Did he or didn’t he?

That’s what political pundits and others have been debating the last few weeks regarding presidential candidate Herman Cain.  But a more interesting question is whether claims of sexual harassment are on the rise or not.

Indeed, lost in the public discourse is a fact that isn’t talked about a lot: claims of sexual harassment (at least here in Connecticut) have been consistently trending down over the last few years.

In fact, claims in the last year that data is publicly available (FY 2009-2010) indicate that sex harassment claims filed at the CHRO were down over 30 percent, from FY2001-2002.  In raw numbers, claims are down from 239 claims filed to 162.

So the better question is why the drop?  I don’t know the answer to that question and I’m sure there are a number of factors involved.  But my educated guess is that the drop is due in part to better training and better responses by companies. Indeed, in Connecticut, the law and regulations requiring training is now a requisite part of human resources.

Does this mean that the era of sexual harassment claims are over? A column in Sunday’s New York Times suggests so. Or at least suggests that the current law is a bit outdated.

Codes of sexual harassment imagine an entirely symmetrical universe, where people are never outrageous, rude, awkward, excessive or confused, where sexual interest is always absent or reciprocated, in other words a universe that does not entirely resemble our own. We don’t legislate against meanness, or power struggles, or political maneuvering, or manipulation in offices, and how could we? So should we be legislating against rogue flirtations, the floating out of invitations? Obviously there is a line, which if the allegations against Mr. Cain are true, he has crossed, but there are many behaviors loosely included under the creative, capacious rubric of sexual harassment that do not cross that line.

I wouldn’t go that far.  We’ve seen enough headlines and cases to recognize that inappropriate behavior in the workplace still goes on — albeit in lower numbers than in the past — despite all the training and education that goes on.

So, perhaps the latest headlines merely reinforce the notion that claims of sexual harassment still carry some importance and claims against companies can quickly become today’s news.   They still need to be promptly and thoroughly investigated.