There is a myriad of reasons why an accusation may be made. Jealousy and envy, whether over a personal relationship, promotion or a raise which another person enjoys, often are behind accusations. In some jurisdictions like New York State, such accusations can be entertained in courts even if the accused did not intend anything wrong or offensive, because the standard for liability is subjective and relies on the feelings reported by the accuser.
Let there be no misunderstanding: Such a standard creates a strong presumption in favor of the accuser, and permits a false accuser to exact irreversible damage, to at least some degree, on her target. Furthermore, there is a subset of otherwise highly-educated people who openly declare that accusers -- and specifically, female accusers -- just "would not" lie about such circumstances. This attitude places men in peril, for no other reason than their gender.
In other words, it's "open season" on men -- and particularly, men of substance.
Let's put aside the fact that such a legal standard, and the gender-based discrimination it helps foster, are ripe for all sorts of abuse. The ease with which such lawsuits can be brought and reach the trial stage, surviving pre-trial motions to dismiss, often means that an absolutely baseless lawsuit can be based on entire lies and yet cause an innocent corporate executive or manager and his/her employer to sustain significant legal fees.
In recent history some plaintiffs have exploited corporate America's fear of controversy and unwillingness to confront bogus allegations. Settlements are achieved because the target realizes that it saves money by settling. Corporate America's and shareholders' bottom-line priority to save money and cut losses has fueled this reluctance to take some of these plaintiffs "to the mat." However, if reputation is more important than money, defendants can choose to go all the way and challenge plaintiffs to prove their case. Some of these cases end up being total victories for the defense. And it bears reminding that plaintiffs also risk their reputations in these cases. Serious harassment allegations should never be considered a girl's golden path to future financial security.
While one cannot paint a broad brush on how and why accusations are made, it stands to reason that the most legitimate of complaints are also the ones resolved quietly and often without litigation.
In my opinion, merely being accused of harassment, even if one's company or organization chose to settle, is nothing of which to be ashamed. Herman Cain -- and many men in business and public life -- may want to consider making examples of someone right now, not for reasons of retribution but more for the deterrent effect on future abuse.
Eric Dixon is a New York investigative lawyer who specializes in crisis situations and strategy, and counsels people on how to handle the stress of lawsuits, investigations and prosecutions in order to prevail in situations exactly like that described above. Mr. Dixon is available for comment or consultation at 917-696-2442 and by e-mail at edixon@NYBusinessCounsel.com.