THE OFFICE SQUEEZE PLAY – SEXUAL HARASSMENT ON THE JOB
Hedy M. Salazar
Copyright – 1987
(Although this was written thirty years ago, little has changed for the victims.)
While driving home alone that rainy June evening, the windows of my car were not the only things steamed. Hot tears rolled down my burning cheeks as I muttered vengeful obscenities. The sting of humiliation and embarrassment still fresh, I made a solemn vow to make him pay for what he did. At the very least, I promised myself that I would stop him from hurting anyone else like he had hurt me.
The fateful night several years ago thrust my life nto a tailspin which changed the total scope and complexion of my existance. The man who violated me that night initiated the catalyst which triggered a major turning point in my life. I was hurled into a confrontation that I was nprepared to fight and unable to resolve. To say that my world had been turned up-side-down would be a gross understatement. Yet, when I reflect u2on the events of that spring and summer of 1981, I know thathad I not been confronted with the sexual harassment on my job ind compefled to face the resulting problems,the person I am today would not exist.
As I recount the details of the sexual harassment I experienced, all of the anger, resentment and impotence I felt then, I relive again. I am willing to endure this pain so that others who read
my story might learn from it.
I eagerly accepted the position as the Assistant to the Departmental Supervisor with a major oil and gas company offered to me in early Spring of 1981. I relocated my family to Houston from Oklahoma City, anticipating the rewarding and secure future this job promised.
Within six weeks after starting my job I discovered several disappointing facts. First and most important; I was not classified as an “assistant” to anyone, never was and probably never would be; Second, there was little opportunity for my advancement within my department; Third, to’date there was little advancement or hiring of females·into supervisory positions and, therefore, female representation withing the ranks of middle and upper management was lacking; and Fourth, my supervisor displayed· an intense interest in me.
The first three items mentioned were beyond my control and I accepted them as such, however, my naive sense of honor and justice convince me that I could discourage my supervisor’s questionable intentions toward me and contain the situation. Unwaware of the gravity of the situation and potential negative impact this could have on my career and personal life, my concern was minimal.
Initially, his comments and attentions were subtle inuendo and I was uncertain that it was harassment. When his actions became more pronounced I became alarmed. He would demand that I sit in his office for hours playing vassal to his lordly presence. Feeling uncomfortable about spending my work time in such an idle manner, I created elaborate excuses concerning my work load and deadlines havi g to be et, thus ev ding the daily homage he requested. Since I would not go to him, he proceeded to come to me. He invaded the inner sanctum of my office several times a day, interrupting my work with his idle chit-chat. On numerous occassions he ask very pointed questions about my personal life. This was embarassing and humiliating, and added to the growing anxiety I felt. On several occassions he stated that the day or evening was beautiful and should be occasioned by lunch, dinner, etc. He never stated that I should or that I had to do any of these things, however, his implied ‘you and I’ was obvious. I discovered later that this was his approacn with all of the females harassed by him. This guy was a pro!
This was supported by his twenty year history of harassment which I uncovered later.
I discussed my problem with my friends. They assured me that it was just my imagination and even if the guy was interested–well that was a fact working women had to face. I could not accept their ideas. My imagination was not in the habit of manifesting the agitation I felt, nor did it explain my increasing discomfort when in his presence.
I devised several plans that I felt sure would halt his actions toward me, keeping in mind that any action I took had to be exercised with tact and diplomacy. I was entering unfamiliar territory and my instincts demanded caution. My first strategy was simple–!gnore him and he would go away.
Undaunted by my silent brush off, his harassment intensified with a more direct approach. I tried laughing at his remarks–indicating that I was not taking his suggestions seriously; I referred continually to his wife and children–searching for a flicker of guilt, but the man had no conscience; and finally, I tried to avoid him whenever possible.
Our departmental secretary and another female employee, the latter being harassed by him also,tried to help me. The secretary warned us when he was on the prowl and we fled to the safety of the ladies room or stairwells. My disappearing act only drew more attention to my situation. He demanded that the secretary and my co-workers, who officed next to me, confess to my whereabouts when I was away from my desk. He insisted that I tell him with whom I had lunch and constantly visited my office unannounced and uninvited.
None of my tactics discouraged his advances, they only aroused his propensity for pursuit and perpetuated his harassment.
