Sexual Harassment: Welcome to "EveryCo"

Sexual Harassment: Welcome to "EveryCo"

Kit Goldman & Memo Mendez

Welcome to EveryCo, a fictional company in your industry.

Meet Roger, a respected, likable, knowledgeable, high producing manager with a touchie feelie management style and edgy sense of humor. Everyone knows he's got a good heart, doesn't mean anything by it.

Today, he's meeting with Margo, an associate, about a promotion. When she arrives at his office, he's on the phone, joking with a fellow manager about a gay employee who came in on casual Friday looking like "I Dream of Jeannie".

Margo's embarrassed by both the phone conversation and the picture on Roger's desk of his wife on the beach in Rio. Enough said.

Margo's easily offended. That irritates Roger, raises concerns re: the promotion. Roger speaks with her candidly. Says she's qualified, he wants to see her advance, but she's uptight, distant, makes people paranoid. She needs to loosen up, be part of the team, show up at happy hour, the parties, the picnic.

He gently teases her about "liberating herself from that Catholic School upbringing", all in his touchie feelie, up close and personal style. Nothing sexual. That's just how he is. Margo does her best to tolerate it.

These are opening moments of a powerful, entertaining episode Kit Goldman and Memo Mendez of Wolf Management Consultants perform in their interactive, performance based seminars on Sexual Harassment & Hostile Work Environment. It's all downhill from there.

Think Roger's behavior is over the top? Think it doesn't happen -- not here, not now in our enlightened, oh so "PC" U.S. workplace? Please. Give me your rose colored glasses and get me a latte with an extra shot.

That kind of situation and a vast number of other high-risk scenarios happen all the time, even in world class workplaces. It's often unintentional, unrecognized, and unreported -- until a lawsuit is filed or the EEOC comes calling.

It's a ticking litigation time bomb which can be defused via meaningful, high impact, relevant training on Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment which teaches

  • Awareness    
  • Recognition
  • Prevention
  • Response

Any harassment in Roger's office? Maybe. If so, Margo and Roger, like your employees and managers, have legal rights and responsibilities they need to exercise and fulfill.

Do your employees and managers know how to recognize harassment and how to respond should it occur? You need them to.

As the encounter between Roger and Margo unfolds, core concepts are explored. When those concepts are internalized, your staff has an effective paradigm for recognizing harassment and hostile work environment, and the need for action.

Here are 3 core concepts our powerful, realistic, prime time training drives home like no other can:

  1. Harassment is Unwelcome Conduct: If it's welcome, it's not necessarily harassment. But welcome to whom? Roger was in a private conversation with a fellow manager when Margo walked in. Maybe the conversation had sexual or homophobic overtones, but it was welcome to the people having it. However, we work in an environment. Sound carries. Images carry. We can't just think about what's welcome in our direct interactions, but also to those in the work environment.        
  2. Intent vs. Impact: Harassment is about impact not intent. It's defined 100% by the impact on the other person. Intentions are irrelevant. Like the NFL. You're offside, you get caught, there's a penalty, whether you meant it or not. As mentioned, Roger's good hearted. He doesn't mean anything by it. He's just being himself. Unfortunately, unless he's enlightened, he's a runaway train rumbling toward a cliff with the company's good name and resources aboard.        
  3. Consenting vs. Welcome: If someone consents to something, it's probably welcome, right? Let's say you get off work, it's dark, you're in the parking lot, a stranger comes up behind you, puts a 9 MM to your head, says "give me your wallet or I'll blow your brains out". You going to give it up? Darn Skippy. Did you consent? Yes. Did you welcome giving up your wallet? Of course not. The law recognizes that in the workplace people consent to things they don't welcome for a variety of reasons explored in the seminars on Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment.

Speaking of your wallet, when compared with the costs of lawsuits, settlements and compliance audits, proactive staff-wide training on Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment is incredibly cost effective.

And if, heaven forbid, you end up in court, your efforts at prevention and how management responded can play a huge role in the outcome.

Yet sadly, some employers choose not to do it. Here are some common reasons why:

  • Training will just stir things up
  • It's a can of worms
  • Why open Pandora's Box?
  • Let sleeping dogs lie

On this last, let me say dogs usually do wake up and when they do -- training's a very good thing.

Still not sure if you'll roll out training on Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment at your company or agency? Check out this tiny sampling of recent news bites, then get in touch with us.

JFD Ex-Official Denies Harassment
Excerpted from Mississippi Clarion Ledger May 25, 2007

A retired Jackson Fire Department official testified Thursday he had hugged female firefighters but never sexually harassed any of them.

"For some people, it's not appropriate, but it's not sexual harassment either," Luther Thompson said of his desire to hug females and males as a greeting.

During the trial, at least one of the women testified Thompson inappropriately and frequently wanted to hug her. There were also other allegations.

"It never happened," Thompson said of allegations he placed his body against one of the women. Thompson also said he never tried to kiss a female firefighter.

Also, there was an allegation Thompson tried to place his hand between a female firefighter's legs when she was a passenger in his car.

Stacy Prophet, Tiffany Alexander, Jacqueline Moore and Sandra Hawkins alleged Fire Department supervisors made unwanted advances and inappropriate comments and groped them. Each is seeking at least $300,000 in damages...

The women made no claim of sexual harassment against then-Jackson Fire Chief Raymond McNulty. But they say he didn't take action to prevent it.


Trial Opens in Sexual Harassment Charges Against Training Center
Excerpted from The Oregonian May 02, 2007

An administrator at a publicly run training center admitted engaging in inappropriate sexual banter on the job, but his conduct was not harassment as four women allege in a lawsuit, an attorney for the man.... argued today in court.

