etc. would be well worth the cost, not just to deal with some huge problem that may occur but to work together effectively and respectfully on a day to day basis.

    Thanks again for your comment.


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