A professor of social policy, law, and women's studies, Hill was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1980. Hill began her law career as an associate with the Washington, D.C., firm of Wald, Harkrader & Ross. In 1981 she served as counsel to the assistant secretary of the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. From 1982 to 1983, she moved on to serve as assistant to the chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Clarence Thomas (see below). Hill became a professor at Oral Roberts University, where she actively taught from 1983 to 1986. In 1986, she joined the faculty at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.
Although Hill was a career employee (Schedule A) and therefore had the option of remaining at the Department of Education, she testified that she followed Thomas because, "[t]he work, itself, was interesting, and at that time, it appeared that the sexual overtures . . . had ended." Also, she testified that she wanted to work in the civil-rights field, and that she believed that "at that time the Department of Education, itself, was a dubious venture."
On October 11, 1991, Hill was called to testify during the Senate confirmation hearing of then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Hill's allegations against Thomas were made public when information from an FBI interview about the allegations was leaked to the media days before the final Senate vote on his appointment. Thomas was nominated by then-President George H.W. Bush to replace the retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court.
Hill's testimony included a wide variety of language she allegedly was subjected to by Thomas that she found inappropriate:
"He spoke about acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes....On several occasions, Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess....Thomas was drinking a Coke in his office, he got up from the table at which we were working, went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, 'Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?'."
Four individuals (Ellen Wells, John W. Carr, Judge Susan Hoerchner, and Joel Paul) testified that Hill had been upset at the time she worked for Thomas about what she had said was sexual harassment by him. Angela Wright, another of Thomas' subordinates, stated that she had also been sexually harassed by him but did not testify so at the hearings and Rose Jourdain testified that Wright had been upset at that time about what she had also said was sexual harassment by Thomas. Wright had been fired by Thomas from the EEOC.
Thomas made a blanket denial of the accusations, claiming this was a "high-tech lynching", and, after extensive debate, the U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed Thomas by a vote of 52-48.
In their Black feminist anthology, All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies, Editors Akasha (Gloria T.) Hull, Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith describe Black feminists mobilizing "a remarkable national response to the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas (Supreme Court nomination) in 1991, naming their effort African American Women in Defense of Ourselves.
Doubts about her testimony were furthered by the widely publicized and later recanted claims of journalist David Brock, in his book The Real Anita Hill. Brock, later describing the book as "character assassination", disavowed it and apologized to Hill; he also suggests that he used information provided by an intermediary of Thomas to threaten another witness, Kaye Savage, into backing down, which Savage confirms. His recantation was published in the July 1997 issue of Esquire Magazine, in a piece titled "I was a Conservative Hit Man." and, in his subsequent book, Blinded by the Right, he accuses himself of being "a witting cog in the Republican sleaze machine."
In 1998, Anita Hill penned her autobiography, Speaking Truth To Power.
"I see ... the faces of these young people, and I see their hearts and that they really do want change, and that they deserve it," said Hill. "They deserve a better society and so that is what motivates me and I think that I can be a part of creating that and having [been] given that chance, I don't want to blow it."
In 2007, Clarence Thomas published his memoirs, revisiting the Anita Hill controversy. He describes her as touchy and apt to overreact and her work at the EEOC as mediocre. He wrote in his autobiography, My Grandfather's Son:
Hill has provided expert commentary on many national television programs. Hill has been featured on “Today,” “60 Minutes” and “Face the Nation.” Hill is also the author of many articles which have been published in “The New York Times,” “Newsweek,” and "Critical Race Feminism." In addition, she has contributed to many scholarly and legal publications. Hill is also a sought-after public speaker in many arenas, including law and women's rights.
On October 29, 1996, Hill resigned from the University of Oklahoma College of Law. She obtained a position at the Institute for the Study of Social Change at University of California, Berkeley in January 1997.
In 2005, Hill was selected as a Fletcher Foundation Fellow.
In 2008, Professor Hill was awarded the Louis P. and Evelyn Smith First Amendment Award by the Ford Hall Forum.