The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sexual Harassment

This is yet another story about the pharmaceutical company (see previous entry about Mike). It's also kind of a serious entry, so don't expect to writhe on the ground in laughter. I promise we'll get back to the funny stuff next time.

As I mentioned, the department had two graphics designers—myself and this other guy named Matt, who was a complete idiot and mainly dealt with video. He spent the majority of the time complaining that his job grade-level was technically “secretary” (as was mine) because he was a man, and of course, men couldn’t be secretaries.

There was also another guy in the department. His name was Ron and his title was something like “Audio/Visual Manager.” Ron was 56 and was short and homunculous, and had white hair and a white beard. He looked exactly like a very unfriendly garden gnome.

To this day, I’m not sure how it started. Ron and I worked together happily—almost friends—for several years. Then I started getting more and more important assignments and Ron became very worried about his job security, even though no one cared enough about what he did to want to steal his job.

One day, at the copy machine, Ron came up to me and said; “You know, your breasts are lopsided.”

Now you have to remember, I was only 24. I was very unskilled socially and no man had ever made a sexual comment to me before, let alone a man old enough to be my father. He just cackled and walked away.

Two days later, I arrived at work, opened my desk, and found an adult toy and video catalogue in the middle drawer. A post-it note (in Ron’s handwriting) read: “Go ahead and order something…you could use the experience.”

(Yeah, I know. By now you’re saying; “Why the hell didn’t you go to your boss?” Simple answer: I was embarrassed. My boss was a man and I didn’t think I could bring myself to show him the catalogue. Which is exactly what pretty much all sexual harassers are banking on.)

I finally snapped that Friday when I opened an e-mail from Ron and found very explicit, step-by-step instructions on how to administer oral sex. I freaked out. I printed it out, stuffed it along with the adult catalogue in a confidential envelope along with a brief explanatory letter and walked into my boss’s office.

“I’m not going to be here when you look at all of this,” I said to him. “I’ll be at my desk.”

Ten minutes later, the boss buzzed me and asked me to come in. “Close the door,” he said, quietly.

I did. The boss then proceeded to explain to me that he was overjoyed by my harassment because it turns out that the company had been trying to find an excuse to get rid of Ron for years. Ron, it seems, was drawing an enormous salary for doing absolutely nothing, and now that I was doing basically all the designing and Matt was running around with his camcorder, Ron’s job wasn’t even necessary anymore.

However, the boss explained, we needed more evidence. Apparently, what Ron had already done to me wasn’t enough. I couldn’t believe it. The boss was very apologetic and said that he was “building a file” against Ron, and if I would just be brave and tough it out a little longer we could possibly get rid of him for good.

At this point, it’s necessary to point out that Ron did have one friend in the department…a frightening, horrible, ghastly German woman of about 50 named Ulla. She hated me from the moment she shook my hand (I have that effect on people) and I hated her right back. Apparently, she and Ron were friends from way back when.

Anyway, one day, Ulla went to Princeton to some workshop or something and she called the office from the road and asked me to go into her office and find some document that she needed mailed ASAP. I went into her office, opened the drawer she had specified, and found the document.

I also found a file folder with my name on it.

Well…come on. Wouldn’t you? Of course you would. And I did.

The folder consisted of a series of e-mails between Ron and Ulla, about me. It seems that Ron had shared his paranoid fantasy of me taking over his job with Ulla, and she agreed with him that I was "a dangerous upstart who needs to have her hands slapped." Through these e-mails, I also found out that Ron had been searching my computer’s hard-drive every morning before I came into the office in an attempt to find anything of a personal nature. Apparently, his goal was to have me fired before I could usurp his position.

(During this time I was only working on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays because I was going to graduate school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This will be important later.)

I copied everything in the folder and gave it to the boss. The boss and I cooked up a plan to catch Ron at his snooping: I would create a document entitled “RON HISLASTNAME HARASSMENT CASE” and save it on my hard drive. Because our word processing program time-and-date-stamped a document every time it was opened, if Ron opened that document on a day that I wasn’t in the office, we had him nailed.

(The document, by the way, was cheerful. It said, simply: “Hi, Ron! Going through my computer again to see if I have anything personal on it? God, that’s sad. That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. Love and kisses, BeowulfGirl.”)

A few days later, I found a dildo in my drawer, with another cheerful post-it note from Ron saying, “This is the only boyfriend you’ll ever have.” I gave it to the boss saying that my patience was running out. The boss set up a meeting for myself, him, and his boss (who was, logically, my grandboss) during which I would present my case.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to say “dildo” to a vice president? It’s awful.

The grandboss assured me that action would be taken. “Yeah, right,” I said. Frankly, I was starting to think I was on my own.

And then, that Friday, it happened.

I came into the office at 7:30 as usual, Coke in hand, and scanned my hard-drive. And there it was—the document I had created with Ron’s name had been opened last at 6:22am on the day before—a Thursday, when I was not in the office.

I printed out the screen, highlighted the date and time, and marched into Ron’s office. He looked up, surprised, as I slammed the paper on his desk. “I’ve got you, you son of a bitch,” I said, viciously, and stalked out.

Ron was fired that afternoon, and I sat down at my desk and quietly began to cry. I hadn’t realized how much stress the whole thing had caused me. He was escorted off my premises by an armed security guard.

And what really kicked me in the teeth was that Ron’s firing was not for all the sexual harassment, but for invasion of privacy and misappropriation of company property.

Be careful what battles you choose, troops.