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A third woman has come forward alleging sexual harassment by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. A few days ago the mayor made a half-hearted apology to those he “may have offended” and promised to do something about it — but stepping down from his position as mayor is not an option. Politicians behaving badly is not new and it seems they are a reflection of the business environment as a whole. Filings of sexual harassment cases remain the same since 1997.
A few years ago, I became an assistant manager at a well-known family restaurant chain in Orange County; when I started, I had to sign a legal document stating that I was legally responsible to take action if an employee came to me with a sexual harassment complaint. The paper stated that I could be sued as well as the harasser if I knowingly knew about a person sexually harassing an employee and did not report it to Human Resources. I was there only a week when I was approached by a female employee that told me that her boss – my boss, the general manager of the restaurant had been making sexual comments towards her and another female employee for months. She wanted to know what I planned to do about it. She had already made a formal complaint to HR and after (their idea of investigating) nothing was done — except the harasser became more aggressive and threatened to fire her.
I was still under my ninety-day probation period and under California law, I could be fired for any reason during that time. Getting myself involved in a sexual harassment complaint against my boss seemed like a good reason – at least to him, to get me fired — so I went to a general manager from a different restaurant (same chain), the person who trained me – a woman and the first thing she asked was, “How do you know its true?” — then she told me to stay out of it. I reminded her that I signed a legal document that I would investigate the allegation. The manager said, “Oh, that. The paper is only for legal purposes, we don’t actually follow up on that sort of thing.” The general manager in question has been with that company over twenty years and he makes them a lot of money. After my conversation with the other store manager, I asked other female employees about my bosses behavior. Apparently his behavior is well known among other managers in that restaurant chain, in fact, when he wasn’t making lewd comments he belittled his employees – male and female. I was shocked and I am not one to be shocked easily. I called that restaurant today and asked if he is still there. He is – and I am willing to bet he continues harassing his staff.
I told this story because I think sexual harassment is alive and well — even in 2013 and it happens in the political arena and Main Street. Pundits claim that persons who seek fame and power are more likely to sexually harass those who work for them. I believe there are plenty of politicians who do not engage in this behavior. I see men who harass women as predators and they will behave that way no matter where they work. Its not about sex, its about having power over someone else. They get away with it because they choose women they believe will not “fight back” or file a complaint. They choose women who are single mothers (like the general manager in the chain restaurant) or those who really need their jobs – and in this work environment, that includes everyone. I think they prefer single mothers because they know there probably isn’t a male in her life who could come after them (physically). Add an HR department that turns a blind-eye and you have a recipe for a nightmare of a working environment — until someone has enough and comes forward publicly, as in the case of Mayor Filner.
Who really knows how rampant sexual harassment is in the workforce these days? Many women do not report it to their HR department because of fear of retaliation. And when it is reported, how often does the HR department do anything about it? — especially when the one accused brings in a lot of money to the company. I was told its easier to replace a food server than a general manager. If this attitude is the norm, then sexual harassment isn’t going away anytime soon — I don’t care how many ‘sensitivity trainings’ employees attend.