I was sexually harassed in the workplace two years ago. The harasser was fired and moved out of state. Nevertheless, he was hired in a management position by someone who was fired by the same agency years before for gross sexual misconduct. The harasser continues to retaliate and intimidate me and other family members in two states. My name and character are slandered at every opportunity. My question is: Can I provide evidence to his current employer that he lied on his job application (regarding ever being fired) and that he was fired for gross sexual misconduct? He abused the power of authority before against dozens of women (if not hundreds within seven years). It is obvious, he has not learned anything from the past; otherwise, I would think he would leave me alone. How can I help the hundreds of other women who are now under his “control” and perhaps subject to his surrealistic tendencies to harass?
Dear Still Harassed:
Thank you for sharing your concerns and questions with us. I have both the message you sent to me personally and the one sent to the Ask The Workplace Doctor’s site. I can only imagine how frustrated and angry you would feel over a situation of harassment that had such tragic results for you. And your desire to prevent such things from happening to others is certainly laudable. How you wish to proceed at this point will be very important for your own well being as well as for your effectiveness in helping others. Let me share some thoughts about this and about your concerns, to see if perhaps they might give you some helpful perspectives. 1. You were correct when you said, in your message to me, that my career placed me in an environment traditionally populated by men. I was very fortunate in that I had few serious obstacles to overcome. This is a credit to my organization, since the men at the top who were responsible for the policies that allowed me and other women to be successful; all were what we used to call “The Class of 1950.” They all started their own careers in the late 1940s, so it might be expected that they would have had much less open attitudes. They weren’t exactly enlightened! But they never went out of their way to create barriers, and for that I have always been grateful. I say that to be honest about my own experiences. I certainly had times when it was apparent there were hidden agendas–and times when I was not treated fairly. But I never had the feeling that I couldn’t achieve anything for which I was prepared mentally and emotionally. Nor, did I have many experiences that could be considered harassment of a sexual nature. When that happened, I was always in a situation where I could shut it down without it having much of a negative impact. The one thing I tried to always remember was that a few bad experiences did not represent the entire system. 2. Your case sounds much more serious than the average and I’m glad that the original situation is over. I can see that you would feel distrusting and cynical about the adequacy of protective legislation and activities. But honestly, I have not found that to be the case nationwide. You say that EEO is an injustice–but I have seen many thousands of women who have been very satisfied with the results of EEO intervention. You mention lawyers who only care for their cut, but I have testified on both sides when the attorneys involved were passionately interested in justice and were supportive of clients above and beyond what would be expected. You mention judges saving corporate giants from monetary loss–but I can assure you that corporations have paid tremendously in both money and resources–often in cases that I felt were very shaky for the alleged victim. That is not to say that everything always works out for the best or that there haven’t been injustices. I just want to emphasize that the situation is not as bleak as it might appear from the viewpoint of someone like yourself, who has apparently has had a truly difficult situation. The reason I think that is an important issue for you to consider is that very negative rhetoric nearly always puts up people’s hackles–and that will hamper your efforts long-term. When our thinking becomes polarized either way, we lose track of the truths of individual cases. And that is the key. There is no universal harassment case. Each allegation is different and some are founded while others are not. I think the best way women can help other women is by encouraging personal strength and accomplishment and by ensuring they are aware of resources available. We can also help by insisting that EEO protections be used as a tool and not as a weapon. I often hear from women who never had a complaint about sexual or gender issues, until they became irritated with their bosses–then out comes the book where they’ve kept track of every slight comment, every touch on the shoulder and every smile. That creates an environment where men and women distrust each other continually–and no good ever comes of that. On the other hand, I think all women should feel confident about saying no to unwelcome advances, and reporting it to the highest levels to stop it–invoking the law to do so. I would find it hard to believe that any young women entering the work force now, could honestly say she didn’t know there were such laws or that she should say no. If that is the case then shame on her for not being well read, not reading company policies and not being aware of the world in which we live. What is more likely is that they don’t know exactly HOW to say no in a way that is effective and appropriate. And, they don’t know what to do next when they want to report behavior they find offensive or threatening. That seems to me to be a worthwhile area of training for someone who wishes to help all women.3. You ask about letting the new employer know about the history of your former harasser. You should be very careful about that. For one thing, you say the man was fired. Likely most would say that justice was achieved when that happened. What more could have been done, except a prison term? And, prison is not going to happen, absent a violent crime. The reality is that you cannot keep him from ever being employed again. What would you do–call every place where he ever gets a job? Block every promotion you ever hear of him getting? Do you see where that would lead you? You made your complaint, the man was eventually fired. The firing may have been punishment enough to change his behavior. You also don’t know that the new employer was not aware of his background. Perhaps after an interview, they decided to take a chance. If he is inappropriate in this job, that will soon come to light. If not, then they will have no complaints and would not appreciate your involvement. Further, if you were to tell them about your history with the man, they would likely check back with your current employer–which might place you in a bad light. This is especially true since you say they have negative feelings about your reactions at this point. Their feelings might be that you are not seeking justice, but rather revenge. And that might be the view of a court if you were charged with harassment yourself! You may wish to seek an attorney’s advice about your potential liability in the matter. Or, it could be that an attorney could advise you how best to effectively make such a notification. If a law is violated in this man’s dealings with you, you should report it and document everything that could prove your case. But you may find the most peace from focusing on your own life at this point. Even people who are justified in their anger and frustration are avoided after awhile if they seem to be obsessing about it. Most of us are sympathetic with anyone who has had a bad situation. But it is also true that most of us want that person to find ways to deal with the situation, so that we can go back to our primary interest–ourselves! 4. Please believe me that I do not mean to imply that you should smile and act as though nothing has happened. I only wish you to find a way to make the most of your own life. That seems to be your desire as well, based on your thoughts about helping others. I hope these thoughts will add to your own as you contemplate this situation and how you want to proceed with your life and career. You may also find that seeking the support of a group or a professional counselor would provide you with additional resources. They would be able to look at the entire situation and give you feedback that would be immediate and specific. Best wishes in all of this. You sound like a well-spoken, introspective and confident person. Those qualities will provide you with the strength you need to handle this the best possible way.
Tina Lewis Rowe