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azulot

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A First-Hand Experience with Unwanted Advances in the Workplace

Below is an account of harassment I experienced by the CEO of a company I worked for, and eventually quit due to the harassment I was facing. Sharing this experience is inspired by @zombiepie’s excellent Final Fantasy blogs, specifically the second FFIX post about Zidane groping Garnet, as well as in response to @spaceinsomniac's kind words, and their experience with a situation that occurred in their workplace as well.

I tried not to go into too much detail, but let’s just say the inquiry about whether or not I bend over on purpose is on the lighter side of things. I certainly could have handled it better, but it was kind of foreign territory for me to have this happen regularly by a person who I was supposed to respect and could also fire me right on the spot. To sum up: it sucked and drastically affected my health and relationship, I should have spoken up way sooner, and when I resigned I cussed him out in the parking lot in front of the office. As a very passive person, it was a moment that I’ll cherish. However, it was something that made me grow as a person and as a female, if that somehow makes sense.

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So, I worked at this company just over two years, and the harassment started fairly early on with comments on my appearance. It took me a while to realize how uncomfortable it made me and that not only was it not okay, it was affecting my work performance, relationship, and mental/emotional state (I also suffer from anxiety and have had my bouts with depression, and I'm sure that only made these issues worse). It was the question "Do you bend over on purpose?" that really got to me (really goes with the whole Zidane discussion here, ha). Yet it wasn't until months later that I actually did something about it. This is the CEO of the company and I was terrified of losing my job, plus it didn't help that the director of HR was, at best, incredibly difficult to work with (working in accounting and doing payroll, I would have to deal with this woman who was flowers and sunshine outwardly, in front of others, but in all actuality just abhorrent).

With the comments, I just blew them off, not accepting them but never saying "Hey, stop that" either. I know I should have. But you know what? I thought it was my fault. I genuinely had thoughts in my head like "Maybe pencil skirts are too form fitting and I shouldn't be wearing them" or "Maybe I should only stock office supplies when CEO isn't around" or "You know, I really don't need to dress that nice for work" ... Looking back I just get so upset with myself for that line of thinking. This type of thinking is something that went on for months. During that time, my boyfriend (to-be husband this Saturday!) and I barely talked. We didn't really spend our nights together anymore. I'd focus on my schoolwork and try not to talk about work or anything. What was happening, honest to god, made me feel like I was cheating on the love of my life. I felt dirty, and like it was my fault, and I was the one betraying him (should be noted the CEO knew full well I was in a committed relationship - and actually so was he, more on that in a bit).

My first true breaking point was the god damn rodeo. That sentence is so stupid and I know it. But it's where I really realized, "hey, this kind of shit isn't okay, and it's not my fault either". My s/o dropped me and a coworker off because we'd be drinking at the company event being held there. I knew it was going south when CEO texted me asking when we were getting there, and when I responded saying we needed Employee X to give us tickets he said "Make sure you come in without them". And this is when my stomach turned into a pit of swirling anxiety and loathing. My line of thinking was, okay, never, ever be alone with him, and I'll get through this evening fine.

I arrive at the table and I see that CEO's girlfriend of ten years is there. Thank God. There's no way he'd do anything with her present. Nope. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. That night whenever I went to grab drinks he'd mysteriously show up behind me and start conversation (I kept bringing up my s/o to try to keep the conversation in line). After the second coincidence, I made one of the other male employees help me "carry" drinks for the table (I started buying other people drinks to use this excuse, and so that I wouldn't be too impaired because the coworker I came with (52 y/o female) was wasted). This method seemed to work. Until, everything was over. We went to the bathrooms, and I tried my best to talk with the wives and girlfriends who were there. Then I realized, wasted female coworker fell behind somewhere and I was responsible for her and needed to grab her (this lady got seriously wasted).

Anyway, so I fall back to her, and I’m sure you can guess who falls back with me. Drunk lady is seriously messed up and kinda all over the place. CEO’s girlfriend and other wives are a few yards ahead, and the men are a bit ahead of them. Being the drunk watcher, and knowing the CEO is skeevy I can’t just leave Drunk Lady walking in crooked paths on her own… so I stick back and watch her instead of trying to weasel my way out of being close to CEO.

