“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
— Maya Angelou
In early 2018, I met Anny Gonzalez. Anny had just been fired from her job cleaning planes at Logan Airport in Boston after she reThisported being repeatedly harassed at work. With no income, she was forced to move into a shelter and struggled to care for her young family. Anny was one of the many brave survivors who came forward in the wake of the Me Too movement.
From Hollywood to Congress, restaurants to the farm field, Me Too brought the pervasive problem of workplace harassment and assault out of the shadows and into the national limelight. I remember the day that #MeToo and stories like Anny’s filled my newsfeed. It was overwhelming but, thankfully, it forced a cultural awakening that was long overdue.
According to the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission):
● At least 25 percent of women experience sexual harassment in the workplace
● 75 percent of harassment victims experienced retaliation when they reported it
● Somewhere between 87 and 94 percent of employees experiencing harassment do not file a formal complaint
Me Too empowered survivors to talk and exposed a massive gap in our system of laws. While so many came forward to tell their stories, their courage wasn’t a match for the power of their abusers. As Anny experienced, telling the truth often led to retaliation.
Well, not anymore. Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Patty Murray and I filed a new bill, the Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination, or the Be HEARD in the Workplace Act. This bill comprehensively addresses workplace assault and harassment and gives people like Anny the legal protections and respect they deserve. It ensures that workers have the support they need to seek justice and businesses have more resources to prevent harassment.
The bill takes critical steps to put these protections into law. The Be HEARD Act:
● invests in research about the economic impact of harassment,
● puts an end to mandatory arbitration and pre-employment non-disclosure agreements that prevent workers from coming forward,
● offers survivors more time to report harassment,
● authorizes grants for legal assistance, and
● eliminates the tipped minimum wage which leads to disproportionate levels of harassment (60% of female tipped workers) and discrimination by clients and supervisors.
When we introduced the Be HEARD Act, I was proud to be joined by three brave women who came to DC to tell their stories.
We heard from Jennifer, a security guard at a nuclear facility who faced three years of constant harassment, was assaulted, reported the crime, and was subsequently fired.
We heard from Adrianna, a domestic worker who had been harassed at every job she’d had as a server, a factory worker, and an office cleaner. She felt as if she had no rights.
We also heard from Maria, an agricultural factory employee who worked in an environment where supervisors said that workers should expect to be harassed and they could not do anything about it.
They spoke in favor of the Be HEARD Act because they knew that if they told their stories, they could make a difference. They believed in their power to change the conversation, and they have.
Anny, Jennifer, Adrianna, Maria, and so many other survivors embody what Robert Kennedy used to call “a ripple of hope” that can “sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” With the help of the thousands of women and men who shared their stories, we will create workplaces that are safe and respectful of all workers.