Monday, August 3, 2015:
I’m sitting on a plane on my way to DC for an organization wide event. My stomach is knotted as I think about seeing a co-worker who I have filed a sexual harassment claim against.
I am a Dream Director. I empower youth and my community to believe that anything is possible.
And I find it almost unbelievable that I am being asked to walk back into a space and function on a team alongside an individual who has interacted inappropriately with me on multiple occasions. Nothing to date has been done by the organization to address my safety, healing or self-care.
My co-workers and friends, also Dream Directors who were providing support in these tough situations, have disappeared from our team. Those who reported the continued harassment and disfunction have been fired.
I am isolated with very few individuals whom I trust.
The silence of other Dream Directors around me is deafening.
The organization seems to be playing a cruel game. They constantly tell me that they want me to be a Dreamer-in-Action, to passionately pursue my dreams, to believe that anything is possible.
But when I believed that I could report practices and incidents that have harmed me, youth and my co-workers, I was told my claims have “no merit” by the CEO.
This is punishment for speaking out.
Perhaps this is why the other Dream Directors are silent. Who wants to be harassed like this?
Everyone in management is speaking to me in a sing-song nice tone as if I don’t understand that I’m being isolated, as if I don’t know that I’m being set up.
A co-worker of mine, who is a woman of color, made a similar claim of sexual harassment against the same harasser. Her claim was also deemed to have “no merit”.
She was fired shortly after reporting this harassment while I, a white woman, remain employed by this organization.
In fact, three members of our team were fired after reporting continuous harassment from other co-workers and supervisors— a black man, a black-filipino woman, and a white man— each an activist deeply rooted in issues of color, each who fearlessly challenged the silencing & harm The Future Project actively promotes within Detroit.
There was no legitimate reason why I kept my job, while my co-workers were fired. It is about race. It is about silencing. I suspect they kept me because they thought I’d be quiet.
After the investigation, we wrote the following to the CEO:
While I’m disappointed in your decision concerning the claims of my colleagues and me, I am not in the least bit surprised. Your bias, nepotism, rear end covering, insensitivity and lack of objectivity have been unprecedented.
We had no choice but to hope that you would do the right thing.
Consistent with every response to our claims of harassment, you did absolutely nothing. You did not even come close.
The fact that you would seriously claim to conduct an investigation concerning company harassment when you have been accused of being one of the harassers says it all.
While you finally gave us a bottom line conclusion, I am demanding detail on the investigation that you claim you did.
You may consider these matters concluded, WE DO NOT! We will pursue every option due and available to us.
I have to report this here because I have no one else to report it to.
Perhaps the only protection I have is to provide a real time accounting of what is happening.
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
As I walk into our first meeting since my closest colleagues have been fired, I prepare myself to face the people who created this hostile environment.
I prepare to protect myself. I don’t want my harasser to touch me, or to talk to me. I don’t want his friends hugging me and pretending to be there for me. I don’t want to have to fake feeling safe.
Being authentic or genuine in this space gets people fired.
However, nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.
We started the meeting with a check-in, each member of the team took a few minutes to speak to the group about how they were feeling.
When it is the harasser’s turn, he says,
“I was attacked to the point where my job was put on the line from some people, one of those people is in this room […]
Emily, I’m not mad, but to begin to build trust again is going to take some time.”
I made a confidential harassment claim. Why is the harasser calling me out?
I had been told by the CEO that this matter would be kept confidential and my safety would be of the upmost importance.
All members of our team were looking at me as if I had done something wrong. I felt as though I could not speak up for myself and if I did, no one would believe me.
In his own defense, the harasser talks about how he was fired from the last job where he worked with youth, for allegedly being inappropriate with a girl. He fought the case and overturned the charges.
But what does that have to do with the way he harassed me, and my colleague and others? What does that have to do with now?
He is ranting about beating that old case, but he is failing to see that he is being inappropriate right now.
And he is talking about forgiving me. He says that I have stabbed him in the back by reporting this. Why are we talking about his forgiveness when he is the one causing the harm? He is the one who harmed me and my colleague.
I am sitting here in disbelief that he is telling me that it will take time for him to trust me again.
Worse, no one is stopping him. My supervisor is nodding with him.
This is what safety looks like at the Future Project.
I reported sexual harassment, and their response is to:
- put me in a room with the harasser
- fire everyone else that reported
- break confidentiality
- allow him to confront me publicly.
To make my circumstances even worse, the organization is holding a team pool party this evening at Tim Shriver’s house. He is the president of our Board of Director’s. I am feeling nervous and anxiety about entering that space.
There’s always free-flowing liquor at these events. Kanya, the president of the Future Project, has been pressuring me to find out where I am during breaks, so I know that I am expected to be there.
And I’m trying to understand how the response to my reporting sexual harassment is not to correct the harasser, but to build a space where I am expected to get half-naked and to navigate my harasser and his friends alone.
What does any of this have to do with working with youth?