Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Bad Business

By Michelle Simonsen

In the spring of 2001, I was 27 years old.  I was just downsized in a mass layoff from another company.  It just so happened that my mother was working for an environmental firm in the same business complex.  She suggested I send my resume to her because she was the President’s executive assistant.

I got the job, and immediately the President “Terry” treated me so well.  He didn’t treat me like an inexperienced 20-something bimbo.  He was quite the opposite.  He treated me with professional respect, marveled over my resume, and promised that if I had the drive, I would go very far in this company.  I was thrilled.

The harassment started out small.  First there were emails that read, “So, do you want to play?”  I deleted them and shrugged them off.  I couldn’t believe those messages meant anything serious.  Terry was a married man with five children!  However, I was so naïve it took many incidents before I realized what was going on.

Early that summer, I was invited to an out-of-town environmental seminar.  We would all stay in a hotel.  I roomed with the company’s attorney, “Catherine”.  The morning we were leaving, the hotel phone rang.  Catherine picked it up and handed me the receiver.  I had no idea who it was.  Surprisingly, it was Terry.  He told me that his wife forgot to pack his toothpaste and would I bring mine down to his room.  I replied, “Why don’t you get some from the front desk or have them bring it to you?”  He insisted that I come down immediately, and I did what I was told.  He was my boss.

When he opened up his door, he was standing there completely wet wearing only a towel.  I handed him the toothpaste and backed up several feet.  He said, “Do you want to come in?”  I stated, “No.”  He looked at me as if I was crazy and said, “Oh jeez…I’m not going to do anything to you!  Don’t be stupid…”

Terry told me to sit down and relax.  I sat down, but I was not relaxed.  He pulled out a joint and handed it to me saying, “Here, smoke some of this since you’re so uptight.”  I was floored!  Not only was my boss smoking weed in front of me, but he offered me some as well!  I told him no.  He said, “Oh, come on…who am I going to tell?  Your mom?”

He started to dress in front of me, while I turned my head.  I was sick to my stomach. After about 40 minutes, he finally used my toothpaste and returned it to me.  I was free to leave.  I ran up the stairs not knowing what I was going to say to Catherine.  I walked in the door and she looked at me as if I had done something wrong and said, “Why in the hell were you down there for almost an hour?”  I told her nothing.  I was scared of the consequences if I told her about Terry and what he did. Instead I just explained to her that I gave him the toothpaste and he had me sitting there waiting for him.  I didn’t tell her that he was only wearing a towel and dressed in front of me.  I didn’t tell her that he was smoking a joint and offered me some.  I don’t know why I felt I needed to protect him for his actions, but I did and kept my mouth shut.

Terry began to constantly call me into his office telling me to bring a pad and pen.  When I showed up I was always ordered to close the door behind me.  He explained that he wanted me to take notes about where I was heading in the company.  He threw out all these fantastic titles, and what kind of work I could do.  He basically told me that I had free reign of my position and he would even let me make up my own responsibilities.

Terry had a disturbing habit of pushing papers towards his pencil holder so they would fall in front of his desk.  I always bent over and picked them up.  I was so naïve, I had no clue what he was doing until I noticed him smirking and laughing to himself…as if he was so clever.  When I left his office he said, “Turn around.”  I asked, “Why?” He stated, “I want to use you as a fantasy for when I have sex with my wife.”  I was disgusted.  To save face he replied, “I’m just kidding girl!  Don’t you dare tell your mother about this.”

Soon after that incident, Terry’s wife kicked him out of their house.  Lord knows what for.  He was staying at the “Extended Stay” Hotel about a ½ mile down the street.  Early on a Friday night, he called my cell phone and stated that he needed some important papers delivered to him at his hotel.  I was the only one besides my mother that lived in town, so I was the only one that could do this for him.

I went back to work and retrieved the papers, drove to the hotel with the intention of leaving them at the front desk.  But he was waiting for me.  He motioned for me to come with him into his room so he could sit down to see if there was anything missing.  I was so upset and angry, but I couldn’t tell him no because he was my boss.  I was afraid.

