Regardless of whether President Clinton escapes with light legal treatment for alleged perjury in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, the following is what happens to the average guy, and the average small business owner when a sexual harassment suit is filed. To see what happens in a small, politically insignificant sexual harassment case which no one was paying any attention to, I went to the trial of the Pittsburgh Sports Garden — a 30 day take-no-prisoners spectacle that once under way, grew into something like a full stage production of “The Scarlet Letter” and “The Crucible.” When the 1991 Civil Rights Act, for the first time, permitted jury trials and punitive damage fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for sexual harassment cases, AT&T spokesman Burke Stinson was asked how these fines would affect corporate America. Mr. Stinson replied that the new harassment laws would be “a blow only to yahoos.” Since the time Stinson issued his rosy prediction, we’ve watched a shamefest of sexual dramas which have featured not only yahoos, but Supreme Court Justices, Senators and the President of the United States. If, as Clinton advisor, James Carville tells us, the Paula Jones case is what you get “when you drag a $100 bill through a trailer park,” what did the architects of harassment law think they’d get when they drag millions of dollars through political and corporate America? They’ve taken a “wrecking ball to me,” said Bill Clinton in his videotaped appearance before the Starr grand jury. Well, they have taken the wrecking ball to a lot of people. They took a wrecking ball to Clarence Thomas over a few bad jokes. They took a wrecking ball to a small business located on the job-short Monangahela River where 80 people worked, a place that provided most of its employees with what many waitresses testified were the best jobs they ever had. The 30-day trial, held at no small cost to the taxpayers, focused on a popular, smart-mouthed bartender named Eddie Farley, whose primary trial defense was that he was the possessor of “a New York personality.” Some said he was a fun-loving guy with a playful nature, the fastest bartender in town, but had questionable people skills. He admitted singing “If I Only Had A Brain” from the Wizard Of Oz to waitresses who made mistakes. He called his co-bartender “dickhead” and beseeched waitresses for “hummers” and backrubs in exchange for margaritas. His co-bartender, Pat McDonough, engaged to be married and working at the bar to pay for pharmacy school, was charged with “retaliation” for uttering a single sentence to a waitress after she had reported Farley to the EEOC for harassment. “Here honey, rat finks like cheese,” he said to the waitress as he handed her a plate of crackers and cheese. For this single sentence, he wound up on the front pages of Pittsburgh’s newspapers, charged with being a sexual harasser. He feared his career and admission to pharmacy school were over, and maybe his future marriage. His prospective in-laws asked if he was a pervert. In the movie “The Crucible,” wife Goody Proctor was heartbroken that moral zealots ran finger-pointing through the streets of Salem, taking her adulterous husband’s “goodness away.” Nearing the twenty-first century in America, few stones have been left unturned or uncast, and since the time that sexual harassment has been placed atop the legal ladder of sins, droves of people have had their goodness taken. The Sports Garden trial featured hours of tricky courtroom arguments over alternative meanings of the word “hummer.” Big dictionaries were hauled onto the witness stand to show that “hummer” did not necessarily refer to oral sex, but could conceivably refer to the all-terrain sand vehicles used in Desert Storm. There was testimony that the much ballyhooed hummer jokes were first begun by a waitress mimicking the voice of a talking pinball machine called Funhouse. “Step right up here and get your hummer,” beckoned the machine. Even the bread truck driver couldn’t escape the widening witch-hunt and was accused of carrying triple-x porno films in his truck along with his hoagie buns. “Isn’t it true,” the attorney asked one of the young managers, “that you used the projector at the Sports Garden to show triple-x videos?” “No!,” some employees yelled out in the courtroom, outraged at this latest allegation. No tidbit of gossip was left unused as grist for the shamefest. Dr. Irene Frieze, professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, testified that the Sports Garden, this hang out for twenty-something women and men looking for dates and mates, had a “sexualized work environment.” The sky was rumored to be the limit on the cash in this case. The accused bartender claimed he had been making trips outside to his car with the plaintiff. Sexual acts were allegedly performed, followed by his trashing of her to the guys in the workplace. Charges of drug use, alcohol addictions, or adultery, were used against any witness who was seen as a threat to either side. Waitresses and bartenders, accused of underreporting