As a young woman in 2017, my expectation is that when in a workplace I won’t have to face the harassment of the women before me. This isn’t 1960, and my boss shouldn’t be a Don Draper wannabe. Unfortunately, I found this to be untrue. More upsetting than it being untrue is that the people who were meant to protect me from the situation turned out to be both negligent and disappointing
From April 2015 — November 2016 I worked in the 911 department of one of the richest County Governments in Northern California. This job has its own set of stressors just based on the day to day responsibilities. I never expected that my boss Ted* would become the most stressful part of my working day.
It all began in November of 2015; I was working in the department’s administrative office after an injury removed me from my typical dispatcher duties. In this new position, I was working directly under our Director, Ted. Ted was a man with a commanding presence and in his late-50’s. I was a young woman, in my mid-20’s, with a tendency to work hard and also be outspoken, no one would peg me as a victim type.
From my first introduction to Ted to my last interaction with him, things were weird and uncomfortable. In my final interview for the job he was giving me such a hard time about being a guardian to a teenager, our Personnel Manager had to step in and ask him to back off. Our last interaction, when I told him I was quitting, was filled with awkward speeches about how concerned he is for me and that he could tell things had been “weighing on me recently.”
If you’ve ever been subject to sexual harassment, then you’re perhaps familiar with the term “grooming.” It basically means that the perpetrator is slowly getting you ready for whatever it is that they intend to do with you. Ted began grooming me early 2016. At the time I did not realize what was occurring, I simply thought that my boss was behaving kindly towards me. It seemed odd that he would have me sit next to him for hours at his desk, for no reason at all. And despite the other people in the office questioning why that was happening, I tried to remain positive and believe that there was nothing sinister going on. Once the conversations he instigated started to fall under more “inappropriate” topics, alarm bells began sounding for me. He would question my nonexistent drug use, or tell me various stories about sex and drugs. These were topics I did not feel comfortable discussing with my boss, and so I would merely nod my head and try to change the subject.
The thing about trying to hold onto your job despite all of this stuff happening to you is that your tolerance level has to rise; otherwise, you begin to lose it. And begin to lose it I did. Once Ted’s daily harassments escalated to poking and touching, despite my loud objections, I began to have anxiety attacks. As an injured worker, I was already vulnerable and worried about my day-to-day future with the County. He would often mention my job status and tell me that he would try to make sure I was able to stay there, but the implication of having to deal with him and his behavior was also evident. After I had begun resisting his unwanted touches and comments, a permanent job became available in our department. As they were interviewing candidates, I questioned the Assistant Director Todd*, who happened to be Ted’s lifelong best friend, about the position and he mentioned that they needed someone who understood their “sense of humor.”
So as the months progressed, the “positive” comments on my appearance and inappropriate behaviors also progressed. In mid-August Ted called me into his office and he asked questions about my life and job status. I was feeling particularly stressed that day and ended up breaking down and crying in front of him. It seems that was the worst thing that I could have done. From that day on his unwanted aggressive behavior become worse, more frequent and suddenly involved poking and prodding me. The list I provided the County about his behavior documented the nine different instances that I had collected evidence of. These were only the surface of what he had been doing. I am going to share two of those nine occurrences:
1. A colleague was retiring, and the admin staff attended a lunch to celebrate the retirement. It was there that Ted chose a seat right next to me. While we were eating our food Ted said to me, “You come here often?” and because I didn’t realize what was going on, I answered him with an honest answer of something like, “occasionally.” He proceeded to respond with, “How you doin?” I said, “Bad,” because at that point I realized where this was going. His follow up question was him asking if I “liked to ride horses?” I replied with, “No, horses terrify me.” He then went on and on about how I was making it hard for him to hit on me. He actually said, “How is a guy supposed to pick you up with responses like that?” I responded by showing him my left hand and engagement ring and let him know that I did not want to be “picked up.”
2. A few weeks later, I was sitting at my desk when Ted approached me from behind and hit me on top of my head with his wedding ring. This physical invasion not only hurt, but it was also the last straw for me. I had told him repeatedly that day to stop poking and touching me and so at that point I was ready to go ballistic. Instead, while he demanded that I smile and address him as “Sir” and ask “What can I do for you?” I chose to express once again that I did not like him touching me.
After that particular incident, I left my desk and went outside to call my Grandmother in tears. I had been doing this on an almost daily basis because of his constant harassment. It was then I decided to do something, so I contacted one of our Union Stewards who suggested that I take action as I see appropriate. The next morning I made an appointment with one of the HR managers and brought my concerns to him. In that meeting, he told me that the concerns would be passed on to both the Labor Analyst and EEO representative for our department. He also said that Ted would be immediately made aware of the allegations against him and who had made them. I was terrified. Ted was already trying to assert his power over me and attacking me from behind, and I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I demanded that the Labor Analyst and EEO rep let me know when they informed him and because they were unreachable for a day, I missed work the next day.
About a week after my complaint, I realized that their intention was to do nothing and most likely, even if they punished him, it would be minor and I would still have to deal with him. So I decided to quit. Not only was I quitting but I chose to leave so that I could go to law school and be an advocate for people like me. No one deserves to be harassed and bullied while at work. Once this news reached the top people at the County, Ted was placed on Administrative Leave effective immediately. While I appreciated not having the stress of dealing with him for my last three weeks of work, I think it’s ridiculous that I had to quit before any actions were taken.
To cover their liability, after I quit, the County hired an outside lawyer to investigate the harassment. This investigation was incomplete at best, and a joke at the worst. I was interviewed and then heard nothing from the County until I reached out to them demanding to know what was going on. Weeks later I received a letter stating that they found the facts were not sufficient enough to be considered discrimination or harassment under EEO standards but they took appropriate action to prevent this from happening in the future.
As I’m writing this… just a few weeks later… he has been promoted from Director of our Department to Assistant Sheriff in the local Sheriff’s office. I’ve been left with haunting nightmares, and all he received was a pat on the back and more taxpayers money. This experience has been a joke, but I don’t want it to discourage others from coming forward when things aren’t right. One day the people in charge will be more like me than him and his boy’s club. And people like me, we don’t protect the vile.
*not their actual name