If I had not had this very awful and unfortunate first-hand experience with workplace sexual harassment, I would think it was just a cliche from the movies. Indeed, it was something I could not believe was happening to me. It happened several years ago and it was so troublesome, I have shared it only with very few people and for the most part have never really spoken about it. However, now time and distance have brought me to a place of reflection and wanting to disclose this information so I can somehow get it off my chest and relieve my mind to some extent. My goal is not to attack anyone or get revenge, but to educate women and help myself heal from this event somewhat. So for that reason, I am not going to use anyone’s real name (except my own of course).
For about four years of my life, in my late 20′s,(let’s be clear here, not THE 20′s, I said MY 20′s) I worked as an IT (Information Technology, aka computers) consultant. I worked for some well known firms and traveled all over the US and surrounding countries. Every week for Monday-Thursday I was traveling with other co-workers and was home only on Friday-Sunday. I was married (my first marriage) and I’ve always been very good about keeping my work-life and personal-life separate. I have never considered a relationship with a co-worker; to me it is just not the appropriate thing to do. I was naive in the fact I assumed my co-workers treated our situation in the same way.
In the IT industry it is predominately male. Even to this day, 90% of my coworkers are men. So it was not unusual for me to travel with a group of men. Even sometimes I had to travel with just one other man. Being that we were all stuck together for a whole week in a different city, we often ate dinner together and ventured out at night together in packs or pairs. I did not think much about it until this situation happened to me. It was 10 years ago, almost to the day.
I worked for a very large consulting firm. I had heard of “Joshua” because he was very popular and very well liked. He was of Latin decent, and honestly, very attractive. He worked for “Danny” who was a very powerful man in the company, a Vice President, and the two of them were personal friends outside of work. Both were married and often did couple’s outings together.
After working at this company for a couple of years, I finally was assigned to a project managed by Joshua. The project was in Mexico. There were a group of 7 us (all men, except me). One of the workers was a younger guy who just finished college named “Brad”. It was Brad’s first REAL job. Brad worked for me, but everyone else was equal in standing and we all reported to Joshua who was the Director. The project started out very well. We all got along and even enjoyed our dinners out at various restaurants and bars in Mexico City. One night the other men in the group had to travel to another nearby city in Mexico to give a presentation while Joshua and I stayed in Mexico City. We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant that evening. During the dinner he mentioned while on another project the group had gotten into a habit of having a weekly “hotel party” that included everyone going to someone’s room and raiding the mini bar. So he suggested we organize a group activity for everyone to come to my room on Wednesday for a party. I agreed to it because I didn’t see the harm in having everyone together as a group. He offered to organize it and we set the date and time.
On Wednesday at about mid-day, I casually mentioned to the other men in our group about the party and asked them if they planned to attend. They looked a little surprised and said they hadn’t heard about it. I told them Joshua had probably not gotten around to mentioning it and so I personally invited them all. No one really gave a firm commitment to be there, so at that point I started to get a little concerned. Why had Joshua not mentioned the party to everyone since he committed to inviting them? That evening we left work and went to the hotel and everyone went to their own rooms. At the designated time, I think it was around 8 or 9 o’clock, Joshua knocked at my door. I opened it and was immediately scared. He was drunk. I asked him if anyone was with him and he said no. He said no one really committed to come to the party but he wasn’t concerned about it and it could just be the two of us. He came in and shut the door. I got very nervous and started trying to make small talk. I went to the mini bar and started talking about what liquors was inside the cabinet although I had no desire or intention of drinking at that point. I was trying to fill the room with conversation to try to avoid whatever trouble I had gotten myself into. I squatted down in front of the bar, which was low to the floor, and started listing out all the contents inside the bar just to hear myself talk. Joshua squatted down behind me and put his arms around me and put his mouth very close to my ear. I immediately jumped up and ran to my computer and blurted something about, “Let me check if Brad is coming because he seemed interested.”
