August 28, 2018. That is the date of the 2018 Arizona election primary. It is also when we will learn something about whether #MeToo was just a blip or a major inflexion point for women in the workplace.
Don Shooter will be on the Republican ballot in a bid to regain a seat in the Arizona Legislature, just months after a House seat was stripped from him at the climax of the 48th state’s own sexual harassment scandal.
Recap on Repeat Offender
Last fall, as the revelations were erupting about the many women accusing Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, first alleged that she had been harassed by unidentified fellow legislators and then named Shooter, of Yuma, as one of the harassers. According to Ugenti-Rita, Shooter asked questions about her chest while visiting her legislative office and showed up uninvited holding a beer outside her hotel room at a work conference.
Soon, other women came forward alleging unwanted touching or inappropriate, sexually charged comments or gestures by Shooter, who then was chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Among Shooter’s accusers were other lawmakers and legislative staffers, lobbyists, a newspaper intern—and the then-president and publisher of the Arizona Republic, Mi-Ai Parrish.
Parrish, who is Asian-American, was accompanied by the newspaper’s lawyer when she met Shooter for the first time on a visit to his legislative office. Shooter boasted that he had done everything on his bucket list, except one. Parrish fell for the trap, asking what on his list he had left undone. Shooter replied, “those Asian twins.” Parrish let it go.
Taking it “Like a Man”
An investigation found credible evidence that Shooter created a hostile working environment at the Capitol. It also revealed that he was well-known among his legislative colleagues as “pervy,” a “character,” “flirtatious,” and wont to make off-color comments. Shooter was expelled from the House on February 1, 2018, by a 56-3 vote of his colleagues, his well-known behavior no longer tolerable.
Shooter did not apologize or express any contrition but stated on the House floor that he “took it like a man.” As he left office, he told a reporter that he had been “thrown out of better places than this.”
Now he wants back in, and more than 800 constituents signed his petition to qualify for the ballot for the District 13 Senate seat he once held. “The people never got to have their say,” he said. Now they will.
Parrish wrote, in revealing her Shooter encounter, that we had reached a tipping point. I would like to believe she is right. But I have my doubts.
From my Baby Boomer perspective, I see more women among succeeding generations who are unwilling to tolerate the jokes, leers, and innuendo—or worse—that persist. Social media may make it easier today to stand up for yourself and others in confronting boorish behavior.
But is it the critical mass needed for lasting change? Since I have been earning a paycheck, it has been one step forward and two steps back from achieving a fair and respectful workplace where those in power—usually men—do not exercise it with an overlay of sexual hostility or conquest.
It was 32 years ago, after all, that the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously recognized sexual harassment as a vioilation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A pair of Court decisions issued more than 20 years ago made policies against sexual harassment, with dedicated avenues for complaint and manager training on how to respond to complaints, standard operating procedure in nearly all workplaces. Between those peaks of progress, there have been a lot of valleys.
Harvey Weinstein may be in handcuffs. Bill Cosby may be a convicted felon. But Don Shooter is on the ballot. Will voters be willing to excuse his behavior? That would be a telling sign that #MeToo is more the current transit than a true workplace transformation.
Dinita L. James, a partner in the Arizona law firm, Gonzalez Law, LLC, is the editor of Arizona Employment Law Letter. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-565-6400.