The women are former civilian employees of a Training Center which offers programs for paramedics, emergency medical technicians and nursing assistants, in homeland security, first aid, and occupational safety.

Each of the women is seeking $1.5 million in damages.

An investigation... found he had behaved inappropriately and failed to stop his and other employees' improper behavior... 

The lawsuit is "....about words, statements, jokes and e-mails...they were battered into submission."

The board knew or should have known of the discrimination... One of the women complained to a board member and at least one other city official, but nothing was done, he said.


Flight Attendant Awarded $510,000 in Sex Harassment Lawsuit
Excerpted from the Associated Press May 10, 2007

A former Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant has been awarded $510,000... in a sexual harassment case involving a pilot and the airline. 

The former attendant reported to her supervisors that the pilot, Gary J. Kissinger, grabbed her buttock while passengers were leaving the plane after an interisland flight.

According to...attorneys...her supervisors didn't take action to protect her....claimed the company failed to take the complaint seriously...

The jury Tuesday awarded $120,000 in compensatory damages to the flight attendant, $250,000 in punitive damages against Hawaiian Airlines and $140,000 in punitive damages against Kissinger.


Officer Sues Over Sexual Harassmet
Excerpted from the Honolulu Star Bulletin May 9, 2007

A former Honolulu police officer filed a lawsuit yesterday...alleging her sergeant made unwanted sexual advances and retaliated against her when he was rebuffed.

Deanna Ho-Ching filed the suit against the city and the Honolulu Police Department, alleging sexual harassment... from 2004 until 2006... she filed a sexual harassment complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state Civil Rights Commission, which later issued letters giving her the right to sue.

...Allegedly began by brushing against her, smelling her neck and asking her for a kiss in front of other officers.... repeatedly asked about her relationship with her husband, from whom she was separated, and            other personal relationships.

...His attentions escalated to groping and kissing despite her refusals and attempts to push him away.

...He remarked, "I don't handle rejection very well,"... and proceeded to retaliate.

...Allegedly singled her out for minor infractions, reprimanded, demeaned and ridiculed her in front of others... poked her in the chest and back to check if she was wearing a bulletproof vest, but did not do that to male officers.

...Suffered from depression, severe anxiety, panic attacks. The city's psychologist found her unfit for full duty


Sexual Harassment is Not a Joke to Employers
Excerpted from the Talahassee Democrat May 13, 2007

...For employers... claims of sexual harassment, and the lawsuits that sometimes ensue, are no laughing matter.

In fact, the cost of successfully defending a single harassment suit routinely exceeds $100,000. ..According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the average sexual harassment verdict against an employer is more than $250,000, with some verdicts reaching into the millions and tens of millions of dollars.

...15,000 claims of sexual harassment against their employers with the EEOC. ...tens of thousands of complaints... to state commissions.

Nevertheless, after three decades of these lawsuits... many employers are still ill-equipped to prevent this illegal behavior... within their workplaces and to defend against these cases once they are filed.

The good news is that employers can take preventive steps to minimize the risk that they will be sued for sexual harassment. 

Employee training Employers must educate all employees re: all forms of harassment and clearly communicate the complaint procedure... 

Supervisor training All supervisors... must be required to attend a sexual harassment training on a routine basis....strive to provide substantive and interactive training modules...

...The company will be able to utilize one of the most powerful affirmative defenses available... companies that do not have a sexual harassment training program are 50 percent more likely to be sued... employers and employees can concentrate on productivity and  profitability rather than mistakes


Florence Deputy Chief Fired Over Sexual Harassment Accusation
Excerpted from Daily Comet (LaFourche parish, La) May 29, 2007

...Deputy Chief Pete Williford has been fired following a sexual harassment accusation over a female subordinate's haircut.

...The woman accused Williford of sexual harassment after he made a suggestive comment about her haircut.

Singleton announced Thursday that he had investigated the complaint and had fired Williford.

Williford, 49, on the police force for nearly 28 years, said he would appeal the firing.

"It is a sad state when a 28-year career can be ended by a comment about a haircut," he said.

The chief said anyone in a management position in today's work environment knows they cannot say certain things.

"One of the requirements of the job is to be knowledgeable of these issues," he said.


Committee Votes to Pay Settlement
Excerpted from Pekin Times May 26, 2007 3:34 AM CDT

If approved next week... Tazewell County taxpayers will pay out $100,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit.

...Tazewell County's Risk Management Committee voted to approve the settlement in the case of a.... former... inmate who alleged that the county allowed a prison guard to sexually harass her while she was incarcerated...

...She filed the sexual harassment suit in August, asking for $250,000.

Tazewell County Risk Management Committee Chairman...said lawyers came to a settlement the tune of $100,000.

"These type of things are always embarrassing..."


New Mexico Personnel Office Broke Own Policies...
Excerpted from the Associated Press May 25, 2007

Morale at the state Personnel Office has been hurt by allegations of favoritism, sexual harassment, retaliation and age discrimination...

"The alleged sexual harassment ranged from sexual jokes of an offensive nature directed at the individual employee to more overt advances..."

...The Personnel Office might have improperly hired and promoted employees, made questionable payments to employees, including supervisory pay, overtime and retroactive payments.

The Personnel Office hired an Albuquerque firm... to look into allegations of sexual harassment, age discrimination and retaliation...


If you are interested in training for your office or oganization on Sexual Harassment or Hostile Environment, get in touch with us today to schedule a workshop or training presentation. Peace of mind sometimes means knowing you did everything you could do...



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