Behind Michael Bloomberg's History Of Sexism And Sex Discrimination Complaints
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
For years, questions have been raised about Michael Bloomberg and women - questions about alleged discrimination against women at his company, about whether he tolerated a hostile workplace environment, also allegations of lewd and sexist comments. Bloomberg, former New York mayor, now Democratic presidential candidate, faced those questions again on "The View" last month. He insisted Bloomberg is a great place to work for women.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE VIEW")
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Did I ever tell a bawdy joke? Yeah, sure, I did. And do I regret it? Yes, it's embarrassing, but, you know, that's the way I grew up.
JOY BEHAR: What kind of a joke?
BEHAR: Oh, bawdy.
BEHAR: A bawdy joke.
BEHAR: Oh, who hasn't?
BLOOMBERG: Well, that - you said that, not me. Thank you.
KELLY: But the allegations go well beyond bawdy jokes. Multiple lawsuits have been filed over the years. Michael Kranish of The Washington Post has been digging in on this, and he is with us now to tell us what he's learned.
MICHAEL KRANISH: Thanks for having me.
KELLY: I'll start with what, to me, was maybe the most shocking allegation of the ones that you document in your reporting. It comes from a former employee who sued Bloomberg personally as well as sued his company, and it involves a comment that she says Bloomberg made to her in 1995 when she told him she was pregnant. What happened?
KRANISH: Well, this is a woman, a top salesperson at the company, Sekiko Sakai Garrison. And she alleges in her lawsuit that when Bloomberg learned that she was pregnant, he said, kill it. And she says she said, what did you say? - and that he said again, kill it. Great, No. 16, a reference she took to mean the number of pregnant women or women with newborn children at the company.
KELLY: I just want to pause because it's shocking - the allegation here - and it goes by fast. She understood the reference kill it to mean terminate the pregnancy.
KRANISH: She says in her lawsuit that she understood his reference to kill it to mean to have an abortion.
KELLY: Bloomberg has denied this. This was one of several lawsuits that Bloomberg or his company has faced over decades. I do want to note what has not been alleged. The cases that you're reporting on here do not involve accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct. And all of these cases have either been settled or dismissed. Is that right?
KRANISH: There's a number of cases - the case of Garrison we just discussed was settled. The cases that I'm familiar with, they don't typically go to trial, so we don't know what would've happened if they'd gone. But there is extensive documentation in several of these cases.
KELLY: What does Michael Bloomberg say about this specific case or the others that you're reporting on now? Or what's his campaign saying?
KRANISH: Bloomberg would not talk to me for this story. We certainly made that request. The campaign, which I did talk to extensively - there's two things here, generally. One is a booklet that we put online that's been quoted from before, but the booklet itself had not been available publicly. This is called "The Wit & Wisdom Of Michael Bloomberg." It's 32 pages and has a lot of comments about women that are profane, sexist and so forth by some...
KELLY: This is a booklet that's been circulating behind the scenes, not something that Bloomberg has ever put out there.
KRANISH: No, it's just - this was something that was given to Bloomberg in 1990 at his 48th birthday party compiled by one of his top assistants who said that she had sat next to Bloomberg for seven years, a chief marketing officer at Bloomberg. And she wrote in the introduction that these are all actual quotes, and there are a lot of sexist quotes that are in that booklet. But when I told the campaign that we were putting the entire book online, they basically said he didn't say anything in that booklet. However, they do say that he has said other things that are, quote, "disrespectful and wrong," but they don't say what those things are.
KELLY: Without excusing anything, behavior that was tolerated in the '80s and the '90s would not be today. We're in a different cultural moment. Is that a factor here?
KRANISH: Well, there are some people at the company who would say that it was a different culture then, but the person who brought the lawsuit - the lawyer for Garrison - she would say, look; there was no excuse then just as there's no excuse now, that that shouldn't be a rationale for what happened.
KELLY: And again, that lawsuit was brought in the '90s, so concurrently.
KELLY: OK. Has Michael Bloomberg made any changes at his company to ensure that whatever it was in past, it is, today, a positive workplace environment for women?
KRANISH: I did review documents that showed there was internal debate in the company about the lack of enough leave for a woman who had just given birth, and they have significantly increased that since then. And now you can get 26 weeks of leave plus some part-time transition time, so they've definitely upgraded their policy on that.
KELLY: So trying to make it a better place for working moms.
KRANISH: That's right.
KELLY: You said he wouldn't talk to you for this story. If you could put a question to him along these lines at the debate tonight, what would it be?
KRANISH: I guess that question would be, when you say that you've said things that are disrespectful and wrong, what are those things? Have you apologized to people who you were disrespectful to? And have you changed over the years? Do you acknowledge that your views were at one place back in the late '80s and '90s and are at another place today? Or do you think you did nothing that was inappropriate and there's nothing to apologize for and really no changes were needed? Or how have you evolved on this subject?
KELLY: Michael Kranish of The Washington Post sharing his reporting there about Michael Bloomberg.
Michael Kranish, thank you.
KRANISH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.