• Mon, May 7 2012

BONUS! I Regret: Not Reporting My Boss for Sexual Harassment

Enjoy a bonus reader submission for Regrets Week and make sure you vote for your favorite of the bunch!

At the beginning of the summer of 2008, things were looking great. I had just graduated from college and was heading off to a seemingly idyllic town out west to pursue my dream career. And at first, my situation was truly ideal. Then the recession hit.

As the most recent hire, I was the first to go. The worst part was that at that point, I had very little awareness of the state of our country’s economy. About two weeks later, getting laid off would become trendy, but at that moment I was humiliated and ashamed.

I spent about two weeks crying in bed. Eventually, I scrambled back onto my feet and began looking for a new job. I was thrilled when I learned of a new restaurant opening in a wealthy part of town. I contacted the general manager and he asked me to come in the following day for the interview.

I was surprised but pleased when my interview turned out to consist merely of filling out an official application and shaking hands with the [male] owner and GM. This seemed like the type of place that would be looking to hire someone with fine dining experience, but who was I to question anyone who wanted to give me a paycheck? A week later, training began.

Upon meeting my new coworkers, I discovered the decision to hire me had, in fact, been strange. The rest of the staff had been recruited from high-end restaurants and my year as a cocktail waitress in a college bar didn’t exactly measure up. Regardless of our individual experiences, we all had one thing in common: We hated our bosses. They were never there to give us guidance, until we screwed up. Then there was yelling.

In between the yelling, there was complaining, tears, and lots of Xanax. We bonded quickly, whispering behind our bosses’ backs, wondering why I had been hired, and debating why our curiously-assembled team consisted exclusively of attractive women and below-average-looking men.

The GM had singled me out to be his assistant, knowing I was eager to learn. This meant we spent extra time together, after the others had left. What I’d initially thought was playful teasing (when working in a restaurant, lewd humor is a given) became more and more inappropriate and demeaning over time. On the restaurant’s opening night, he sent everyone home early but asked me to stay because I looked the most “mature” (what he meant was that I had the most cleavage–he had told me to wear a cocktail dress; everyone else was in their server uniforms). He then proceeded to tell me which of the wealthy guests I should flirt and/or go home with.

As time went on, his comments became more and more belittling in nature. He told me that since I was unable to polish wine glasses quickly enough, I must be an idiot, because muscle memory was a sign of superior intelligence. I was enraged. Why had he singled me out? To everyone else he was kind of a jerk, but we all saw that he saved his worst commentary for me.

I became very uncomfortable and tried to avoid being alone with him, but since he was the one who decided when each person was allowed to leave at night, it was sort of difficult. One night, minutes after calling me a slut for wearing red lipstick too soon after a breakup, he creepily followed me out to my car. Thankfully, despite being a total jackass, he never touched me. But one night, about two months into to my tenure at the restaurant, he drunk dialed me at 4am on a Sunday. That was the last straw.

The next day, I called the owner and told him I was leaving because the GM had offended me, but I never said a word about the sexual content of his insults. I should have told him everything. But I was terrified. It was a small town, and people talk. I didn’t want to be blacklisted from the service industry before I had worked anywhere long enough to qualify for health insurance. So I said nothing.

A few months later, I got a call from the police. The GM had been arrested for raping my 20-year old coworker. My name had come up repeatedly during the investigation and they asked me to be a character witness. I told them everything I should have told both my boss and them, months earlier. I wept for my poor young coworker, whose pain I couldn’t even begin to imagine. Unfortunately, because of some shady details, the district attorney decided not to go to trial. The rapist was let go after just two days in jail. He was fired, of course, and left town shortly thereafter. I don’t know where he went. I Google him from time to time to make sure he’s not anywhere near where I am. I will never forgive myself for my cowardice and failure to report him. I will always feel like I could have prevented that girl’s rape.

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  • Anon

    Wow. I also worked for someone who I (and the rest of the ladies I worked with) should have reported for sexual harassment. I have not ONCE thought of how our staying silent could potentially harm someone else much, much, much worse in the future. Thanks for writing this article.