My co-workers joked about his bizarre behavior–his interest in me was obvious to everyone. This deepened the embarrassment and humiliation I felt already and my alarm grew to panic. My panic escalated to acute anxiety as I was forced to endure his daily intrusions, complete with salacious drooling and carnal leering. Each day I had to face going to work feeling emotionally violated and frightened by this miscreant. Most devistating was the silent intimidation of the invisible weapon he brandishedashe forced his attentions upon me–his weapon–my job.
At this point, I felt I had three options: I could live with the situation; I could confront him about his behavior and explain that I was not interested in a personal relationship with him; or, I could report his actions to the company and/or EEOC (the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). However, each of these options cause me, not him, to jeopardize my job, my financial security and future career.
I could ‘not afford to lose my job!’ I was the sole support of two young sons barely making ends meet and had nothing to fall back on if I lost this position. I was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place and didn’t know what to do.
His daily bombardment of harassment created a hostile and intimidating work environment and it was beyond the realm of anyone’s ability to function effectively under this daily stress.
Several months of this constant intimidation and its resulting stress, took its toll both emotionally and physically. I could not sleep; I lost weight, and I was drinking daily, attempting to cut the edge of the pain and hopelessness I felt. My children suffered my lack of love and understanding and occassionally my anger, which I was unable to express to anyone. The sexual harassment became the mainstream of my existance.
I had no one to turn to, no one to give me advice, no one to tell me what my ri hts were, or, at the very least, someone to give me moral support. I needed help and had no where to go. I was isolated and frustrated.
Through a devious maneuver on his part, my supervisor managed, through the sympathy of another employee, to get myself and another female co-worker out to dinner one evening in June–THE evening. That night he crossed the barrier from verbal harassment to physical harassment. He had the unmiti8ated gall to attempt to fondle me in a public restaurant. I was outraged! His attack forced me to take action.
In a blind rage I made an appointment with the EEOC and went to file a complaint against him. I was disappointed when the male intake officer attempted to di suade me from filing a formal charge. He explained that the legitimacy of my case was not in question, but rather my ability to prove my allegations. I argued that I had a reliable witness who would be willing to substantiate my charges, however, he countered with a long ar ument about how difficult it would be to make the charges believable in a court of law.
He told me that few sexual harassment cases were taken to court and even fewer were won. He recommended that I find another job. I left his office feeling bewildered and disillusioned. Why should I have to pay the price by leaving my job, when l had done nothing wrong?
I was angry! I had endured my supervisor’s despicable behavior for months, suffered a physical attack by him, and then discovered that the only source that could help me did not to do so. During the several days which followed his physical attack, my supervisor avoided me, however, my animosity festered and gnawed constantly in my gut. I felt that if I didn’t find an avenue of release I would explode.
I finally decided that I had no alternative but to report the incidents to the company personnel department. By this time it did not matter any more if I lost my job, I wanted this man stopped! And I was willing to do anything to accomplish that goal.
I reported his lascivious conduct to the personnel department and told them that if this man ever spoke to me again that I “would punch his lights out.” They were somewhat taken aback by my comment, however, it clearly demonstrated 0 my intense anger. I requested that they move me to another department where I would.have no contact with this man.
They agreed with my request and moved me to another department,however, the office they moved me to was on the same floor’ and logistically closer to the Harasser. I was exposed to his presence daily.
By this time I realized that my credibility as an employee was ruined and I felt I lost my effectiveness in my job. I quit the company.
He is still employed by the company and my contacts have informed me that from then untill now he has not harassed anyone else. In 1985 I heard that he received a promotion and substantial pay increase.
As for me, well, it took several months for me to get my life back in order. I attempted to pursue a lawsuit against the company, but discovered that in order to sue I had· to file a charge with the EEOC. Unfortunately, I did not know and was not informed that the charge had to be filed within
180 days from the last incident of discrimination. I lost my right to sue!
WHERE DO YOU GO FROM HERE?
Leaving the company did not negate my anger, nor did losing my right to sue. As time passed my anger and frustration intensified. It seemed that none of the attorney’s that I spoke with could paint a clear picture of what one must do to carry out a discrimination charge, nor did two attorney’s give me the same interpretation of the laws.
