This is the most personal writing I have ever done and it has been 8 years in the making. I might even lose a few friends over this but in light of hearing yet another similar story from yet another women, I am done being scared and I am done blaming myself. There is no reason for me to keep this in anymore.
I felt guilty for not being able to navigate around his behavior. I felt guilty for not saying anything, and then other women experienced the same thing from him. I was scared that it was my fault, and that I felt guilty for caring more about losing my job than I felt about protecting myself. I felt scared to open up myself to criticism about my work, about my personal and romantic life, and about my self-esteem. Above all, I was embarrassed.
One night in March of 2010, Kevin asked Susan and I out to dinner and drinks to Walters. Susan went up to use the bathroom and Kevin admitted to me, drunkenly, that he was in love with Susan. I tried to give him advice to slow it down. He had been divorced and Susan had recently gone through a divorce as well. After dinner, we went for drinks at the Top of the East, at the Eastland Hotel, across the street from where I was living at the time. Susan had a drink with us but left early on, leaving me alone with Kevin.
Once I was alone, Kevin made his moves on me, getting much too close, putting his arm around me and touching my thighs. I was horrified, confused and not quite sure what to do, so I joked “you’re going to have to give me a raise!” and I tried to make light of the situation because terrible jokes are my go-to apparently when I am so uncomfortable. He stopped suddenly, and in a serious voice said “never joke about that.” I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Then he kissed me. Stunned I looked around to see if anyone was watching. I was shocked and scared that my boss, the owner of the company was making unwanted advances and I didn’t know what to do. Kevin told me he wanted to see my place since it was only across the street. This struck me as both odd and obviously a ploy as he had seen my place having attended a party I hosted there months before. I told him that my fiancé was at home waiting for me (which was a lie, as he was out of town at the time) I was trying to simply leave when Kevin told me he would drive me home. ( Again, I lived directly across the street not 200 yards from the hotel…) I declined the ride and again attempted to exit. He relentlessly insisted that he walk me down to the hotel entrance, and reluctantly I relented and agreed. When we got to the lobby, he suggested we check out an area away from the front door down this hallway. He said I could leave out this other entrance, that he had never really got to check out this hotel before. Against my better judgement I went along with this diversion with the hope I could just bolt out the side exit. We walked towards the end of the hallway and once isolated, he pushed me up against the wall and forcefully kissed me again. This time I was physically stuck in a position where there wasn’t a way to politely extract myself. I told him again, for what seemed like the millionth time, that I needed to leave and that Scott will wonder where I am. I actually had to duck down under his arm to escape his clutches.
I didn’t sleep that night. I was scared that I would lose my job, and I had no idea how to navigate around this. However, for the next two weeks at work, Kevin completely ignored me, didn’t utter a word to me and in fact seemed to go out of his way to avoid me. For two weeks I was a nervous wreck. Then, two weeks after the incident, he came into my office, sat on my desk and said something along the lines of that he was drunk, and let’s put this event in the past, and it’s “water under the bridge, right?” which should have enraged me but instead, was a huge relief . “Yes, ‘water under the bridge’” because I was just glad to put that incident behind me.
What followed was an agonizing eight months of systematic bullying, relentless gas lighting, and calculated mental harassment the likes of which I had never before, or since experienced. My coworkers could see and feel what I was being subjected to, and what I can only imagine was self preservation started to distance themselves from me and to perhaps avoid any similar treatment from Kevin. As hard as it was for me to accept that I had no support, ally or friend I could turn to at work, knowing what I know now and seeing this same treatment leveled at others since my departure, I do not blame them.
I started to have panic attacks and emotional breakdowns that left me sobbing on the bathroom floor. I had never had a panic attack before, and I felt like I was dying. I went from never experiencing a panic attack, to having them weekly or at least every other week. All in the privacy of the bathroom, alone. Usually after an incident that made me feel like my job was on the line.
They moved my desk from my office out into the hallway, so I could stare at my empty office…for months. Susan would walk by my desk and not say a word-this was someone who I thought was my friend.
Physically, I wasn’t doing well. My hair started to fall out, and I was having chest pains from anxiety that at some point my doctor had me wear a heart monitor for 48 hours.
Eventually I was told that I had to choose between a lower salary or someone getting fired. I chose to lower my salary. That person they said they would fire unless I accepted a lower pay? They actually fired her anyway.
A while after that, Kevin moved me from Art Director of Maine Home+Design to his new, yet-to-be-named agency. It meant reducing me to 30 hours with my already-reduced hourly rate, and I lost my health insurance. At the time, I was getting ongoing treatment for cervical cancer which I had to put on pause.
I worked tirelessly in this job, and even though I was getting paid for 30 hours, like before there was always more work than hours given. I still worked full time, mostly out of fear. There was one incident where Kevin opened the door to a coworkers office, hitting my desk (since it was in the hallway and all) and got so angry, he pounded on my desk and screamed at me saying “Move your fucking desk!” as I thought about my still-empty former office. I went to the bathroom and had another panic attack.
Kevin and Susan pulled me into her office to tell me I should get therapy for “whatever issues” I was having. I wondered if someone told them about my panic attacks. I would like to know how they expected me to pay for therapy when I no longer had health insurance.
I started questioning my reality too. I seriously thought I was going crazy. Nothing made sense, I couldn’t understand their agenda. Haven’t I always been the best employee and friend? I worked 60 hour weeks for very little pay. They had confided in me about their personal lives or legal troubles, and I had always proved trustworthy. I was their advocate. I believed in them and this job. Why couldn’t they see it? What could I have done to turn things around? I had no control over my fate anymore and I became overwhelmed with hopelessness.
It wasn’t long after that when I was forced to resign. I signed papers and took my measly severance check (based on the newly reduced rate at the newly reduced hours, by the way) and packed my stuff and left. Not one person said a word to me. I don’t think I had been at a lower point in my entire life. It was only 2 weeks later when I was able to get another job, but it took 5 years for me to build myself up to the point where I could actually believe I was deserving of anything good.
About 2 years after I left, Kevin sent me a message over facebook out of the blue, telling me he wanted to “extend an olive branch”, and take me out to dinner. I waited hours before responding, with every thought running through my head. Out of sheer curiosity, I said yes, and he arranged we meet at Local 188 the next evening. However, the next day he blocked me on facebook. Probably for the best.
Recently, a former office-mate whom I worked closely with at the time revealed something Kevin told him:
When I expressed logistical concerns about sharing an office with Jessie, the boss dismissed them and said “Haven’t you seen the tits on her? I’m doing you a favor putting you in the same office!”
Which is part of the reason I felt I needed to write this. I deserve to make this public and other women deserve to know who this man, Kevin Thomas, truly is.
My work is public record. every single issue from 2006 to 2010 is a product of my art direction, my design and layout, my management of the storyboard and ad placement, and they loved my work. So many weeks I worked upwards of 60 hours easily, with no overtime pay, because it was a labor of love for me. I loved what I did and was loyal to the company.
They claim I was fired because my work was suffering, that there were complaints. They are not wrong. When Kevin did what many consider assault, with everything I went through up to my leaving, all of that changed. My work did suffer.
I never got an apology or even acknowledgment that I was wronged. At this point, all I want, is for this to not happen again to others.