Michael Bloomberg’s alleged harassment of women

African-Americans and radical feminists are core constituencies of the modern Democratic Party. Mike Bloomberg, who seeks that party’s nomination for president, may soon find himself in hot water with both. However, the circumstances that may land him there vary materially.

If Bloomberg finds himself in trouble with African-American voters, it will be because as mayor of New York he used policing policies that help prevent crime, and because videos show him making politically incorrect but essentially accurate (if exaggerated) statements about crime and credit worthiness. Bloomberg may lose lots of African-American support on account of this, but he doesn’t deserve to.

By contrast, if Bloomberg finds himself in trouble with feminists, he may have only himself to blame. Yesterday, the Washington Post ran a lengthy article citing allegations that Bloomberg tolerated, and indeed created, a work environment at his company that was hostile to women.

The article points to Bloomberg’s alleged use of sexually-charged language so extensive that it made for a 32-page booklet his friends put together called, with irony intended, “The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Bloomberg.” The article also discusses several lawsuits filed by female employees against Bloommberg and/or his company.

Some of the allegations in these lawsuits are disturbing, and not just to feminists. They may or may not be true, but if believed, they might well do serious damage to Bloomberg’s quest for the Democratic nomination.

Here is one allegation:

On April 11, 1995 at approximately 11:20 a.m., Bloomberg was having a photograph taken with two female Company salespeople and a group of N.Y.U. Business School students, in the company snack area. When Bloomberg noticed Garrison standing nearby, he asked, “Why didn’t they ask you to be in the picture? I guess they saw your face.”

Continuing his penchant for ridiculing recently married women in his employ, Bloomberg asked plaintiff, “How’s married life? You married?” Plaintiff responded that her marriage was great and was going to get better in a few months: that she was pregnant, and the baby was due the following September.

He responded to her “Kill it!” Plaintiff asked Bloomberg to repeat himself, and again he said, “Kill it!” and muttered, “Great! Number 16!” suggesting to plaintiff his unhappiness that sixteen women in the Company had maternity-related status. Then he walked away.

Bloomberg settled a lawsuit over his treatment of Ms. Garrison and the settlement includes a non-disclosure agreement. However, Post reporter Michael Kranish says he obtained verification of the above allegation from former Bloomberg employees. He quotes one of them, a male, as saying he witnessed the conversation. According to this employee, Bloomberg’s behavior toward Garrison was “outrageous.”

The Bloomberg campaign denies that the candidate told Garrison to kill her unborn baby. However, it also says “Mike openly admits that his words have not always aligned with his values and the way he has led his life, and some of what he has said is disrespectful and wrong.”

For a time, the law firm I was with until I retired represented Bloomberg in a suit brought by the EEOC alleging sex discrimination based on the company’s treatment of pregnant women. I did a very small of work on the case until the partner in charge of it left our firm and took the matter with him.

I can’t reveal much about the case, but it’s a matter of public record that Bloomberg did not settle it. Instead, he defended himself and his company vigorously and successfully. U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska dismissed the case, finding that the EEOC’s failed to show the pattern of discrimination it alleged.

I admire Bloomberg for not knuckling under to the EEOC.

As noted, Bloomberg has settled some cases alleging discrimination by individuals. However, we shouldn’t infer from the settlements that the allegations were true. Settling “he said, she said” cases often makes sense even if the defendant didn’t say that which is alleged, given the uncertainly over whom a jury will believe. A suit alleging a pattern of discrimination, such as the EEOC case, may be easier successfully to defend, although the financial cost of defending it can be very high.

Can the Bloomberg campaign ride out charges of sexism by pointing to the judgment in the EEOC’s suit and a general admission that some of what the candidate said was “disrespectful and wrong”? Doing so might well be challenging, especially with reporters like the Post’s Kranish digging into specific allegations of improper conduct.

The Clinton campaign rode out allegations that Bill cheated on Hillary with a general admission of marital wrongdoing. But for Democrats, marital infidelity in 1992 wasn’t nearly as problematic as sexual harassment is in the age of “Me Too.”

Bloomberg will have to answer questions about the way he treated female employees. The answer his campaign has offered so far might not be good enough.

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