Piece by piece I gathered ·informationabout sexual harassment, and after months of phone calls, interviews and research, I finally put together an information packet.
I was only one among thousands of working women who are victims of sexual harassment on the job, and·was convinced that they, like me, did not have an available source of information about this issue. I established a hotline for victims of sexual harassment, offering emotional support, information about their rights, and what type of action would best suit their needs. When requested I assisted victims in developing a plan of action, helped them file their charges with the appropriate agencies and aided them during fact-finding sessions at EEOC.
My subsequent involvement with this issue helped me to deal with the negative outcome of my own situation, and in time my anger and frustration diminished. I offered seminars concerning sexual harassment to numerous women’s groups in the Houston area, and I might add that none of the sroups I approached ever turnedme down. This substantiated my belief that women were not informed bout their rights and what they couwhld do when faced with sexual harassment on the job, and that they were anxious to hear what I had to say.
Enthusiastic though I was about the hotline and sharing my information about sexual harassment with others, I realized that my actions only scratched the surface of this problem. I firmly believe that the only way to alleviate this problem is to prevent it from starting. To achieve this, it is necesaary to educate women and sensitize men about this issue. Once there is a better understanding of what sexual harassment is and why it exists, we can begin to rid our work environment of this destructive problem.
WHAT IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT ON THE JOB?
Sexual harassment is defined in the guideliries by the EEOC under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as:
”Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, will be considered harassment if:
- Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment;
- Submission to or rejection of onduct by an indifidual is used as the basis for employment decisions effecting such individuals; and,
- Such conduct has the purpose or affect of unreasonably interferring with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.n
The EEOC believes that sexual harassment can also occur in a variety of circumstances, including:
- A man as well as a woman may be the victim of sexual harassment and a woman as well as a man may be the harasser.
- The harasser does not have to be the victim’s supervisor. She/he may also be an agent of the employer, a supervisory employee who does not supervise the victim, a non-supervisory employee (co-worker), or, in some circumstances, even a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex as the harasser.
- The victim does not have to be the person a·t whom the sexual conduct is directed.
- There is no requirement that the victim complain to the harasser or report the sexual harassment to his/her supervisor or employer in order for the employer to be held responsible for the unlawful conduct when the harassment is committed by a supervisor.
- A finding of unlawful sexual harassment does not depend on the victim’s having suffered a concrete economic injury as a result of the harasser’s conduct.
According to the EEOC, ”employers are absolutely liable for the acts of supervisors and agents, regardless of whether the specific acts complained of were authorized or even forbidden by the employer and regardless of whether the employer knew or should have known of their occurrence. A less stringent liability applies with respect to the acts of co-workers or non-employees, (e.g., independent contractors). Employers are responsible for acts of sexual harassment by employees when they ‘know or should have known of the conduct,’ unless it can be shown that ‘immediate and appropriate corrective action’ has been taken. With respect to non-employees, EEOC will consider the extent of the employer’s control and any other legal responsibility of the employer on a case-by-case basis in determining employer liability.”
What does this mean? It means that you are protected by law against this form of sex discrimination and that you have the right to report any incident of sexual harassment. If you can answer yes to any of the conditions listed under the EEOC policies abovernentioned, then you may consider yourself a victim of sexual harassment. My feeling is–if in doubt, report it anyway– chances are your ‘feelings’ are correct. To whom you should renort is your decision and is discussed in the latter sections of this article.
IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT RELATED TO OTHER TYPES OF SEXUAL ABUSE?
For the purposes of this section of this paper, I will not use the legal definitions of the following forms of sexual abuse. I am not interested in whether or not the offense is prosecutable according to the ‘laws.’ Whether or not the offense is prosecutable, will notaliff the impact of the offense, both physically and emotionally, on the victim.
SEXUAL ASSUALT (RAPE) – Forcing sexual intercourse or other sexual contact upon a person against their will, using threats of physical harm or threat of loss of life.
INCEST – Contains the same elements as sexual assualt along with the following factors:
- The victim is usually under 16 years of age;
- The offender is usually related to the victim, i.e. father, uncle, brother, mother, guardian, or close family friend; and
- The abuse can also include other forms of physical contact with the child, i.e. forcing the child to rnasterbate in front of the offender, touching or caressing the intimate parts of the child’s body, forcing the child to perform oral sex, etc.
