16 December 2016

Sexual Harassment at Work: 9 Women Talk About Their Employee Experience

Nine Women Talk About On-The-Job Harassment

1. Marie Billiel, 27
It started pretty quickly, within the first two weeks that I was working at the diner. One of the cooks grabbed my wrist and tried to pull me into the walk-in freezer where there aren’t any cameras, because he wanted to kiss me. I said no. I pulled away, went back out. I was 18 and didn’t know how to deal with it.
We were whistled at all the time. Some girls were oinked at. They would watch pornography on their cell phones and then try to show it to us. I was kissed without my consent. There were other women there who got straight-up groped. If I resisted their advances, they would retaliate by “forgetting” to make my food or burning my orders or making other people’s orders first. My tip goes down because of that.
There was one point where I was in a walk-in freezer with a cook who was consistently trying to get me to go out with him. One of the other cooks shut the door on us and turned the lights out as this man was approaching me and asking if he could bite me. [It] was less than five minutes, but at the time it feels like an eternity.
I told one of my managers. She passed it along to the owner, and nothing was done. I heard the reason was because they’d heard that I had already been sexual with him, which is not the word they used. That was untrue, but they decided they weren’t going to intervene based on something they’d heard through the grapevine.
[After Billiel left the diner and, in 2014, blogged about her experiences, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Massachusetts attorney general’s office filed separate complaints. The diner settled without admitting to any wrongdoing. Billiel and at least nine other women will share a settlement of between $112,000 and $200,000.]
Receiving a settlement doesn’t necessarily feel good. The diner closed. I still had friends who worked there, and I’m not any less traumatized; I’m not any less assaulted.

2. Anonymous, 32*
Washington, D.C.

I work for a political group. We do a lot of networking events. When you get people out of an office setting, they change. This one time I was at an event, standing in a room full of 300 people, and an elected official came up behind me, grabbed me, and then put his hand between my legs. A colleague saw it happen. He pulled me into the hallway and said, “If you don’t tell your boss, I will.” So I did. Having someone else see it validated my story. The man couldn’t claim I was flirting with him or it didn’t happen.
I know the elected official was talked to. I would’ve liked to see him banned from our meetings, but he wasn’t. One time he caught me after a meeting and said, “I was out of line, I was drinking, and I know that’s no excuse, but I’m sorry.” That was three years ago. I still see him, but it’s better now.
I actually wrote the sexual-harassment policy for our organization’s meetings after that. We didn’t have a formal one. I mean, it’s 2016 for God’s sake.
*For the women who asked to remain anonymous, we have verified their names, place of employment at the time of the incident, and the names of the alleged harassers.

