Michael Bloomberg’s lengthy career has been clouded by a trail of lawsuits and accusations from women claiming he made derogatory comments and fosters
a hostile workplace for women. And throughout it, Bloomberg has been able to brush off the accusations as off-color remarks, settling more serious matters out of court and throwing in nondisclosure agreements for good measure. His alleged transgressions against women have been relegated to New York City gossip and long-lost anecdotes from old news stories, only to be dug up from the archives in recent weeks following his sudden rise in the Democratic primary polls.
Most notable was his refusal to release employees from their nondisclosure agreements, a position he reversed for three former women employees only after Warren thoroughly embarrassed him about it during the February 19 Democratic Debate. But Warren isn’t satisfied with this gesture, and neither should anyone else. According to the Associated Press, Bloomberg LP has “faced nearly 40 lawsuits involving 65 plaintiffs between 1996 and 2016, though it’s unclear how many relate to sexual harassment or discrimination.”
But getting down to the bottom of who else may be muzzled by Bloomberg is, apparently, a step too far for the former New York City mayor. During the Democratic debate on Tuesday, Warren referenced allegations that Bloomberg discriminated against pregnant employees, including one claim that, in response to a woman employee announcing her pregnancy, Bloomberg told her to “kill it.” Warren said that the issue is personal for her, and reiterated the story of when she was fired from her teaching job when she became visibly pregnant.
“The principal wished me luck and gave my job to someone else,” Warren said. “I didn’t have a union to protect me and I didn’t have any federal law on my side, so I packed up my stuff and I went home. At least I didn’t have a boss who said to me ‘kill it’ the way that Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said to one of his pregnant employees.”
Bloomberg, predictably, denied the allegation. But when Warren challenged Bloomberg to “sign a blanket release” for the women who signed nondisclosure agreements if he truly had nothing to hide, Bloomberg’s frustration mounted, as did his disconnect with reality (emphasis mine):
Nobody accused me of doing anything other than just making a comment or two and what the senator did suggest was that we release these women from the nondisclosure agreement. I did that two days later and my company has said we will not use nondisclosure agreements ever again. The senator has got it and I don’t know what else she wants us to do. [...] And the trouble is, with this Senator, enough is never enough for what this—I’m going to start focusing on some of these other things. We just cannot continue to relitigate this every time. We did what she asked. And thank you. We’ve probably made the world better because of it. And by my company renouncing using these, we’ve probably changed, hopefully, the corporate landscape all across America.
This was Bloomberg’s “nasty woman” moment—a parallel to the 2016 debate moment that put President Trump’s unbridled sexism on display for the American people in real time.
Bloomberg attempted to render Warren into a humorless nag, a miserable crone who couldn’t even be satisfied with her minor victory at his expense. Bloomberg was so confident about this moment as a win for him that he posted a video of it on his Twitter page with a link to a statement he released previously, patting himself on the back for releasing the three former employees from their NDAs.
But this moment didn’t make Warren appear unreasonable. It made it abundantly clear that Bloomberg is a man who is used to dealing with women as nuisances to be handled quietly; get them to sign some documents and let them go off into the night, for decades without a peep. Warren isn’t one of his underlings, and unable to imagine himself out of boss mode, the idea of the Senator not simply taking his pathetic olive branch in peace confounds him.
Comparing Bloomberg to Trump has become such a line to his opponents that can start to feel a little old hat, but Bloomberg’s breathless moment on the debate stage truly linked the two. Like Trump, Bloomberg is deeply uncomfortable by women who refuse to kowtow to him, and like Trump he responds to them in the only way he knows how, with cheap insults that characterize the woman in question as irrational and difficult. But that rigidity is what we need as the primary process continues: more challenges against Bloomberg, more refusals to see him as anything but a billionaire whose luck with shutting up the women around him could be running out.