Sexual harassment, sexual assualt and incest are forms of sexual abuse generally committed against women. Males are also victims, however, the scope of mY, investigations have been limited to females as victims since I have received no reported incidents of sexual harassment from a male victim.
Sexual harassment parallels the dynamics behind such sexual abuses as rape and incest. It is impossible to discuss one without discussing the other. The range of sexual harassment complaints that I have received via the hotline includes subtle inuendo, dirty jokes, verbal harassment progressing with intens ty to physical contact including several instances of sexual assualt.
In all instances of sexual assualt, the victim refused to report the incident(s) to the police because they felt somehow responsible for the crime. Even though, when questioned, they admitted that they were incapable of thwarting the attack because of the attacker’s size and strength,they continued to feel that they were responsible. In addition, their guilt is compounded by the general myths which surround sexual assualt and sexual harassment, and the societal attitudes toward victims of both. The behavior of the victim is initially scrutinized by the investigator in an attempt to lay the blame for the crime on the victim. Questions like, how were you dressed when the incident happened or what did you do to arouse the man’s interest, are asked of the victim. This accusatory line of questioning enhances the victim’s doubts and substantiates her feeling of guilt about blaming herself for the incident, thus, encouraging her belief that she was responsible for the attack. Those victims who were sexually harassed and then sexually assualted by the harasser, experiericed extreme self-doubts about their ability to judge others, similar to the self-doubts of date rape victims.
They felt that because they knew the pertetrator they should have known the guy was capable of sexually assualting them. Let’s face it, we are all more comfortable with the man in a three piece suit, who holds a responsible position–complete with wife and children, rather than a bum on the street. We are conditioned to believe the busine sman is trust worthy. Yet, the man in the three piece suit is just as capable of sexual assualt or sexual harassment as the bum on the street, and we have no way of knowing prior.to an attack which one will be the perpetrator.
Through the hotline I was able to establish what I feel is a direct link between victims on incest and victims of sexual harassment. Approximately 80% of the victims polled on the hotline for a period of two years admitted to being victims of· some form of sexual abuse efore the age of fourteen.
Recent studies indicate that a substantial number of victins of sexual abuse or incest as childr n become repeat victims of abuse in adulthood; Sexual harassment is one way in which their repeat victimization is manifested.
All three forms of sexual abuse have similarities in the following ways:
Why the incidents are not reported.
- The emotional trauma suffered by the victim.
- The self-esteem and self-confidence of the victim is shattered.
- Similar behavior indicators shared by victims.
WHY THESE FORMS OF SEXUAL ABUSE ARE NOT REPORTED
These incidents are not reported to the appropriate authorties for one or more of the following reasons:
- The publicity they might be forced to endure;
- Immediate family reactions;
- The victim is not aware a crime has been committed;
- The victim is naively obedient to the abuser;
- Past solutions to the problem have made a negative impression on the victim;
- Lack of evidence; and
- Initial blame for the offense is place on the victim.
In addition to the above mentioned factors, victims of sexual harassment fear the loss of their jobs, job related reprisals or other forms of retaliation.
WHY DOES SEXUAL HARASSMENT EXIST?
Sexual abuse is a part of the “Vicious Circly of Abuse Theory” developed by Al Salazar. After twelve years of study and direct contact in the field of child abuse, incest and neglect, Salazar st tes, ”…there is substantial evidence to relate the following: the abusive parents, the abused child, the run-away (juvenile), family violence, prostitution, criminal behavior, drug/alcohol abuse and sexual abuse (which includes sexual harassment).” At least 80% of the time, violators and victims are brought together through a system known as the “magical attraction of humanism,” a phrase coined by Salazar and can best be described as the invisible instinct that attracts one person to another, influenced by the alcoholic, co-alcoholic, addictive and co-addictive behaviors, and last, enhanced by the biological make-up of oneself from conception.
This supports my belief that sexual harassment, like other forms of sexual abuse, is an attitude or behavior, and this attitude or behavior is learned. For example, Daddy beats Mommy, and sexually and/or physically abuses Mary (their daughter). Johnny (their son) is exposed to this behavior.