3. Alexandra Marchuk, 30
Jacksonville, Fla.

I worked at Faruqi & Faruqi my second summer of law school. They offered me a job when I graduated in 2011. It’s a small civil litigation firm in New York. The two founders are brother and sister, but the partners are mostly men. There were some female attorneys and of course women paralegals and receptionists. Midway through that [first] summer, Juan Monteverde was hired. He specializes in intervening in mergers on behalf of shareholders, saying the disclosures you’re making are insufficient. He was really good at his job, sort of the rainmaker.
Juan had said some weird things to me when I worked there over the summer. Once we’d been out at dinner, and he joked in front of other people that I should give him a blow job for picking up the check. I didn’t know until right before I started that I’d be working directly for him. I was hesitant, but I also had $250,000 in student loan debt and was really happy to have a job.
On my third day at work, we’d just come back from a court hearing and were having a drink at a bar when Juan started kissing me. He asked me to go have sex with him. I was like, “What? No.” He started making comments all the time. He’d touch me in the elevator when I couldn’t get away. He kept inviting me out on his boat. He’d comment about my body in front of other people at the firm, asking me to go to hearings with him so I could be “eye candy” for the judge.
A few weeks into this, one of the female partners took me out to dinner, and I told her what was going on. I got the sense later that she talked to people about him, but nothing was done. So I just ... I don’t know. It went on and on. We did a case involving a company called BJ’s Wholesale, and he’d joke in front of another attorney about how much he liked getting BJs. Sometimes it wasn’t even sexual. He’d just do things like make me work all weekend on something that wasn’t necessary; or he’d threaten to fire me knowing I had all this student debt; or he said he’d chip in on my rent if I let him sleep over at my apartment.
I dreaded going into the office. I had to police everything I said and did and what I wore. I remember one time I was visiting home, and my mom took me shopping at Brooks Brothers. There was a pencil skirt she wanted me to buy, but I said, “No, Juan would comment on it.” I paid attention to when other people left for the day so I wasn’t alone. It took an incredible amount of energy to make sure I wasn’t putting myself in a dangerous position. And I still had to do the actual work.
I had this plan to wait until I got some experience and then jump ship. I was trying to strike this balance—don’t complain so you don’t get fired. In December [2011], I’d been there three months, and we were at the firm’s holiday party. I started talking to Juan about yearend bonuses, and he said he wouldn’t recommend me for one. We’d been drinking, and he said we should go back to the office, and I agreed. That’s when he—we ...
[In a lawsuit Marchuk later filed against Monteverde and the firm, she said that back in the empty office, he “quickly, forcefully, and painfully had sex with her.” In his own court filing, Monteverde disputed her account.]
I actually went to work for two days after that, but the second night I was like, “I can’t do this.” I called my mom, and she drove into the city and picked me up.
I filed a lawsuit. I had gotten a full-time job in Omaha before I filed, and I’m still with that company. They let me deal with it in the best kind of way. So on that front, I was OK. But I didn’t think it would be covered so closely by law blogs or followed by the law community. There are details in there that, when you Google me—I mean, bloodstains on the carpet. One of my close friends thought to e-mail every single person in her firm about it. It was entertainment for a lot of people.
The firm denied it. [Monteverde said the relationship was consensual.] They countersued me for $15 million, claiming I was “obsessed” with him. The lies they told don’t even make sense. They said I hadn’t been eligible for a bonus. Well, I kept my offer letter, and it says I’m eligible for a bonus. They claimed I’d e-mailed the lawsuit to Juan and his wife and the firm’s clients. But it turned out that the IP address where the e-mail came from was within Faruqi, after I’d already quit. They ended up dropping the countersuit.
I was deposed for a full day. All of the named defendants got to sit in the room and look at me as I did it. They had a psychologist evaluate me. It was a three-hour session in the library of an attorney’s law firm, and he asked a lot of questions about my hobbies. It seemed to bother everyone that I had gone hiking on a vacation once during all of this. They asked a lot of questions about how I paid for the vacation. They decided not to use the psychologist in the trial, so I don’t know what the point of that was.
The trial went on for weeks and was insanely stressful. I read discovery from some of my friends, and what they said about me in e-mails and Gchats behind my back. By the time the jury had their verdict, so much had been argued that I didn’t know what to expect. [Marchuk lost under federal and New York state harassment law, but won under New York City’s human-rights law and was awarded $140,000. In a postdecision interview with the Above the Law blog, a juror explained that the jury didn’t believe Monteverde’s sexual advances were entirely unwelcome, that Marchuk’s private e-mails contained contradictory messages about how she felt about the law firm, and that the firm had dutifully recorded what Marchuk told the female partner about Monteverde’s actions.]
The decision was disappointing but well within the range of anything that could have happened. You just don’t know. It’s just a bunch of strangers who get to judge whether or not you deserved it.
In a statement, Faruqi & Faruqi founding partner Lubna Faruqi says the law firm “takes the safety and well-being of our team members very seriously. We have policies and procedures regarding employment issues, including but not limited to, harassment and discrimination in the workplace. We considered Ms. Marchuk’s complaint to be without merit and vigorously defended ourselves in New York federal court.” Monteverde didn’t respond to a request for comment.

4. Anonymous, 41
Los Angeles

I started at DreamWorks around the winter holidays, so there were a lot of parties. That’s where I met him. He’d stop by my office, send me e-mails asking if I wanted to have lunch. One night he invited me to sushi for dinner. He said it would be a big group of co-workers. When I got to the restaurant, though, there was nobody else there. I ate dinner to be polite, but then I went home, because it was weird.
He started e-mailing me multiple messages a day. He sent me flowers. He’d say things like, “A friend of mine is a pilot and could fly us to Catalina Island for the weekend,” or “Do you want to go on a hot air balloon ride in the desert?” It was never, “Hey, let’s get coffee.” I turned him down, but he would just keep asking. And asking. And asking.
I stopped being polite and started flat out telling him no. That made him escalate. I eventually told my supervisor and was like, “Am I overreacting? Is this guy crossing the line?” I wasn’t sure. My supervisor said, “Absolutely he is. He should not be sending you flowers and asking you out when you tell him not to.” He said he’d talk to him. That was it. Everything stopped.
I learned later from my supervisor that they’d had other issues with him. Two other women complained about him after I did. I know they take this stuff very seriously there, and I’ve always felt very safe. But he still works at the studio. He’s had promotions.
DreamWorks declined to comment.