We walked into his room and he immediately removed his shirt and sprawled out on the bed not even looking at the papers.  He asked me to sit with him on his bed.  I said no.  He literally begged me to cuddle with him because he was so lonely ever since his wife kicked him out.  I sat on the edge of the bed and couldn’t look him in the eye.  Then he asked me to give him a massage.  I thought, “Are you kidding me?”  Instead of being rude, I kindly told him no because he was my boss and it wasn’t a good idea.  He started crying.  I don’t know if they were crocodile tears in order to get me to stay, but the act didn’t work.  I said goodbye and left.

My employment changed on Monday when I came back into work.  The minute I walked through the front door, I was summoned to Terry’s office.  When I walked in, the Vice President of Operations was standing there.  Terry cut right to the chase, “Michelle, people are starting to get jealous of our working relationship, so you will no longer be working with me.  Don’t knock on my door, don’t come to me with any problems, just don’t.  “Tim” is your new supervisor and I am not.  You have problems, go to him.”

I was so thrilled I didn’t have to work with Terry anymore, but the phrase he used, “people are starting to get jealous…” really stuck in my head.  A few days later, my mom was “let go” for no apparent reason.  Maybe it was because Terry was scared that I would tell my mom what he was doing?  And who knows what their in-house attorney Catherine was saying.  Maybe she advised it?

I no longer worked on the projects that I had been slaving over.  I was given a desk in the back of the office with a partition in front of me.  I could see no one, and no one could see me.  I sat at my desk with absolutely nothing to do.  I had literally been stripped of everything I had worked for.

Soon after I was sent to a new location.  It was small room where everyone stored their junk along with one empty desk.  I was told that I had to keep the door shut at all times.  I was not allowed to prop the door open.  I was not allowed to converse with any of my co-workers.  When I did leave my office, I was shunned by every female employee, and snickered at by every male co-worker.  I was written up for situations where I did absolutely nothing wrong.  I had never been treated in such a negative manner.

My naivety had morphed into complete anger.  I went to see the woman in Human Resources wanting to explain what was going on.  It was completely humiliating.  Instead, she stared at me in disbelief.  She treated me as if I was a liar, or I was there to start trouble.  I thought talking to another woman would be easier; and she would be willing to help me by looking into the situation.  Instead, she shamed me and told me to get back to work.  Nothing was going to change.

I finally gathered up the courage to tell my mother everything that happened right under her nose while she was working for Terry.  She was livid.  This narcissistic creep fooled her, and no one fools my mom.  She has an excellent judgment of character.  She felt guilty for even suggesting me to come and work for these degenerates in the first place.

I decided to contact a female attorney who specialized in sexual harassment.  I was so disappointed.  She told me that if I went through and filed suit, it would be my word against Terry’s.  They had large amount of funds to hire the best attorneys, while I had no money.  She said that they would dig into my personal life and sexual history, just like a rape victim.  She discouraged me from doing anything.  I don’t know if anything she said was true, but it seemed as if not even she believed me.  She treated me condescendingly.  Now I was really mad.

As soon as I ended that conversation, I made it my mission to find a new job as soon as possible and quit.  I was very fortunate.  I confided my story to an attorney friend of mine.  I think he felt sorry for me when he made a position available in his law office so I could get out of this venomous situation.  For that, I am forever indebted to him.

Once I gave my notice I had my chance to give H.R. my final thoughts.  I wrote in detail what I endured during my tenure at this company.  I was not nice.  I did not mince words.  I was belligerent.  I wanted to make sure this was looked at not just by H.R., but Terry, my other supervisors, and Catherine, the in-house attorney.  Then I unleashed all my negative emotions to the woman running H.R., the same person I came to for help in the past.  All my professionalism flew out the door.  I knew I was leaving, so I didn’t care.  I didn’t hold back with this woman.  I walked out of that office with a load off my shoulders.  I was so proud of myself that I said what I said and did what I did.  I owed them nothing.  I took my box of belongings and walked out of the door for good. 

It was the most freeing moment of my life.

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