I believe several things are learned by the children: Mary has learned to be a victim and Johnny has learned that women are to be treated in an abusive manner. Hence, Mary as an adult becomes the potential victim and Johnny as an adult becomes the potential harasser.
This does not mean that all victims of sexual abuse as children or all male relations will become victims and harassers respectively, however, it does indicate there is a definite cause and effect at work.
In many instances the victim of sexual harassment appears to have been chosen by the harasser. This is substantiated by the fact that there were other female employees on the premises who were not being harassed, even though the harasser had easy access to them. This was true in my case. But why the careful selection? I believe that a majority of the victims, like myself, possess some quality or characteristic that the harasser identifies with and acts with the profound knowledge that the woman will be easy prey.
According to the Working Women’s United Institute, other factors which contribute to sexual harassment on the job are:
- Position relative to men in the economic heirachy of a corporation reveals that men still hold most of the positions with authority to hire and fire, while women are still relegated to lower level jobs.
- Men have abused their power by making sexual demands on women workers.
- Cultural stereotypes of women’s ‘proper role’ and what is natural interaction between the sexes encourages men to treat women workers as sexual beings first and bread winners second.
The Working Women’s United Institute explains ”…Because of the above contributing factors to sexual harassment the idea of womens’ legitimate function as a sexual one is reinforced, it denys the reality of a woman’s need to work and ignores her value as a member of the work force.”
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
Studies indicate that victims of all forms of sexual abuse frequently experience one or all of the following: blame, fear, guilt, anger and shame. Women who are v ctims of any form of sexual abuse are often left with a low self-esteem and low self-confidence. For some to regain their lost self-esteem and self-confidence, the road back is difficult, however, is achieved in a relatively short time. For those victims of sexual harassment who·were also victins of ,incest the emotional damage is severe and can be permanent.
The sexual harassment experience increases their negative attitudes about themselves and destroys what little sense of self they may possess.
According to a study by the Working Women’s United Institute, the affects are varied and severe, as pointed out below!
- Failure to comply with sexual de ands or complaining about sexual harassment often results in additional work harassment includine: negative job evaluations, poor recommendations, demotions, loss of job training and being subjected to impossible performance standards;
- Sexual harassment heightens the role conflict faced every day by women working outside their homes. It belittles aspirations, it undermines self-confidence and self-esteem and undercuts women’s motivations to excel!;
- Sexual harassment creates and intolerable and stressful working conditions, hazardous to mental and physical health;
- Sexual harassment forces women off jobs, contributing to the cycle of unemployment and poverty; and
- Sexual harassment contributes to low productivity, inefficiency and job dissatisfaction, which effects employers as well as society in general.
The daily stress faced each day by the victims of sexual harassment often manifests itself in a variety of physical ailments. This ‘Sexual Harassment Syndrome’ is defined by Constance Backhouse and Lea Cohen in their book “Sexual Harassment on the Job:r as, “…The tension, fear and anger built up inside sexual harassment victims who have nowhere to turn for relief. Most victims experience psychological depression and despair. Many suffer physical ailments such as stomach aches, nausea, headaches, involuntary muscular spasms, insomnia, hypertension and other medical illnesses caused by continual, unrelenting anxiety and frustration. A suprising number are reduced to the point of psychological and physical breakdown, to such an extent that they require hospitalization.”
The prevalence of this syndrome among victims of sexual harassment came to the attention of worker’s compensation groups through the numerous claims filed by the victims. Some states have revised their orker’s compenJ sation policies to include the medical needs of the victims of sexual harassment on-the job which covers both the physical and psychological aspects of their illnesses. This action forces the companies to accept responsibility for the actions of their employees who harass and compensates the victim for the physical and emotional damage incurred as a direct result of their employment.
This move within the worker’s compensation groups has been the most positive and encouraging step taken by any agency on behalf of the victim of sexual harassment since the implementation of the sexual harassment policies under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
If you feel that you are being sexuallyharassed on your job, then you must accept one im?ortant fact before you decide how to proceed–once the harassment begins, your job is in jeopardy, regardless of whether or not you comply with the demands or requests, and you have a 98% chance of loosing your job by either being fired, quitting, or forced to resign, regardless of whether or not you take any action against the harasser.
