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I Was Sexually Harassed At Work, And Human Resources Laughed When I Tried To Report It

 

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I was in my early twenties when I was hired to be an assistant for a contracting company. As the assistant, it was normal for me to interact with several employees throughout the day, considering I was responsible for delivering packages, mail, and replenishing office and copier supplies, among other things.

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Mainly, I had the most engagement with the accounting assistant, a male coworker. Let’s call him Mr. Finance. It was my responsibility to deliver invoices (and other documents) for him to process. I tended to the task weekly, sometimes even daily, depending on the pile of materials that accumulated on my desk that were meant for the accounting department.

In the beginning, things were professional and cordial when I walked into his office to deliver the invoices or mail — quick and straightforward conversations like, “How is your day going?” and “Did you have a nice weekend,” yada yada. Over the weeks, he remained friendly and professional, and our conversations ventured to, “How’s your wife and kids?" or "How was your weekend?"

I even told Mr. Finance that I finally purchased a car and was ecstatic I no longer had to take public transportation. That’s when things took a dark turn. Offhandedly, he asked if he could ride in my car. I said “maybe,” not thinking much of it — nor did I even take his request seriously.

But after that, every time I had to come into his office to place documents in his inbox, he would ask if I could give him a ride in my car. It was clear he wanted alone time, something I had no interest in doing. I would politely decline or mumble “maybe," because I didn't want to aggravate him. Every time after that, I tried to keep the conversations short and to get out of his office as soon as possible.

The following year, his department, along with the contracts department, relocated to another floor. After helping with relocating staff to their new office, I struck up a friendship with an older female employee who worked in the contracts department. She was very friendly, and I felt safe enough to confide in her that I was feeling uncomfortable being alone in a room with Mr. Finance. She told me I should report him to human resources and that he had been inappropriate with her as well.

Although I agreed with her that I should stop this issue for good, I was hesitant to report it. I didn’t want to bother with human resources, not trusting that the company had the backs of employees, knowing that they were there to protect the executives. I had long been aware that society likes to place blame on women. I also didn’t want to become fodder for gossip.

Thus, anytime I had to deliver documents to him, he continued to press his luck. He asked me out on dates. Inquired if I had a boyfriend. He still asked to ride in my car. He inquired where I lived. I would either decline to answer the question, or would flip the situation and ask about his wife and kids.

Within a year, I applied for another role in the company, which I got, and the receptionist was promoted to my position. I was so grateful to be free from Mr. Finance's harassment. But I worried about the receptionist—let’s call her Ms. Secretary. She was young and upbeat, and everyone in the office like her due to her warm personality. I warned her about Mr. Finance and told her to try to keep her distance from him as much as possible.

Later, I found out that he was inappropriate with her and that she had reported the incident to human resources. In my mind, I thought that finally, human resources would take the appropriate measures, because per my math that was two people who had reported him, and god knows who else. But nothing happened.

Soon, I found myself having to make deliveries to his office again, in my new role. [This had nothing to do with Ms. Secretary's issues with Mr. Finance]

Foolishly, I thought that since I never returned any feelings he had towards me, he would be over it by now. I was wrong. Every time I dropped of paperwork to his office, he would try to chat me up, but I would just rush out his workspace ASAP. 

Then one day, the harassment worsened. 

One day, I quickly tired dropping off paperwork in his inbox. He proceeded to ask if I could bring them to his desk. I walked them over, not thinking much about it, but knew I wanted to make it quick. As I tried handing the folder of paperwork, he grabbed my right wrist, asking me, "Come closer?" The next thing I knew, he had his arm around my waist. I froze. I was shocked and mortified. What in the world was happening? I removed his hand, dropped the folder on his desk, and backed up and out of his office.

The next day, I told the older woman who I mentioned earlier about what happened. She again stressed that I needed to inform human resources. This time, I took her up on her words.

One the day of my meeting with human resources, I was nervous but felt a sense of relief. When I arrived in human resources office to meet with the director, a woman, Mr. Finance's manager was there too. I began to tell them of all the harassment I experienced, trying my best to recount every incident. When I got to the point where he asked to come to my house, the HR Director laughed, and Mr. Finance's manager followed suit.

So much for having a woman's back, I thought to myself as the HR director chuckled. I wasn't surprised by his manager, a man, laughing.

I could feel my face turned red, like a fever.

I can't remember if I said this aloud or to myself: "I don't think a lawyer would find this funny." 

I do know that I asked, “What’s so funny?”

“I’m sorry,” the HR director responded, but with a slight giggle. “It’s not funny, but I can’t believe…”

“Well, he did," I replied.

They informed me they would talk to him about his behavior. And I told him I knew of other employees that he harassed. We agreed that he would keep his distance and wasn’t allowed to enter my office, and all communication was to take place via email. I was told to inform my direct manager, which I did. But that conversation didn't go well either.

My direct manager, a woman too, asked what I did to make him do that. That stung. I yelled at her, “I didn’t do anything. How dare you ask me that." 

"That's not what I meant," she said.

At that point, I knew it was time for me to start looking for another job. Especially since Mr. Finance took it upon himself to break the agreement a few weeks after I had reported him, and walked into my office looking for me so he could ask a question.

Luckily, I shared my office, and the person was there to witness the breach of an agreement. 

“You’re not supposed to be in here. If you need anything work-related, you’re supposed to email me,” I said somewhat nervously and angrily.

We didn't have much interaction after that.

I share my story as a warning to all people who are victims of sexual harassment. One, report the incident immediately, don’t let it linger as I did. Also, take notes of every violation. Two, be prepared not to be taken seriously or be believed by human resources and management. They are there to protect the company, not you. Know this, and be prepared for a battle of words. Instead, remain persistent about them addressing the situation until you are comfortable. And if need be, get a lawyer.

Also, to those expecting a woman to be sensitive to your case, have no expectations of this. Women in power are women in power.

Sometimes they are "woke" to sensitives and indecencies, but sometimes they aren't. Lisa Bloom, the lawyer who represented Harvey Weinstein, is a prime example regarding the misuse of power over a preference to protect the accused. Unfortunately, I had to deal with my very own Lisa Bloom, and it's a dark time in my career that I will never forget, much less forgive.

Top photo: PXHere Creative Commons

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Quiana Fulton is a freelance writer who covers politics, sports, and pop culture. Her writings have appeared in The Hill, The Grio, Roanoke Times, The Federalists, and Baltimore Sun. She has a B.A. in Political Science from American Military University. Follow her on twitter @thequianafulton.com.

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