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DO `DIVERSITY' SEMINARS HELP - OR DO THEY ADD TO PROBLEM?

QUESTION: Air traffic controller Douglas Hartman has filed a $300,000 lawsuit against the government after taking part in a Department of Transportation "cultural diversity" seminar. Male employees were fondled and sexually demeaned during role-playing to try to make them more sensitive to women's concerns. Should Hartman win his lawsuit?

BONNIE ERBE: Here is the good news: Some employers are finally responding to legitimate complaints about sexual harassment on the job. Now for the bad news: Sometimes in their zeal to correct a problem, they go a bit overboard.The Department of Transportation hired a private firm to help tackle the workplace issue of "gender sensitivity." As part of the training program designed by Baltimore's Hart Performance Group, men were asked (not forced) to enter a room where they ran a "female gantlet."

Just as women at the now-infamous Tailhook convention were fondled, derided and abused by men, the Hart Group's research revealed many men found it a learning experience to endure similar treatment at the hands of women. It's a course that has worked in hundreds of cases, but not for Douglas Hartman.

His case should go forward. If a judge and jury find he was subjected to unreasonable discrimination, he should be compensated.

Many companies are hiring "diversity" consultants to help assuage on-the-job gender tension. Any honest attempt to bring men and women closer together in the workplace is ultimately wholesome.

BETSY HART: I applaud my colleague's attempt at sanity in this case. I agree, the "sensitivity trainers" were way off base, and Douglas Hartman should have his day in court. The idea that men had to run this "gantlet" of sexual abuse in the name of cultural diversity is obscene and absurd.

To maintain that the men were simply undergoing what women experience every day is hyperbole at best, and a feminist-contrived lie at worst. Even to suggest that it mimicked the Tailhook event is untrue. We now know that many of the women involved in what they later called a "scandal" were at the time enjoying and even initiating the raucous behavior at that now famous Naval pilots party.

My colleague maintains that such sensitivity seminars are bound to go to excess from time to time and that this event shouldn't cast a pall over the whole lot. How wrong she is. The very idea of "sensitivity training" reeks of stereotyping. Their premises, though some may put it more delicately, are always that all whites are racist; all heterosexuals are homophopes; that all men are sexist.

Inevitably these sessions, no matter how subtle or reasonable they sound, exist to blame the "politically incorrect" group for all woes suffered by the "politically correct" group. The excesses that produced the FAA's "gantlet" were inevitable, in large measure because these sessions seek to divide, not unite.