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    What a Harassing Development
    Posted under From the Editor by Avery Glasser ( on Saturday November 18 2000 @ 07:36PM CET

    What a Harassing Development!

    It started back in San Francisco. I had been there for a whole whopping three months, and I hadn't made many friends yet, aside from the people I kidded around with at work.

    You see, when I took that job at a 7x24 call center as a routing specialist (which, in non-geeky terms means that I would sit at a desk, waiting to see if customers needed me to change where their 800 numbers were directed to), for some reason I assumed that I would be working a 9-5, Monday through Friday shift. However, what I ended up with was a 3pm-11pm shift.

    Working those hours can be rough on a relationship, but Janet was a real trooper, leaving work at 5pm, hanging around downtown for an hour so we could get together for a 6pm dinner, waiting up for me so I didn't come home to a dark apartment and then being extremely stealthful when getting up again a few hours later to go to work.

    But working these strange hours meant that I couldn't be social. No after work drinks, no catching movies with people working normal schedules. Nothing. So you end up becoming friends with the other people on your shift... most of whom are dealing with the same issues that you are.

    The office I worked in was split in half for two divisions: mine and a data sales division. The only data person that my side of the office associated with was the receptionist, as she was our age (the people in my division were all 25 or younger, while the people on the data sales side were in their 40s and 50s), and since she tended to work long hours, she would usually hang out with us on the 3-11 shift before heading back home herself. We all became friendly with her. We would talk about tattoos (well before I had any) and she even scandalously showed us all her navel piercing. We all thought that we were friends.

    It was that third month on the job that I mentioned to the receptionist that Janet and I were making a quick trip to Los Angeles to just get out of the city for a while. She jokingly asked if she could tag along. I responded that we were renting a convertible and didn't have any space. She then commented that she could curl up in the trunk. My tongue-in-cheek response: I could see you being a contortionist (which, if you could see how she was sitting - half perched on the chair with her arms wrapped around one knee - was contextually appropriate at that moment). She laughed (and not one of those uncomfortable laughs that someone gives when they're feeling in danger, mind you... just a normal laugh), I laughed (not one of those lecherous laughs that someone gives when looking someone up and down like in a bad made-for-television movie... just a normal laugh), the conversation continued for a while and she eventually went home.

    I came back from my weekend in Los Angeles and was informed by my management that a sexual harassment investigation had been opened up on me for making harassing comments to the receptionist. A legal advocate was assigned from the HR department to guide me through the process.

    The advocate couldn't tell me what the specific complaint was, or why it was being levied at me instead of simply being addressed at a managerial one-on-one meeting... only that until he and the investigator made it to the office in a couple of days that I was not to speak about the issue or to speak to the receptionist at all.

    Three nerve-wracking days later, the investigator came over and took our statements. The next morning, the charges were dropped and any comment on the situation was written off of my record. It seems that neither the receptionist nor I saw any sexual connotation with the comment I made the week before. The receptionist informed the investigator that she found it funny, and told it in passing to another co-worker (who obviously didn't find it as funny as she and I did) who then told her manager who, since she didn't like the fact that our division was invading her office area, decided to open up a report on the receptionist's behalf. The receptionist told the investigator that she never thought it was harassing or offensive. The manager tried to pass it off saying that she "had an obligation to file a report." The investigator not only confirmed that there was no assumption of harassment or sexual intent by the receptionist, but also informed me that it was unusual if the employee had no problem with the statement that a manager would write up a report. Having had enough of being a pawn in an intra-division battle for office space, I accepted a promotion (that was incidentally held up for weeks over this mess), switched divisions and moved to another building less than a month later. The manager was eventually re-organized out of the company a few months later, and aside from telling the receptionist that I was sorry that anything I said put her in a bad position (to which she replied that she felt responsible because she relayed the comment out of context to a fellow co-worker), I never spoke to her again.

    I really thought that I had gotten over that incident until a few months ago when I decided to start teaching a once-a-week boxing class at my office.

    Yes, not only is this fearless editor a... well... an editor, but he is also an ex-Golden Gloves amateur boxer who has decided to put his energy more towards training others rather than pursuing a competitive boxing career. So, when I found out that the gym in my office sponsored exercise classes, I petitioned to become an instructor.

    The class that I designed was not an "aerobic boxing" class akin to Tae-Bo or one of those other "Let's defend ourselves against invisible opponents" classes. It's a real boxing instruction class, the sort of thing that you would get if you went to a real boxing gym (except for the fact that we're lacking heavy bags and the other expensive equipment). When the flyer for the class was published, I made sure to mention that it was open for both men and women. Five men signed up for the class, as well as two women.

    It was at the exact moment when I read the roster that my harassment flashback hit me. I was going to be in close quarters with female co-workers... directing them on form, exercise and diet. What if they mis-interpreted something that I said? What if they thought that when I was praising their technique that I was trying to hit on them?

    That afternoon, it got worse. I realized that I needed to send out an email to the class members to discuss appropriate wear: loose fitting shorts and t-shirt along with sneakers. Plus, as this class was going to involve a "full range of motion" which, in boxing terms means that you're going to be doing a lot of bouncing around, the women needed to wear sports bras. I spent almost a half of an hour writing and re-writing the memo. I even ran it by one of my female co-workers to make sure that she didn't see anything offensive or harassing. I cringed as I sent the email.

    Nothing happened.

    Neither of the women complained. In fact, they thanked me for mentioning it. We're heading into our seventh class this Tuesday, and I've had to talk to them about groin protectors and protective chest-wear and never once have they read anything inappropriate into my statements. Maybe it's because they're "cool" about topics such as this, or maybe it's because they understand that there is no sexual intent behind anything I say.

    Or maybe it's because people in San Francisco are just thin-skinned litigious fucks that like to stick their noses in other people's business. Your choice.

    Copyright 2000, Avery and Janet Glasser
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