The recommendations that follow are not etched in stone, and even should you follow them to the letter they will not guarantee positive results. I can only arm you with the weapons and tactics that will give you a fighting chance against the harasser and/or the company. Each individual situation 1aust be examined carefully when deciding upon an appropriate plan of action. Only you can determine which direction w ill achieve the most effective results for you.
CONFRONTING THE HARASSER
Occassionally, if the harasser possesses an open mind and if you have an exceptionally good rapport with him, then there is a remote possibility that you may succeed in approaching him privately,,tOexpress you feelings about his behavior and request that he stop his harassment. To protect yourself and to thwart the possibility of his denying your conversation at a future date, write up the essence of your harassment either before or after the conversation you have with the harasser then sign it and give him a copy. You keep the original copy for your records. This will be your proof that you discussed the situation with him and requested that he stop his harassment, should you need to take further action.
I do not advocate or encourage that you inform the harasser’s spouse of his lascivious conduct at the office, even if she works there. There are three good reasons for this: First, she has little control over her husband’s behavior; Second, why hurt an innocent party; and Third, because she is married to him, she will remain blindly supportive of him no matter how he behaves.
In the instances this tactk was used, the wife was hostile and indignant toward the victim, and ultimately informed the harasser about the accusations. The harasser is more apt to fire the victim, with the unctuous approval of his spouse.
Since you have only 180 days to report the discrimination to the EEOC and most state agencies you must gather your evidence, decide upon a plan of action and implement it as quickly as possible. If you do not report the discrimination within 180 days from the last incident of discrimination you lose your right to sue in federal court under Title VII.
Gathering evidence and building your case will be one of the most important step you take, whether you ultimately report the incidents to your company or go to an outside agency. Since most agencies are not bound by the same rigid rules of evidence as the courts, the charging party (you) have the opportunity to present any evidence you have obtained that is pertinent to the issues of your case. The agency will decide whether it is relevant to your charges.
Decide which of your experiences fall within the guidelines and policies defined by the EEOC in the prior section and not them. For example, if your supervisor denied you a raise or promotion because you refused to go out with him, you will endeavor to prove that particular charge. You must know what incident(s) are prohibited under Title VII before you attempt together your evidence. The evidence must support your allegations.
In addition, consider ar..d explore other possible forms of discrimination. I have found that where there is blatant sexual harassment, there are usually other forms of sex and race discri,r1ination.
Once you have determined your charges, then you may proceed in gathering your evidence. Write down every incident of harass ent th t you can remember from the initial incident to the nost recent in chronological order, including dates, time, pl ::ices, what was said, direct quotes where possible and the na:nes of third party witnesses to any of the incidents. Also include the name of other employees, if any, you told about the harassment.
Next, exemine the harasser’s past. If you are his secretary, obtain the names of prior secretaries and make contact with them to find out if they were also harassed. Get a written statement from them if they are willing to help you. The more victims you discover, the better your chances of establishing that your supervisor exhibited a pattern of behavior of harassing women. Do not overlook the possibility that there are women currently employed by the company that he has harassed. . Find them, question them and get a written statement from them.
The most difficult aspect of gathering evidence is that most victims, past or present, and witnesses are afraid to get involved. It will take immense persuasion by you to convince them to help. In most instances, the victim of sexual harassment does not take.any action until they have left the company. However, gathering evidence as described above is not impossible, just more difficult.
If you are still employed by the company, follow the above written steps, making sure that you discuss the harassment with only those employees you can trust. The fewer who know the better! You do not want the company to know your intentions until you are ready. Carry a small note book with you at all times (guarding it with your life) and note each subsequent incident of sexual harassment, the date, time, what was said, etc. Continue to do this throughout the entire investigation.
Do not expect much assistance from other employees. Most victims who fight back do so alone. I’m not trying to paint a bleak picture, I only wish to be as honest as possible. If you accept this early in your action, you will not be disappointed and discouraged later because no one would help or they were scared off by threats from your employer.
The last and most important type of evidence, asside from an eye witness which is rare in sexual harassment cases, is the most irrefutable proof you can obtain. If the harasser has a habit of calling your. home, pe prepared! Invest in a small tape recorder (the type that plugs into your phone is best) and hook it up. The next time he calls, record it, date it and use it as evidence.
