Sexual Harassment and Boss Retaliation

Question:

I am a Branch manager for the federal government. An employee came to me and stated the Deputy Division Director made a statement to her that he was going to spank her with a wet noodle. The employee stated to me she feels uneasy and uncomfortable working with him.

I reported the incident in writing to the Division Director. The next day I was called into the office by the Division Director and Deputy to state they are going to move me to another location without any justification. The employee is a secretary and she provides coverage for the Division in the absence of their secretary. The Director did not forward the report to the EEO. The secretary feels scared and she is not going to pursue it fearing retaliation. I had to report the alleged sexual harassment to my boss because the employee stated she feels uncomfortable and uneasy.

They are retaliating against me by sending me to a non-management position when I have just received numerous performance awards and have done a great job. The Branch employees are very upset with this move. I have received various complimentary emails from the employees. I have saved all of them. What should I do? I was doing my job according to the sexual harassment training received.

Signed,

Being Transferred


Answer:

Dear Being Transferred:

EEO policies should protect one who has reported sexual harassment from retaliation; however, if I understand what you describe, EEO has not yet become involved. You have choices before you. One action you could take is to bypass your boss and deputy director and ask for an investigation by EEO. Another is to go above your Division Director and ask for an investigation and to defer a transfer. Another is to consult an attorney who works with sexual harassment cases and possibly retain one (some take cases on contingency but usually even with a contingency arrangement there are court fees, etc. and winning much from government is doubtful).

None of these is a quick fix. Apparently your Director and Deputy think you should not have reported this instance that you thought could be interpreted as sexual harassment. Certain one-time acts are sexual harassment, but by definition only one incident does not constitute a pattern that adds up to harassment. And although transfer and this report of the deputy’s noodle spanking may have been a day apart, they might have other reasons that they want to send you elsewhere. Moreover, the individual herself, according to what you say, “is not going to pursue” her accusation. Just one instance and unwillingness to pursue it might fall short of cause for EEO involvement.

If indeed, as you assert, your demotion and transfer are linked to your report of sexual harassment, I think you need to involve EEO and those who rank above your Division Director. You are wise to keep and make copies of support you are receiving. Also put your request for an investigation in writing with dates and actions from the time of what was reported to you. Be specific as to wording and who said what to whom and when. Ask for an investigation. Possibly quietly consult with an attorney. Don’t make that known until and unless it appears needed. Your branch employees naturally will wonder and if you are being transferred. Take care not to add to their gossip.

I doubt that a meeting with your Director can mend the breach that has occurred, but that too is a possibility. You might check with EEO about what is its policy upon report of sexual harassment. It might not be a hard and fixed policy, but separation of the accused and accuser is one of the actions that can be taken, but your transfer should not fall within this kind of action. As our disclaimer states, we do not provide legal advice. We are not lawyers. Our expertise is in the area of workplace communication; communication that is honest, adequate, discrete, appropriate and empathic. Please hang in there, don’t obsess about it, and approach this matter as one who is learning from it. My associate Tina Lewis Rowe, who is the wisest consultant I know, might see fit to add to and or modify my advice. We welcome a follow up from you about what transpires. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and there is no doubt that egos and saving face are at risk in your work environment.

William Gorden