5. Anonymous, 32
San Diego

The first firm I worked for after law school, I was a junior associate. The head of paralegal was a guy who was about 20 years older than me. Because I’m an attorney, I was above him. He took great issue with this. He’d say things to me like, “Why are you always such a b----?” “Why are you a hard ass?” It was offensive and all, but it was just talk. I just thought he had something in his craw about a woman of color being his superior.
One day he came into my office, closed the door, and grabbed me. It was so sudden I was like, “What is going on?” He got me in this bear hug. He’s a much bigger guy than me, and I couldn’t move. He started shoving his hands up my shirt. I told him to stop it right now, or I’ll scream. The walls were thin, and I knew all I had to do was make noise, and someone could come in. He stopped.
I didn’t say anything to anyone about it. The owner of the firm wasn’t very good at dealing with conflict. If I had reported it, I’m pretty sure I would have gotten fired. They’d come up with an excuse. This was in 2010 or so, and legal jobs were really scarce. Instead, I just made sure other people were always around. Pretty soon after that, we moved to another office, and I shared office space with someone, so I was rarely alone. Even so, I still felt on edge. It’s a hard feeling to describe, because once it’s there, it’s always present. It was a harsh transition into the real world. It goes against everything I believe, but honestly the best way to deal with that is to just blow it off.

6. Magdalena Zylinska, 45
Elmwood Park, Ill.
In one of the houses I used to clean, the man was always taking his clothes off. He expected us to clean while he was working naked. Sometimes he would ask if you wanted to touch him. I didn’t know whether to run or stay and work or what. I had a mortgage. I had a kid. I needed the money. At the time I was undocumented. So I stayed, but I made sure that when I cleaned his house, there was always someone with me. I’d tell them, “If I scream, you just run and call the police.” When I left [his house], I tried to think about something else, not about the problems. But the first couple of years, it was really, really bad. You’d be working, and he’s nowhere around, and you go to the basement to do laundry, and he’s there on the treadmill, naked.
After three years or so, I just told him, you either look for somebody else or I’m going to call the police. He stopped. I guess he kind of respected me for saying something. I still clean for him, and sometimes he asks, “Can I get naked?” I’m like, “No.”
To protect Zylinska, who still works for the client, we didn’t contact the homeowner for verification.

7. Julia, 28
San Francisco

I had recently switched teams at Google and had received a new manager as a result. I was in my early 20s and was the most junior member on our team. I was also the only woman.
When I was still new to the role, we had a week of team-bonding events planned. This was the first time I’d spent extended time with my manager. He made a number of highly inappropriate comments to me in professional and after-work events: comparing women from different Asian countries, telling me that every guy goes through an Asian fetish, asking me to sit on his lap (I didn’t), telling me about his sex life during a one-on-one meeting, and asking me to touch the flesh of his palm as a way of describing why he had developed a strong sex drive at an early age. I responded with nervous laughter and by changing the topic. In retrospect, I still feel shame and regret for not standing up for myself in the moment. Did my nervous laughter egg him on or give him implicit consent to keep going? Why didn’t I tell him to his face, immediately, that this was misogynist, racist, and unprofessional? He was my direct superior.
At work, I couldn’t focus. I lost my motivation. I was enraged at him for making these comments and angry at myself for not being stronger. I struggled with whether or not I should report my manager to HR, or if I should keep my head down and let it go. I was scared that I was blowing things out of proportion. He was well-respected on the team, and I was concerned about what might happen to our team if he was disciplined or even fired. What would happen if his wife found out, and I ruined their marriage? I couldn’t make sense of why I continued to feel such empathy amidst my anger. It took me two to three weeks, but ultimately I decided to report his behavior to HR.
HR set up an interview with me so I could recount what happened. They asked for the names of people who might have witnessed the events, as well as specific times and locations. I cried. It was humiliation all over again. From there, they worked on corroborating my story with the witnesses I provided and also talked to my manager to get his side of the story. Afterward, they provided me with a summary of their findings, a vague statement that disciplinary action was taken and that it should never happen again, and assurances that Google had a no-retaliation policy in effect, so I should be protected in my own career. They also checked in to see how I was feeling after everything.
I don’t know the specifics of how Google reprimanded him, but I know that he was given additional sexual-harassment training. He apologized to me for his actions and promised not to do them again. He remained my manager for another year but was very careful to only act professionally. He’s still at Google today.
On the whole, I felt like Google and the HR department were on my side. They took my concerns seriously. But it took a long time to rebuild my self-confidence. Later when I was promoted, I wondered if I deserved the promotion or if it was given to me out of guilt.
Google declined to comment. We reached out to the manager for comment but didn’t receive a response.