The most devious way to collect taped evidence is to invest in a small micro-recorder that may be concealed in your jacket pocket and carry it with you at all times at the office. Do not tell anyone what you are doing! Just do it. Make notes in your notebook and date each tape. You will suprised at what you catch the harasser saying when he feels he is safe–and alone with you. Transcribe the tapes and present the transcriptions along with all of the other evidence you have obtained to EEOC. When reporting to your personnel department, you may let them know that you have the tapes and give them a transcription of the tapes only. Never let the original tapes out of your possession. Until your ase is cleared one way or the other keep them in a locked safe or a safe deposit box at your bank. The small cost is worth your peace of mind, that the tapes will not be stolen or tampered with.
Many would argue that taping someone without their knowledge is unfair and unjust, however, because sexual harassment is unfair and unjust, and your word against his alone is not enough to win your case or achieve the positive results you seek. Far too many cases have been lost in court because of the lack of tangible evidence.
WHAT ARE YOUR REMEDIES?
Before you report your case of sexual harassment to anyone it is im?ortant to examine the available remedies and decide which ones are acceptable to you.
If you are still employed by the company, some remedies that you should consider are:
- Request a transfer for yourself or for the harasser;
- Request the raise or promotion that you were denied by the harasser, plus any benefits that would have accompanied the promotion. You many request that said raise and benefits be retroactive · to the date initially denied; and
- If you substantiate that the harasser is a repeat offender, you may request that he be demoted to a position where he would not have authority over women or request that he be fired.
If you have been termined, you may consider the following as fair remedies:
- Reinstatement to your former position, along with back pay to the- date of termination;
- If you do not want to go back to work for the company, and many victims of harassment do not, you may ask
for severence pay equal to your monthly income for the reasonable time it will take you to find another position comparable to the one you left; and
- A neutral job reference from the company.
Of course, you may request the above mentioned remedies or any number of other remedies, howeve there no guarantee that you will receive them, these are negotiating tools that you will use to let the company know you are determined to resolve the problem and/or obtain justifiable compensation for your treatment.
MAKING YOUR MOVE
Once you have obtained your evidence and have decided upon acceptable remedies you are ready to make your next decision.
Now you must decide if you will attempt to resolve the situation through your Intra-company channels, most likJ1via your personnel department, or to go directly to EEOC or your state’s Human iights commission.
If you decide upon the intra-company route first, this will not prohibit you from seeking further remedies if the company does not resolve the situation to your satisfaction. There are several things t9keep in mind when you are dealing with the company:
- Protect yourself at all times — in other words keep an eye on your back and always stay one step ahead of the opposition. No one is going to protect your interests except you! You are preparing to do battle and you must approach all aspects of your case with that basic idea. If this sounds harsh, remember, that the company will do whatever is necessary to protect their interests, regardless of how unjustly you feel you’ve been treated. In most cases they have and will back up their super visors or managers.
- Request a meeting with the personnel manager in writing suggesting a day and time. Give him a specified time to answer your request.
- Before requesting and attending said meeting, request to examine your personnel file. If there are letters of reprimand, or poor performance reviews or any other items in your file that you were unaware of and do not have your signature affixed thereto, be sure to challenge them during your meeting. One of your remedies may requesting that the company remove all items you found objectionable to out of your personnel file.
- During the meeting one of the first items you will request is a copy of the company policies on sexual harassment (if they have one). If there is no policy make note of that fact.
- If possible, request that a third party be present during your meeting. (a sympathetic employee who is willing to verify what transpired during the meeting, would be adventageous). If this is not possible, request that the meeting be taped (by you) and that a copy of the tape will be provided to them afterward. This will insure that an accurate record of the meeting is maintained for everyone. (You cannot rely on people’s memories — since some conveniently forget.) A tape of the meeting is the most accurate record that can be maintained for everyone concerned.
- Do not allow the meeting to adjourn until you have a solid idea of what action the company intends to take and a defined time frame in which this will be accomplished. Some companies will make vague promises to ”look into the matter” as a means to delay your action and avoid your demands. Don’t allow this to happen. Stand firm in your demands and request that you be apprised of their intentions.
