There are a few things you could say about White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci’s reliance on penis-related imagery to insult his colleagues. One is that his puns could use a little work. (Pubis would have been a way more creative replacement for Priebus than Penis. Penis is pretty good, though.) Another is WOW does it feel good to be able to laugh at some Trump administration screw-up, because this one doesn’t substantively destroy people’s lives! The third thing you could say is this: In any other workplace, under any other boss, Scaramucci would probably be in the middle of a damning, possibly career-disrupting human resources investigation by now.
According to Slate’s HR head, Heidi Grothaus, claiming that Steve Bannon tries to “suck” his own “cock,” as Scaramucci did in a statement to a New Yorker reporter on Wednesday, is a clear-cut case of spreading lies or rumors about someone’s personal sex life. Because Scaramucci is in a position of authority—he reports directly to the president—this is a textbook example of sexual harassment.
From a legal standpoint, it’s easier to prove sexual harassment if the victim is a member of a protected class. Since Bannon is not suffering discrimination based on, say, sex, race, religion, or disability, he would have a far more difficult case. But Scaramucci’s actions toward Bannon may be severe enough to override that consideration. The communications director of the president of the United States told a national news media outlet that a co-worker attempts to perform fellatio on himself, a vivid, demeaning, widely publicized remark that could very well interfere with Bannon’s ability to do his job effectively. If he spoke up and raised a fuss about it, the president would probably fire him or reduce his already-diminished influence even further, though that would technically be illegal. Enduring Scaramucci’s rumors about his sexual behavior sure seems to be a condition of Bannon’s employment at the White House.
Because let’s be real: A man who deploys the word cock at least three times in a single one-sided rant to a reporter is not going to cool it with the penis talk anytime soon. Penis imagery is Scaramucci’s poetic crutch, a way to sprinkle some colorful man-dust on any otherwise boring sentiment. It’s a jarring form of macho intimidation surely based in deep insecurity, meant both to establish power and to give Scaramucci an inch or two of an advantage in the dick-measuring contest that is taking place in every White House conference room as you read these very words.
Usually, employees trying to prove a case of hostile work environment have to show evidence that it’s a pervasive problem occurring over a period of time. Daily Beast sources say that Scaramucci has been calling Priebus “Penis” for some time now, but that was before he joined the White House staff. If he continues with that moniker, that would almost certainly constitute a hostile work environment for Priebus. If the White House were any other employer, Scaramucci’s behavior would likely mean legal trouble for leadership, too. “The employer becomes liable for the harassment if they know about it, which we know they do, because [New Yorker reporter Ryan] Lizza’s interview was widely shared, and [Scaramucci] acknowledged it on Twitter,” Grothaus told me. “So everybody knows that this is happening, and they didn’t do anything to reasonably prevent it, and they didn’t seem to do anything promptly to correct it.” This could make the White House liable for creating a hostile work environment among its employees.
Needless to say, Americans shouldn’t let some boner-headed notion of an HR investigation get them too excited. In general it is hard to imagine that there is even a shred of HR oversight in this particular White House. But the White House does have an HR department of sorts—the Office of Administration, which manages administrative business within the Executive Office of the President and should handle human resources problems like this one. (Marcia Lee Kelly, director of the Office of Administration, has not responded to a request for comment.) According to Axios, Trump allegedly “loved” Scaramucci’s remarks.
So impressed is the president with Scaramucci’s command of the art of genital metaphor that he seems to be okay with employing a communications director who doesn’t even understand the proper use of the term cock-block. In his New Yorker tirade, Scaramucci used the colorful phrase to mean general obstruction, not the very specific deterrence of sexual success it implies. By adding cock to block, he brought a penis into a matter that had no connection to penises whatsoever. In the world Mooch shares with Trump, there is no block without a cock, no annoying hanger-on with a last name that starts with “P” without a “Penis.” Their circle of allies is shrinking by the day, and it is positively overflowing with dicks.
There’s one other major barrier to holding Scaramucci and the White House accountable for enabling public sexual degradation in the workplace: Someone has to complain. Bannon and Priebus, the direct targets of Scaramucci’s sexual harassment, don’t have to be the ones to report a hostile work environment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—any employees who can prove that Scaramucci’s behavior has made their workplace an abusive or sexually intimidating place, and that their endurance is a condition of their employment, can make a claim. Who in the Trump White House would do such a thing? The chances of a person who willingly joined the offices of a man whose most famous one-liner includes the words “grab” and “pussy” deciding that another one-liner involving the words “suck” and “cock” was one step too far are teensier than Bannon’s torso would have to be for him to successfully commit the alleged act. No one’s going to tattle on Scaramucci when the big boss is the crudest offender of them all.