8. Anonymous, 34
Missoula, Mont.

For two years starting in 2002, I worked a summer job at a horse farm. I was doing things like setting up jumps [and] putting holes in the ground for fence posts. I worked with farm laborers who were all illegal. They were an all-male crew. Hispanic. The guy who hired me, who paid me—in cash, by the way—was this older, 50-year-old guy named H. He is also sort of related to me: H. is married to my dad’s first wife.
One of the first incidents I remember was when we were washing off fencing for the steeplechase course. I was wearing Carhartt pants and a white T-shirt. H. came around to check on what we were doing. He made this comment: “I should require you to wear white shirts and always be wet while you’re working.”
Every time I ran into him after that, there’d be a little comment about the size of my breasts or how he needed to hug me, because it’d make his day better. As he’d hug me, he’d say, “I love feeling you press up against me.” It’s so gross to talk about it even now.
Sometimes he said this stuff in front of other people, but most of the time it was the illegal workers—who were great, by the way, always respectful. I think if they hadn’t been illegal, they probably would’ve said something. But around certain people he’d act normal. I used to like to build fences with this one man in his 50s, because when I was with him, H. wouldn’t say anything when he came by. I don’t know if it was because he was older, or English-speaking, or what. My primary way of dealing with the situation was to avoid him. He’s out of shape and smokes a lot, and I knew if I was building a fence in a field somewhere, I was safer because he wouldn’t bother to go out there.
I worked there the next summer, too. I know you’re going to ask why, but I really loved that job. I love working outside. It’s hard as a woman to get someone to hire you to do manual labor. I applied at a few other stables, but they didn’t look twice at me. Also, part of me was like, maybe I’m being too sensitive. Now it’s so clear to me that’s not at all the case, but at the time I thought, well, maybe the problem was me.
I didn’t even think about reporting him. It just wasn’t an option. He’s probably not even going to remember a lot of the instances that caused me so much stress, because to him it was another day at work.

9. Cynthia Brzak, 64

I started working at the United Nations in 1979. In December 2003, I was in a meeting with six men, including Ruud Lubbers, the UN’s high commissioner for refugees, who used to be prime minister of the Netherlands. When I got up to leave, two men on my side of the table stepped back to let me pass in front of them, but Mr. Lubbers grabbed me from behind, pulled me against him, and shoved his groin into me. I was in shock. When I got out of the room and by the elevators, the director of human resources said, “Oh, Cynthia, I saw what the high commissioner tried to do!”
At a follow-up meeting to what we’d been talking about, I was waiting for the elevators to go up to the office, and the director of human resources comes up to me laughing and says, “Cynthia, what are you going to do if Mr. Lubbers tries it again?” He makes like to grab me again, and I’m ducking out of his way. I said, “Why didn’t you protect me ... or at least say something? You’re the director of human resources!” As the elevator doors closed, he replied, “So?”
For two whole months I didn’t do anything. I never told my best friends, my family, nobody. You have to realize, I’d been there 24 years. We have code of conduct training, we played the game, mouthing the politically correct stuff. But I knew what the culture was really like.
Six-thousand staff members chose me to speak with management about personnel matters. [Brzak was staff council representative.] If I didn’t say “Enough!” who would? So a few months later, I reported it. An internal investigation verified everything and recommended Mr. Lubbers be reprimanded. But Kofi Annan, who was secretary-general at the time, decided not to do anything. I wasn’t allowed to see the report; it was mailed to me anonymously six months later. In 2006, I sued. But UN employees have diplomatic immunity. I took my case to U.S. District Court in New York, which upheld the immunity. I appealed. In 2010 we petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if the diplomatic immunity was even constitutional. They declined to hear the case. So that was it.
When I sued, it made the news, and all of a sudden then Lubbers gets asked to leave.
I worked at the UN until November 2010, when I accepted an agreed-upon separation package. I’ve had a hard time finding a new job. Had I known back in 2004 that my weird last name would be so Google-able that when even my children apply for jobs, they’d be asked, “What happened to your mother?” I don’t know if I would have done it.
Contacted through his personal website, Lubbers didn’t respond to requests for comment.
—With Josh Eidelson

Source: https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-sexual-harassment-policy/#/nine-women-talk-about-harassment

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