I remember him saying something stupid and kind of hitting on me again – and I was like: What. The. Hell. His girlfriend was literally yards in front of us and if she dropped something for a second would easily be able to hear him. What is this guy thinking? I respond with some offhand remark, I think I may have even said something about his girlfriend (they’d been together 10 years… 10 years…). I don’t know, I just wanted to deflect and get Drunk Lady home.

Then he goes: “What would you say if I wanted to kiss you right now?”

I legitimately felt my face turn white. I remember feeling terrible, genuinely terrible – this absolutely lovely woman was right in front of me and somehow I made her significant other want to kiss me. I remember thinking “What the fuck have I done to even let him think he has a chance?” I don’t remember my actual response, it was something stupid. Maybe I deflected with “Oh my gosh, drunk lady!” and ran to her stumbling about. I was appalled at the audacity of this guy and desperately wanted an out of the current situation.

The only reason I got out of there was one of the coworkers called me because he wanted to say bye and couldn’t see me around. I remember grabbing drunk lady, and saying “Come on we gotta say bye to Coworker X!” Other coworkers (including CEO) wanted to go to the beer garden – thankfully, drunk lady was far too drunk to be let in. I lied and told them my s/o was at the front to pick us up anyway (he was on his way). I felt sick in the car. I felt like I betrayed my s/o yet again that night because I let myself get into that situation. We dropped drunk lady off at home and I just went to bed. This was like a Wednesday night, I believe. The next few days I just shut my office door and said I wasn’t feeling well or had a headache or something. I avoided everyone like the plague.

I didn’t know how to deal with the situation.

Then, the following Monday came. I was to get drug tested. I know the drill, get escorted to facility, escorted back, go home, results the following day, come in the next day. I’d done payroll after all, and this was the policy for every employee.

Lo and behold that was not the case. They said I needed to be in an hour after receiving the results – Uhhh, what? Literally, every other employee, for my entire time there got the same treatment, except for me. I said that I was spending time with my father and I’d be unable to make it in, but I’d take the time unpaid. I did however make it known to my supervisor that this was not the policy established and that I was unhappy. (My supervisor did not make this decision, it was coming from HR).

Later on, I got home, and did homework or something, whatever. My s/o came home. I told him about the exchange, and the different policy (guess what – he had worked there before so he knew I was right), and how singled out I felt. I was on the floor crying in minutes asking him if I could quit my job because I hated it. He knew something else was wrong.

I told him everything.

He was pissed – and rightfully so. He hated that I was put in that situation, and that somebody else thought they could just say things like that day in and day out. Because it was the CEO, he thought it was shitty and manipulative and an abuse of power. He never once thought it was anything I did, all these things he was saying were things I hadn’t even put together in my head yet. He told me he’d support whatever I wanted to do, so I turned in my resignation letter the next day.

I wish I still had that letter. Anyway, in it I declined an exit interview. The CEO wasn’t in all day and my supervisor was busy so it was hard to actually put in my notice. Finally my supervisor returned from her meeting and I gave her my notice and she told me I was right about the policy, and that I shouldn’t quit over that.

I told her “HR deciding to treat me differently than everyone else will be the technical reason I quit. They’ve proven so much that they have no care for me, that I can’t even come to them with a sexual harassment claim.” I gave her a basic version of what had been happening, one that’s more simplified than even this blog post, essentially saying comments were becoming more inappropriate as time went on, and that I no longer feel comfortable in the work place. She thanked me for telling her, and understood why nothing was going to be filed with HR, as well as why I declined an exit interview (HR director hated my boss, and often tried to pin shit on her). She too knew he was skeevy. I guess he jokingly blew her a kiss a few months prior and she pulled him into her office the next day and made it very clear that behavior was inappropriate (yet he continued to hit on me). I asked her to please keep an eye on his interactions with any females, and to certainly not trust him alone with anyone. My supervisor was great – I do miss working with her.

Anyway, the CEO showed up for a minute but had to leave. I told him I was resigning and he said he wouldn’t accept it. I said “It’s happening regardless of what you say, a copy has already been sent to HR. I need to talk to you and you’re going to listen”. He had me walk with him outside (which was great because I definitely screamed at him). I told him (and by that I mean yelled at him because he kept interrupting me) the way he was treating me wasn’t okay, and that what he did was disrespectful towards a number of parties (I listed them all). I asked him how he could even attempt to hit on me with his girlfriend not only at the same event, but just feet in front of us. I even told him he didn’t deserve her, or this job, or all the money he makes.