Once you have attempted to resolve the situation through company channels and you have not been satisfied by the action or inaction of the compan you should make an appointment with the EEOC or State’s human right commission. It is vital that you do this as soon as possible. I know of many women who attempted to rectify their harassment complaint through intra-company channels, only to be dismissed or forced to resign later.
THE EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION
After you decide to report your sexual harassment to the EEOC you “s hould be aware of the following basic information:
- cl) You must report the discrimination (your sexual harassment to EEOC within 180 days (approximately six month from the date of the last incident.
- You should call your local EEOC office to make an appointment and plan to spend two to three hours there.
- Take all of your evidence and documentation with you. Let them make copies, always keep the originals or a copy of the original for your records.
- Keep copies of everything they give you and maintain a file on same.
- Consider the remedies you feel are necessary to resolve this situation.
- After you have made a formal complaine with EEOC and they decide to investigate, you company will be notified within ten working days.
- Approximately six to eight weeks after you have filed your complaint with EEOC, they will set up a fact finding conference. This usually includes you, the harasser, a representative of the company and‘an EEOC representative. As I understand it, the purpose of the fact finding conference is twofold: First, they will establish all of the facts related to your complaint; and Second, they fill attempt to resolve the case between both parties at that time. This is your opportunity to win your case at the earliest possible time. If you can reach a mutual resolution at fact finding you will be spared the agony and expense of a long court battle.
It is important to note that the company, by law, does not have to attend the fact finding conference, however most companies cooperate with the EEOC.
- If the situation cannot be resolved during the fact finding session, EEOC must decide whether your case warrants their continued investigation.
- If they decline to investigate further, you may request a right to sue letter be issured. This letter will enable you to continue your case in federal court. Regardless of whether or not EEOC finds that the company has violated their policies, you still have a right to file your suit in federal court.
In some instances if EEOC finds there has been a violation of their policies and your company is unwilling to cooperate to negotiate a settlement and/or resolve the issue, EEOC has the option to file your case for you in court. This saves you the cost and energy of finding legal representation. EEOC will rarely exercise this option due to the shortage of funding and workers. Most of the cases they take to court are class action suits.
IS THERE-LIFE AFTER EEOC
Once you have exhausted all of your options and have still remained disatisfied with the results, your only option remaining is to find an attorney who will file your case in federal court. Once you’ve entered the nether world of the legal system, I can only tell you to remember one thing a dear friend, an attorney, told me when I was involved with the legal process, “the wheels of justice turn slowly.” Never were truer words spoken.
Finding a good attorney to take your case will probably be the most frustrating aspect of your case. Because the monetary settlements governed by Title VI are low, and the cases demand a lot of time, most attorneys do not want to take sexual harass ent cases. In most instances, the victims I assisted, were destitute, and unable to pay for legal fees. These individuals either had to find an attorney willing to take their case on a contingency basis (if they wi they get paid a percentage; if they lose they get nothing) or drop their cases because they were unable to pay the exorbitant fees demanded by the attorneys to represent them.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP ERADICATE SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
As a victim of sexual harassment and as a participant in numerous other cases I feel that the most shocking and devastating result of sexual harassment is the isolation the victims feels during the harassment and when she attempts to stand up for her rights. Truely the non-support of other females because they fear for their jobs is what management counts on keep women from achieving their rightful place in all levels of business. Until women unite and begin to act as one we will continue to be at the mercy of the man’s world.
The next time that a female co-worker asks for your help because she is being sexually harassed, don’t just support her, join forces with her all the way, because it could easily been you as the victim. Sexual Harassment is an attitude and is not just going to disappear, we must eradicate it from our work environment.
FACTS ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT
- Sexual harassment is not committed for the sexual 8rativication of the harasser. It is an abuse of his authority and power .
- Sexual harassment cna be anything form offensive verbal comments to sexual assualt.
- Sexual harassment is not a political issue, it is a law.
- Sexual harassment can happen to any woman, any time, at any age and in any line of work. Waitresses as well as prbfessional women are victims.
- The less educated the harasser, the more crude his harassment.
- Sexual harassment affects all working women either directly or indirectly. Either you have been a victim or you know of someone who has.
- The longer you are a part of the work force, the more likely that you will become avictim or a repeat victim.
- Most harassers are repeat offenders.
- Sexual harassment is not limited to working women, women and girls in our education institutions, students and teachers, are also victims.