So I got on the instant messenger and typed to Brad. Joshua walked over and stood behind me to see what I was typing. I could not be too obvious, but basically I BEGGED Brad to come to my room. Joshua walked back to the mini bar and I was very adamant to Brad he needed to come to my room because it would NOT be appropriate for just Joshua and I to be there alone. Brad said he would do it, but he was very uncomfortable about the whole situation. It was very clear he understood something bad was going on and wanted nothing to do with it. But to my luck, he saved me from any further issues. Brad stayed for about an hour and then said he had to leave and I very firmly said, “Yes, we all need to go to bed.” Joshua stopped at the door and made one final attempt to stay, but with Brad standing there, he could not go too far. Brad was so uncomfortable with the whole situation he promptly quit the company the next day after his flight landed back home. He left without giving a notice or giving a reason as to why he left.
After that encounter, Joshua continued to make me uncomfortable. He would do things like hold the door open for everyone and when I passed through, he would follow me and put his hand on the small of my back as I walked through. He tried to hold my hand one day when the other team members were not there. So I started avoiding him. After a couple of weeks, he started to notice this, but instead of just backing off, he got mad. He turned very mad and very vindictive. I noticed the group started going to lunch amongst themselves without inviting me. They started going to dinner and not inviting me as well. So I was left completely alone in a foreign country, basically ostracized. They started not talking to me in general. I wondered what he told them to make them all not like me suddenly. I tried to make up for it by joking with them and trying to be part of the crowd, but it just made the situation worse. Finally at the end of the project, I was called into Joshua’s office and he told me the company was laying me off.
I was devastated and couldn’t believe it. I had such a good record at the company and even on that project. The client really liked me and commented how I had done such a good job. (Which is part of the reason why they must have waited until the project was over to let me go. They couldn’t fire me in the middle of the project or the client would have been mad.) The day after my meeting with Joshua, I got a call from Danny. He was extremely nasty and told me he had heard I did such a bad job on the project he personally wanted to fire me, which was totally contrary to anything the client had ever said. He said the only reason I wasn’t fired was because Joshua had been nice and convinced them to lay me off instead of firing me. However, the catch is, as a standard practice with consulting companies, in order to get your severance package for being laid off, you have to sign a waiver which stipulates you will not sue the company for any reason, otherwise you forfeit your ending pay. They were offering me a two month severance package, but I would not be paid the money until I signed the waiver.
I did think about it for two days. I thought about suing the company, but there were so many things going against me. First off, there was only one witness (Brad), and what could he testify to? All he knew was that both of us were in my hotel room alone, but he didn’t know who invited who or the whole story behind it. He was so upset by the whole thing, he had immediately quit, so who knows what he thought or what he would have testified to. The other thing is, I really needed the money. My husband and I had just signed a mortgage on our first house two months before, then the day we moved in, he got laid off from his job because the company was going out of business. So I was all of the sudden the only income for the household and owed a new mortgage. And lastly, the industry where I worked was a very small community and I didn’t want to ruin my reputation in the industry by suing my employer. Everyone knew each other in my field of work. In fact, during an interview at a company four years later, the interviewer commented, “Oh, you worked for XYZ company?! You must know Danny! He’s a very good friend of mine!”. I simply replied I knew Danny “somewhat” but did not pursue the job further.
As luck would have it, I did find a very good job only one month after being laid off. However Joshua continued to torment me. He would message me on IM and ask how I was doing and pretend he was interested in my life. He would say how sorry he was the company had chosen to let me go and he was glad I had found a good job. He tried to make it sound like it wasn’t his choice, but from what Danny had said, it was exactly Joshua’s doing. I think he had been offended because I did not reciprocate his feelings and then after he had made my life miserable, he was afraid of getting caught and made sure I was let go. After I was secure in my new job, I blocked Joshua from my instant message program so he could not contact me any more.
It was a horrible, humiliating and degrading experience. I have never told any coworker about the experience. I told only a select few people. Even at the time I did not tell my husband. I was afraid my husband would approach Joshua and confront him. I was afraid, even though it wasn’t my fault, it would appear to be my fault and people would pass judgement on me. It has taken me years to feel safe enough to talk about it.