Anita Hill is not the only one who believes things have changed since she testified before that Senate panel 16 years ago, accusing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings. And many say the spotlight she brought to the issue is the reason things have changed.
"The fact that she came forward and testified, I think, showed a lot of women facing very similar, if not more egregious, circumstances in their workplaces that it was OK to come forward," said Jeremy Gruber at the National Workrights Institute.
After the verdict against the head coach of the New York Knicks today, which found that Isiah Thomas and Madison Square Garden sexually harassed former team executive Anucha Browne Sanders — and new accusations flying between Justice Clarence Thomas and Hill sparked by his new book — it is clearly a topic that remains highly charged.
After Hill's 1991 testimony, women who believed they were victims of sexual harassment were emboldened to speak out.
"Anita Hill lifted the veil and made this part of the public conversation," said Suzanne Goldberg, a law professor at Columbia University.
There was a spike in the number of sexual harassment complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and an increase in the number of lawsuits, especially after a 1991 change to the Civil Rights Act made it easier to sue for monetary damages. But there have been cultural changes as well.
"I think many men, many men's eyes were opened to exactly what's happening in the workplace," Gruber said.
New Policies, but Risks Remain
Employers, who have become both more enlightened and more fearful of being sued or publicly embarrassed, have adopted stricter policies against sexual harassment and havw educated employees about which behaviors are and are not acceptable.
But none of this has changed the risk of coming forward with a complaint.
"A woman who brings a charge of sexual harassment risks being labeled as a whiner, a complainer … and risks being fired," Goldberg said.
Like Anita Hill, the legal experts we spoke to today said things have improved, but there's a long way to go. They call for more education, more policies against sexual harassment and better enforcement of the policies already on the books.
They also said the EEOC needs more resources to help women bring legal actions.