The Battlefield of Sexual Harassment Charges
November 3, 2011

Chambers of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

In 1991, just a few years before the alleged charges against Herman Cain were made, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opened the flood gates for sexual harassment claims with a ruling known as Kerry Ellison vs. Nicholas Brady.  In the case of  Ellison vs. Brady the Ninth Circuit changed the way courts determine what is and what is not sexual harassment.  As one expert explained it, the Court of Appeals ruled that it does not matter if the alleged harasser intends to be harassing or complimentary.  The ruling rejected the “reasonable person” standard used by the trial court instead opting for a

Just Say No?

reasonable woman argument in which the alleged victim perceived the conduct severe and pervasive enough to change the work environment so as to create an offensive environment.  After Ellison vs. Brady was decided, small businesses and large across the country began to settle hundreds of claims of sexual harassment rather than face the scrutiny of the courts which now had precedent to side with women in such cases.

Did this make the National Restaurant Association General Counsel so jumpy that simple misunderstandings involving Herman Cain and women subordinates were considered urgent enough to payoff?  No telling.  But it is interesting to examine the case which was the model for sexual harassment law as we know it today.  It might put in perspective the rumors and facts circling about Herman Cain’s “inappropriateness.”

CEO's On Especially Dangerous Ground

Many thanks to the Bookworm Room Blog for bringing this to the attention of The Kitchen Cabinet!  A woman lawyer, and a perceptive one!

Read this short summary of the case….it’s fascinating…and reveals a man obsessed with a co-worker taken from court papers:

Kerry Ellison worked as a revenue agent for the Internal Revenue Service in San Mateo, California. During her initial training in 1984 she met Sterling Gray, another trainee, who was also assigned to the San Mateo office. The two co-workers never became friends, and they did not work closely together. Gray’s desk was twenty feet from Ellison’s desk, two rows behind and one row over. Revenue agents in the San Mateo office often went to lunch in groups. In June of 1986 when no one else was in the office, Gray asked Ellison to lunch. She accepted. Gray had to pick up his son’s forgotten lunch, so they stopped by Gray’s house. He gave Ellison a tour of his house. Ellison alleges that after the June lunch Gray started to pester her with unnecessary questions and hang around her desk. On October 9, 1986, Gray asked Ellison out for a drink after work. She declined, but she suggested that they have lunch the following week. She did not want to have lunch alone with him, and she tried to stay away from the office during lunch time. One day during the following week, Gray uncharacteristically dressed in a three-piece suit and asked Ellison out for lunch. Again, she did not

On October 22, 1986 Gray handed Ellison a note he wrote on a telephone message slip which read: I cried over you last night and I’m totally drained today. I have never been in such constant term oil (sic). Thank you for talking with me. I could not stand to feel your hatred for another day. When Ellison realized that Gray wrote the note, she became shocked and frightened and left the room. Gray followed her into the hallway and demanded that she talk to him, but she left the building. Ellison later showed the note to Bonnie Miller, who supervised both Ellison and Gray. Miller said “this is sexual harassment.” Ellison asked Miller not to do anything about it. She wanted to try to handle it herself. Ellison asked a male co-worker to talk to Gray, to tell him that she was not interested in him and to leave her alone. The next day, Thursday, Gray called in sick.
Ellison did not work on Friday, and on the following Monday, she started four weeks of training in St. Louis, Missouri. Gray mailed her a card and a typed, single-spaced, three-page letter. She describes this letter as “twenty times, a hundred times weirder” than the prior note. Gray wrote, in part: I know that you are worth knowing with or without sex…. Leaving aside the hassles and disasters of recent weeks. I have enjoyed you so much over these past few months. Watching you. Experiencing you from O so far away. Admiring your style and elan…. Don’t you think it odd that two people who have never even talked together, alone, are striking off such intense sparks?

This is only an excerpt.  Entire document available at:






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