The Gillibrand Standard according to which any allegation of sexual misconduct against a Democratic candidate becomes a reason for the Democratic Party to cut them loose seems to have claimed its first female candidate.
The candidate in question is Andrea Ramsey, a Democratic candidate for Congress in Kansas' 3rd Congressional District. Here is her description of why she decided to go the Al Franken route (Andrea Ramsey letter: ‘I never engaged in any of the alleged behavior’ Kansas City Star 12/15/2017):
When I was the head of human resources at a local company, I had to make difficult business decisions on a daily basis concerning budgets, training initiatives, compensation and benefits, workforce hiring and workforce terminations. A termination decision is always the most wrenching, because it affects not only a person’s livelihood, but also an individual’s dignity and sense of self. Sometimes employees don’t take the decision well, and do things they wouldn’t otherwise do because they are angry in that moment, seeking to retaliate.Anyone who has seen personnel departments in large organizations in action is likely to have a twinge of skepticism at reading that. Because HR staff are advocates for the company, not for the employees. But that's beside the point for the facts of her case.
Twelve years ago, I eliminated an employee’s position. That man decided to bring a lawsuit against the company (not against me). He named me in the allegations, claiming I fired him because he refused to have sex with me. That is a lie. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated the allegations and decided not to pursue the complaint; the man later decided to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit. Because I wasn’t a named party, I didn’t have any opportunity to participate in its resolution.Ramsey specifically refers to the problem created by the Gillibrand Standard, though she doesn't call it by that name:
Since I was in sixth grade, I wanted to be a lawyer. What drew me to the field of law was the idea of due process, that both sides presented their case and an objective judge or jury weighed the evidence. I have been swept up in decisions without due process. A man sued my company twelve years ago and made false accusations against me. Had the false allegations been brought against me directly, I would have fought to exonerate my name and my reputation. I would have sued the disgruntled, vindictive employee for defamation. Now, twelve years later this suit is being used to force me out of my race for Congress. Let me be clear: I never engaged in any of the alleged behavior. And the due process that I love, that drew me to the field of law, is totally denied. [my emphasis]
My opponents have chosen to use these false allegations against me for political purposes, not only engaging in a whisper campaign, but also contacting political and news organizations. These false allegations are disgraceful and demean the moment this country is in. For far too long, complaints of sexual harassment have been completely ignored. The timely and thorough investigation of complaints is a very good thing. We are seeing real change in how harassment is being handled from Topeka to Washington. We should always make it as safe as possible for people who have been wronged to come forward, and I have based my professional career as an employment lawyer and human resources executive on that principle.McClatchey's Lindsay Wise and Bryan Lowry report (Democrat Andrea Ramsey, accused of sexual harassment, drops out of U.S. House race McClatchy/Kansas City Star 12/15/2017):
In its rush to claim the high ground in our roiling national conversation about harassment, the Democratic Party has implemented a zero tolerance standard. For me, that means a vindictive, terminated employee’s false allegations are enough for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to decide not to support our promising campaign. We are in a national moment where rough justice stands in place of careful analysis, nuance and due process. [my emphasis]
She was running with the endorsement of Emily’s List, a liberal women’s group that has raised more than a half-million dollars to help female candidates who support abortion rights. ...Note that the Democratic committee in that quote appears to be saying they think Ramsey was guilty of the alleged conduct.
The Democratic campaign committee, which has not endorsed anyone in the race, said in a statement that members and candidates must be held to the highest standard.
“If anyone is guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault, that person should not hold public office,” said committee spokeswoman Meredith Kelly.
Emily’s List said in a statement on Friday that the group supported Ramsey’s decision to drop out of the race and wished her well. The organization removed Ramsey’s photo and endorsement from its website shortly after The Star’s report was published online.
From their report, it appears that Ramsey could have been a strong Democratic candidate. Scott Bland and Maggie Severns write (Female House candidate withdraws over sexual harassment claim Politico 12/15/2017), "Ramsey is the first congressional candidate to resign amid a wave of other resignations in Washington revolving around sexual harassment. Ramsey was a top recruit for the women-in-politics group EMILY's List this year and Yoder’s district, which includes parts of Kansas City, is considered a promising potential pickup seat for Democrats."
This story presents the same dilemma that the Al Franken case did, in that the politician accused did not accept the accusations as accurate, the claims that were in the public record were vague, and there was no formal process that had validated the claims. In both cases, the Democratic Party quickly turned on the candidate, or Senator in Franken's case. And the accused person bowed out of their political position, which for a lot of people will be taken as an admission of guilt. And the charges are "out there," and lot of people will believe them because they find them titillating.
The Republican Party does not apply the same standard to their candidates. See: Moore, Roy; and, Trump, Donald.
The case of John Conyers is obviously different. Except by the Gillibrand Standard, in which Democrats should not differentiate among vaguely alleged rude behavior, indecent exposure, and actual assault. But, as I understand it, Conyers had agreed to specific settlements on very specific allegations. There were also accusers speaking on the record and telling credible and generally consistent stories.
One of the things I've wondered about in the current discussion of sexual harassment is how it may affect the practice of companies and other organizations agreeing to cash settlements over such allegations. The nondisclosure agreements strike me as a real problem. But the settlements themselves can be based on a pragmatic financial calculation, in which the company attorneys are confident they would win the case but it would cost the company significantly more money to litigate the case than the settlement would cost.
Bill Clinton famously made a legal settlement with Paula Jones. But, as Joe Conason describes (When reckoning with Bill Clinton, use facts, not myths PressConnects 11/24/2017), "various contradictions marred her testimony, notably the mythical 'distinguishing characteristic' of Clinton's male equipment, which she evidently invented. Still, he agreed to pay her a settlement of $850,000, without any admission, to end the litigation." And he explains, "That payment was the least of the indignities and injuries that befell Clinton. The investigations cost him tens of millions of dollars, a five-year suspension of his license to practice law, a searing scar upon his family, and a future obituary that will feature his status as the only president ever impeached over a sex lie."
So a legal settlement over sexual harassment charges in itself does not mean an admission of guilt unless such an admission is specific. In Ramsey's case, she is explicitly denying the charge. And she is claiming, so far apparently without argument from anyone, that the settlement the company made over the fired employee's complaint did not include the company admitting any kind of validity to the sexual harassment claim.
The Democrats are going to have to find a better way to handle these cases like Franken's and Ramsey's, unless they don't care that the Republicans can use this to easily knock out Democratic candidates from contention.