A Feministe reader writes in with a question:
I work for a reputable medical school in central Texas, in the IT department. My department has expanded beyond the space we have in our office, so they moved three of us to a satellite office, for space reasons. I (the sole female techie) and two men were the ones moved. I didn’t see a problem with this, as they had to move someone and they stated the technicians they were moving were the ones they could trust to work in a more unsupervised setting.
It was working out fine until August 4, 2010. One of the coworkers in my tiny office, a married man in his late 40’s/early 50’s and I were talking about current events. Religion, Miranda Rights, the then-pending Prop 8 decision, etc. He noted that I was very “passionate” about the Prop 8 decision and seemed to have a personal interest in it,and wondered why. I replied that human rights are something that everyone should care about, not just those that are effected. And then I shrugged and said “besides, I’m bisexual. I do kind of take the human rights movement personally.”
A few minutes later, he got up from his desk, walked over to me, put his hands on my shoulders, and kissed me on the cheek. I was so startled, I froze. Then he tried to kiss me on the lips. I shoved my hand in between our faces and prevented him from doing so. He then tried to kiss me on the neck. I shoved him away. My only exit from the room was to run past him. He easily outweighs me by about 80 lbs. I was scared shitless of what would happen if I fled. I sat at my desk and shook, while he told me repeatedly that I “made” him do it. I “made” him kiss me. It nauseated me. He then told me that we’d keep it between ourselves, and said that the “other guys” won’t take kindly to me being bisexual and that he “has your back, sweetie”. That it would be “our little secret”.
Work ended (this all happened less than an hour before the end of the workday) and I ran over to my husband’s office (he works in the same building, on the same floor, as I did). I told him what happened and we went home. I emailed my supervisor that I needed to talk to her ASAP the next day. I reported it to my manager and supervisor the next morning. They arranged me to meet with HR the next day (Friday). I explained everything in great detail to the HR rep. He asked me, point blank, that if my assailant stayed an employee, if I would leave. I said yes, that I did not feel safe. That I was assaulted. That I felt like he was trying to blame me and blackmail me. That I have a right to work in a safe, harassment free environment and if I have to work with my assailant, those rights are not being met.
They told me they would have their investigation completed on Monday. Monday came, Monday went. On Tuesday, I called the HR rep about ten times, leaving voicemails. He finally told me that they’re still looking into it. Wednesday- same thing. Yesterday, Thursday, they called to ask me the time and date of the assault again. Finally, today, I called and asked what the hell was going on. He said that they have “substantiated your report”. When I asked what was going to be done, they said that he will remain an employee (zero tolerance policy MY ASS) in my department, but that I will have zero contact with my assailant and any “contact would be accidental”.
I feel totally violated now by HR. The purported zero tolerance policy on any type of assault/harassment seems to be just a bunch of hot air and I do not feel safe knowing he’s on campus.
What are my options, besides finding a new job and quitting? Do I have any legal ground to stand on?
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