In one of my first “real” jobs out of college, an older, male colleague sexually harassed me.
He worked in a different department than me. We had little reason to interact. Yet, for a period of time, I would receive daily emails from him to go out to lunch. At first, the invitations seemed innocuous. I politely declined. Over time, however, the invitations felt more forcefully flirtatious. After a period of several weeks of repeated, polite declines he didn’t seem to get the hint – I wasn’t interested.
I started to make excuses: “My ‘boyfriend’ wouldn’t like it if we went out to lunch” – no boyfriend existed. “I have too much work to do” – I didn’t. “I already made plans to go out to lunch with X” – I hadn’t. Still, he persisted. He said he would treat me better than my “boyfriend” – though I had provided no details about our “relationship.” He said how important I must be to my department and how he’d love to sweep me off my feet, away from my duties – I wouldn’t respond. And whenever I had plans with someone else for lunch, he would beg for a chance to be one of my “lunch dates” because I wouldn’t regret it. I regretted every email he sent me.
Supervisor: “You should be more direct with him.”
Eventually, I became fed up with his incessant and unwelcome attention. Every day I felt nervous and anxious in anticipation of the next flirty email I’d have to bat away. I told my supervisor and she reviewed our email correspondence. She said, “Well, you did kind of flirt back with him.” HOW? I wondered. She also said, “Yeah, he is kind of a creep. Tell you what – I’ll save these emails and if it escalates, let me know. In the meantime, you should be more direct with him.” MORE direct? Sure. Ok. I felt as if somehow his unwelcome flirtation with me was somehow MY fault.
So, I wrote him an email that essentially said not only was I not interested, but I would never be interested and to please stop emailing me altogether. He did – eventually. The daily emails became weekly, and eventually monthly – until he FINALLY got the message and stopped altogether. I put the whole thing out of my mind until approximately five years later.
In my second year of law school I took a class called “Employment Discrimination.” When we entered the “sexual harassment” portion of the semester, I felt a pit in my stomach.
The professor outlined the elements needed to prove a legal cause of action for sexual harassment in California:
- The plaintiff was an employee/intern/volunteer for an employer;
- The plaintiff was subjected to unwanted harassing conduct because of his/her sex or gender;
- The harassing conduct was severe or pervasive;
- That a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s position would have considered the work environment hostile or abusive;
- The plaintiff considered the work environment hostile or abusive;
- Either the supervisor engaged in the conduct (strict liability) or a supervisor knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action;
- The plaintiff was harmed; and
- The conduct was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s harm (CACI jury instructions 2521a).
I knew, right then and there, although it wasn’t a social media movement yet – #metoo. I walked up to the professor after class with angry tears in my eyes. I told her #metoo. I told her about the unwelcome flirtation. I told her about how my supervisor did nothing and even blamed ME for the unwanted attention. She looked at me with a sense of sadness. She recounted her #metoo. She told me the statute of limitations for sexual harassment causes of action is one year. My statute, her statute, and many other women’s statutes were long gone – #metoo. It felt strange to bond with a professor over such a thing.
I told her about how my supervisor did nothing and even blamed ME for the unwanted attention.
In the wake of the #metoo movement, I have read many stories about women who were sexually harassed in the workplace 20, 15, 10 or even just a few years ago. Their tales of sexual harassment are harrowing. Unfortunately, due to the statute of limitations, their only recourse is to spread awareness of the issue on social media. To publicly shout #metoo into the echo chamber. To shed light to others that sexual harassment is not some abstract concept, but a real thing their teachers, friends, sisters, or mother has suffered from.
I applaud their bravery in sharing their stories. As a result, we are beginning to see a cultural attitude shift. Men like Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, and Matt Lauer now face long-lasting repercussions to their careers for their heinous acts against women. But their fall from grace is only the beginning. Women across the country can now feel a sense camaraderie when sexual harassment happens to them. Women no longer stand alone. There is safety in numbers. #MeToo.
Don’t wait. If you are the victim of sexual harassment, we can help. Lawyers who represent victims of sexual harassment answer questions anonymously and free of charge during a consultation. If you have a question, please call us at (619) 516-8166.
 CACI jury instructions 2521a.