by Dan Oswald
C’mon, guys. We’re better than this!
The recent string of incidents regarding sexual harassment and discrimination is disturbing and sad, and it should be embarrassing to all men. It’s the alleged bad behavior of men in the workplace—at the expense of women—that’s at the center of the stories.
In the past few weeks, we’ve seen a former senior executive at Uber describe being propositioned by her male manager on her first day on the job—in writing on the company’s chat system, no less. We have also seen a female engineer at Tesla come forward with claims of discrimination and harassment against the automaker. Then there’s the story about a group of male Marines who had a private Facebook page with pictures of naked female Marines.
The stories demonstrate a disturbing trend. Admittedly, the Tesla case is just a claim made by a female employee and has not been decided in court, but in the other two cases, there has been action that indicates the claims are credible. I understand the male Uber executive in question has been fired (although it appears it took the story going public before the company acted), and I believe the Marines’ Facebook page has been taken down in response to its discovery. In both cases, the events lead a reasonable person to believe there is merit to the stories.
The stories demonstrate that there is still horrible behavior toward women in the workplace, but they do not reach the scale of the allegations against Sterling Jewelers. The parent company of Jared The Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers is the subject of a class action suit in which more than 69,000 current or former employees accuse the company of widespread gender discrimination. Yes—69,000 women! And according to a Washington Post article, more than 1,300 pages of documentation contain sworn statements from more than 200 former employees who claim that female employees at the company “were routinely groped, demeaned and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed.”
For its part, Sterling claims that it has “thoroughly investigated the allegations and . . . concluded they are not substantiated by the facts and certainly do not reflect our culture.” The company also maintains that the allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination “involve a very small number of individuals.”
A classic case of “he said, she said.” Of course, I have no inside knowledge of what transpired at Sterling, but this doesn’t look good for the company. Although it maintains the allegations “involve a very small number of individuals,” more than 69,000 current or former female employees have joined the class action suit. What’s the company’s definition of “large number”?
Futhermore, Kathleen A. Roberts, the case’s arbitrator and a retired federal magistrate, wrote in her decision to grant class action status that the testimony includes references to “soliciting sexual relations with women (sometimes as a quid pro quo for employment benefits) . . . and creating an environment at often-mandatory company events in which women are expected to undress publicly, accede to sexual overtures and refrain from complaining about the treatment to which they have been subjected.”
Most damning for the company, Roberts wrote, “For the most part[,] Sterling has not sought to refute this evidence.” She concluded, “Sterling argues that it is inadmissible, irrelevant and insufficient to establish a corporate culture that demeans women.” So instead of arguing that the claims are untrue, Sterling is defending itself by claiming the evidence is inadmissible and the 1,300 pages of statements aren’t enough to prove it has a corporate culture that demeans women. Amazing.
C’mon, guys! You might be able to chalk up the Uber case to one male idiot who acted like a cave man and ultimately lost his job over it. Or you could hear about the Tesla allegations and argue that it’s an isolated instance that has yet to be proven. If both stories are accurate as told, it’s impossible to defend the men involved, but it could be argued that just a few bad apples are to blame.
With Sterling, the claims of inappropriate behavior are widespread and purportedly occurred over more than a decade. The sworn statements of current or former female employees paint a picture of rampant sexual harassment and discrimination against women. The culture at the company was cultivated for a long period of time. Even if only some of the claims are true, it’s an incredible story about the mistreatment of women in the workplace.
Don’t any of the men who behaved this way have mothers, wives, sisters, or daughters? Would they want the women in their lives to work at a company that allows this type of behavior? I’m amazed that in 2017, this type of harassment and discrimination is as prevalent as it appears to be given the number of cases that have recently come to light.
Guys, we need to be better than this. We just have to be. We certainly can’t condone this type of behavior when we see it, nor can we ignore it. More men need to be willing to take positive action to make the workplace a truly equal place for all.