When I was done yelling at him (there were a lot of obscenities, and again, the number of yelling matches I have had in my life can be counted on one hand), his only response was “I thought we were having a good time”.

“No, you were having a good time. Fuck you, the letter will be on your desk” and walked back into my office.

Honestly? I don’t think he learned a damn thing or even cared about how his actions affected me. The next two weeks he didn’t speak to me, or even look at me. On my last day, he shook my hand and wished me luck. He’s not the CEO anymore, but he still works there.

I told one other coworker, Drunk Lady, of all people about what happened (she was also practically my next door neighbor). She thought I was overreacting, she said "Oh, come on, did you think he was going to rape you or something?" I said it didn’t matter, I was still leaving. Truthfully, I don’t think I’d be in a situation where he could get away with that, but do I think he would have tried to pressure me, absolutely. Clearly, Drunk Lady wasn’t on my side. I cut ties with her completely.

The funny thing is? I often saw CEO’s truck outside of Drunk Lady’s house in the evenings. One time on a Saturday morning. Doesn’t surprise me.

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I tried to keep this tame. If you think I’m overreacting, you’re entitled to your opinion but this guy made comments to me for about a year and a half. One time, it was the morning of my interview for a higher position within the company – and I quote “Hot damn, I would like doing interviews more if people dressed and looked like you do”. Just, real stupid shit. During that interview, I was wondering – wow if I get this is it because of how I look? The repeated comments over time legitimately made me question not only my abilities but my entire self-worth.

Anyway, I’ve been onto bigger and better things. I’m marrying the same guy who stood by me through this whole ordeal this weekend actually and then we’re moving to Long Island. I’ve gotten a way better job, and have been able to comprehend the harassment situation better in the time since.

I wanted to share my experience, and hopefully enlighten people who might not understand. If there’s any questions, honestly, I’d be happy to share.

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On Growing Up: Getting Married, Moving Cross-Country, and an Actual Turning Point

Let me preface this by saying I have yet to do any of these things. Well, what I mean is, I'm 26, recently engaged, and in the process of finding a place in New York so that I can relocate there from Washington State.

This is the first time I've ever felt like a full-fledged adult.

It's weird though - objectively, I would appear to be a bit more mature than most of my friends in the sense that my fiance and I have our own place (I've actually been on my own since 19), I have a bit-more of an established career (been working since 16) so I would've thought this whole "grown up feeling" would have occurred much sooner.

That whole maturity thing isn't a sleight against any of my friends, I actually think it has to do with the fact I didn't get the "typical" college experience. They went across the state for four years and then came back and got a job, whereas I've just been working this entire time (though I have been going to school online for the past few years, got my associate's in December).

Anyway, this adult feeling - I thought I would've gotten it at 18, 21, or 25, or when I got promotions or even a couple of years ago, when I stood up for myself against falsified policies and harassment I was facing. But for me, adulthood waited patiently and I'm glad it did.

I'm very excited about all of this.

So my boyfriend and I have been together going on 5 years. We've known each other for 10. He's my best friend, incredibly supportive, and all in all just a fantastic person to be around and have in my life.

Let me just reiterate how incredibly supportive this guy is, and always has been. When I got the offer to relocate, I sent him a text to which he replied with something along the lines of "Wow, that's awesome." Unfortunately, I was unable to call him until I got to the airport (I was in New York at the time), at which point, 5 minutes into the conversation we convinced each other that this was definitely a thing to consider.

That night, as we were driving to see our friends, we decided it was a thing we needed to do.

The next day, we realized getting married made more sense than ever (yes, we had discussed this previously, many times).

And the very next day, he proposed.

And now, I'm planning a wedding for two and a half months away (my grandmother, who I am extremely close with, will be visiting), and a cross country move 3-3.5 months away (I would prefer to be there before intense winter weather). Outside looking in, this all probably seems very rushed, and if I was anyone but myself right now I would agree wholeheartedly. However, despite everything, all of this somehow feels right.

This notion of pursuing the opportunity to establish a life with the person I care most about, thousands of miles away from this county where we both attended middle school is not only refreshing, but also reassuring. I look forward to what this next chapter has to offer.

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