After graduating from Yale in 1980, Hill went to Washington, D.C., to work for a private law firm. In 1981 she met Clarence Thomas, eight years her senior, who was sharing an apartment with a mutual friend, having recently separated from his wife. When Thomas received a Reagan appointment to the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education, he offered Hill a job as his assistant, and she accepted. Their relationship was initially friendly, Hill says. Thomas spoke of black solidarity and the importance of civil rights. He confided in her about his political and personal problems as he negotiated Washington's minefields. But according to Hill, the friendly professional interaction gave way to a dating interest on Thomas's part. He started by asking her out. Then he pressed her about why she wouldn't date him. Soon, she says, he was describing to her pornographic movies involving group sex, rape scenes, and animals. Growing increasingly anxious, Hill talked about it all constantly with her friend Ellen Wells, who knew Thomas when they both worked in the office of Senator John Danforth. Hill and Wells discussed what she might do to deflect the behavior, including changing perfume.
All this history, Hill believes, should have been uncovered soon after Thomas's nomination on July 1, 1991. Political appointees typically get an extensive FBI background check—including questioning of former coworkers—and Hill's charges could have been weighed by the subcommittee in private. But no one approached her at the University of Oklahoma, where she was then teaching, nor, as far as she is aware, did anyone contact staffers she had been in touch with at the Department of Education or the EEOC—not at first, anyway.
Rumors of Thomas's behavior toward Hill, however, soon surfaced within the Washington political circuit. Some senate Democrats were thrilled to find another reason to stall Thomas's confirmation. And Republicans were ready to fight. "For George Bush, I think it was political," Hill says. "You know: They can't object to him. I'm going to get someone in there to further my ideological agenda, but he'll be untouchable because I am going to use his race to protect him—and me—from the attacks."