If the trial of Rochester City Councilor Chris Rice can result in any elevation of the human condition it would be that we contemplate just what is sexual harassment, what is a compliment and what is simply a stupid crude joke ... or a joke - dare we say - made in jest?
Imagine a joke made in jest! What a novel concept.
Keep in mind, Rice is not accused of sexual harassment, but "harassment," yet media outlets across the state and nation have written he is accused of "sexual harassment."
For instance, Foster's May 2 headline: "Rochester Councilor Chris Rice accused of sexual harassment of peers"
On May 3, WMUR wrote "Rochester city council member accused of sexual harassment"
On May 3 the Associated Press wrote he was accused of harassment in their headline, but used "sexual harassment" in the first paragraph of its story.
The worst thing Rice said to fellow City Councilor Ashley Desrochers is say she "looked good." Rice says he may have said she "looked good" on a certain day or "looked nice" or was "nicely dressed," but that is not sexual harassment.
Of course, if he said "you poppin' that sweater" or "you rockin' that skirt" or "oo la la," that would be different, but he didn't say those things.
He also did reference that she was "cute," but I don't think that's sexual harassment either.
Even the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission writes that, "the law doesn't prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious."
That, to me, sounds like what Rice was doing. A little crude? Yes. But sexual harassment? No.
As for dumb blonde jokes, I've known many blondes in my life and they all pretty much love a good blonde joke, too, if it's among friends. However, the history of Rice and Desrochers is way too combative for him to use this comment in jest.
But the larger context of this is, "are we creating a workplace where there is no humor, where people are afraid to interact on a familiar basis.
If workplace harassment researchers Joanie Sompayrac of the University of Tennessee and Marilyn Helms of Dalton State College are correct this could be in the offing.
They write: While more employers have been hesitant to regulate jokes in the workplace because they do not want to be perceived as humorless, jokes can be considered offensive and even be a potential form of sexual harassment. "Dumb blonde" jokes (could) constitute sexual harassment by creating a hostile work environment. The article concludes with suggestions for employers to eliminate jokes from the workplace and establish policies regarding potential forms of sexual harassment.
Does this mean men can's compliment women on their clothes or visa versa.
Parenthetically, I hear women compliment other women on their clothes or earrings or shoes all the time. Could that constitute sexual harassment, too?