The XX Factor

Christine O’Donnell’s Gender Discrimination Suit

In the run-up to today’s primary, Christine O’Donnell, the GOP Senate candidate from Delaware with Tea Party ties, has been facing strong attacks from her opponent, Congressman Mike Castle. As Dave Weigel points out on his Slate blog, Castle’s been focusing on O’Donnell’s personal flaws in his campaign against her. Much has been written about O’Donnell’s “dire” personal finances , which according to the AP include, “threats of liens, foreclosures and an Internal Revenue Service audit.”

But there hasn’t been that much noise about the substance of the gender discrimination suit that O’Donnell launched in 2005 against her former employer, the conservative nonprofit Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). The stories about O’Donnell’s suit all focus on the fact that she did not tell the truth in her complaint about being accepted to Princeton for a master’s program. According to an article in the Weekly Standard :

The July 2005 complaint alleges that ‘ISI violated its promise to allow Miss O’Donnell time to take master’s degree classes at Princeton,’ thus causing a loss of ‘earning power.’…But, in fact, O’Donnell had not yet received her bachelor’s degree at that time and had not been accepted to a master’s program at Princeton.

So the stuff about Princeton is bunk. But what about O’Donnell’s gender discrimination claims? The Weekly Standard is mum about whether those hold water. According to the amended complaint [PDF] , O’Donnell allegedly experienced a hostile work environment, in which male subordinates refused to take orders from her and made lewd comments. In addition, she was “asked to perform clerical and administrative tasks … for a man who was hired straight out of college as ISI’s receptionist and clerical assistant, and whom she had been asked to train previously.” O’Donnell also claimed that “ISI wanted every female employee to report to a male employee, which was in line with its philosphy that a female employee should not have any authority without being under the headship, or authority, of a male employee.”

O’Donnell, who was seeking $6.95 million in damages, dropped the suit in 2008 because she could not afford to pay her lawyer. And yes, the Mama Grizzly ‘s credibility is compromised by her Princeton fib and the mess she had made of her financial life. Still, it’s curious that her claims of sexist treatment at work have been pretty well ignored, even though they’re not at all disproven. Why haven’t the women’s blogs that have covered O’Donnell delved into her allegations of office sexual harrassment? Maybe because it’s invariably difficult to sort out allegations like this, especially if they haven’t received a full legal airing. Present company included on that one. But if O’Donnell wins the primary today against Castle ( and she’s got a fighting chance ), it will be worth digging into whether her claims of gender discrimination hold up.

Update: Christine O’Donnell has won the GOP primary in Delaware .