tips and stealing, were threatened with being reported to the IRS for tax evasion. One man was accused of raping his wife in front of their two-year-old. “Muckrakers!,” he bellowed at the top of his lungs to a reporter, his booming voice echoing through the stunned courtroom. For a moment, the huge and muscular man seemed to me like a raging bull. I thought someone might be beaten up or killed. It didn’t get much uglier than this. This is the kind of thing you expected to see in Red China or Iran, in the kinds of places where hand holding is outlawed, where business owners are purged, and where adulterers are stoned — not in the United States of America. “You are watching the decay of America here,” a part-time young waitress who was also a teacher said, as we watched the ongoing parade of her 20-something coworkers have their privacy shredded on the witness stand. As the dirty laundry was heaped in piles onto the courtroom floor, the Sports Garden’s owner was ordered to deliver his financial records to court. Had he known about any of these hostilities, he insisted that he never would have tolerated them, an assertion backed up by other waitresses. Nevertheless, the law reads that the owner “should have known.” This legal concept called “The Should Have Known Standard” means that owners are liable for whatever transpires in their workplace even if they had no idea it was occurring. A deal was made with Eddie Farley. The attorneys would drop the charges and $10,000 fine against him if he would admit that he had made some incredibly crude and sexually hostile remarks about the plaintiff. Watching her relive what were some of the worst moments of her life, I asked the plaintiff how she could stand the public humiliation of this trial. Her lawyer replied that the humiliation would be figured into her settlement. In the end, the jury awarded her $80,000 in punitive damages and the judge awarded $600,000 in legal fees to the law firms. That night, the Sports Garden closed and 80 people — chefs, managers, accountants, waitresses and bartenders — lost their jobs. In the face of this single-minded zealotry, collateral damage was ignored and deemed irrelevant. Never mind that careers were derailed, reputations destroyed, marriages reduced to rubble and a business demolished, a sexual harasser was uncovered! The owners and employees of the Sports Garden experienced firsthand the overblown and draconian legal process that feminists and trial lawyers had devised for America. Feminists and lawyers who have made the wrecking ball the weapon of choice in these matters should review the consequences of what they’ve devised. The wrecking ball has swung full circle and has nearly demolished one of it’s own. In twenty-first century America, Supreme Court nominees can expect to be subjected to inspections of their garbage cans and video rentals, as routine parts of their confirmation process, while future presidential and congressional candidates can expect to be subjected to the indignity of an adultery litmus test — the current version of branding people with Scarlet “A”s. So much for the land of the free. This is not the first time that the road to hell has been paved with good Intentions, and not the first time that a cure was concocted that was worse than the disease. There are people who are seriously harassed at work and need protection and a remedy. Unfortunately, a sense of proportionality was a concept totally absent from sexual harassment law until the President of the United States was catapulted from a sexual harassment lawsuit into an impeachment inquiry. If any good comes out of the Clinton scandals, it would be a realization that adjustments to this law are needed. Problems at the Sports Garden could have been dealt with through mandatory counseling. If that failed, firing the harasser and charging him with intentional infliction of emotional distress would have targeted the actual perpetrator rather than shifting the punishment to his co-workers and an innocent business owner. The U.S. Senate has enacted a rule requiring that any Senator being accused of harassment must first have a private arbitration process where all concerned get a chance to be informed of the problem, and a remedy, before it escalates. The rest of America deserves no less. Those who think that Ken Starr has been too aggressive in his pursuit of the president should take note of how personal injury attorneys, led on by the incentive of hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, aggressively pursue alleged harassers by investigating their sexual relationships, consensual or not, in the search for patterns of harassment. On top of being unfairly applied and excessively punitive, the fines permitted by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 — up to $300,000 per incident, should be challenged as unconstitutional. The Eighth Amendment states that the government shall not impose “excessive fines.” One can hardly imagine a more excessive fine than one of $300,000 for a sentence someone else said.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.