Denise (pictured above) and Charlotte, two women who once worked at International Profit Associates, a management-consulting firm in Chicago's suburbs, say they endured sexual harassment on the job.
Denise was hired after a job search in the sales department. Charlotte had taken a job with the same company years before, starting when she was 18 years old. Charlotte says she noticed early on that the male managers routinely made inappropriate comments to the female staff.
"The environment was horrible," Denise says. "The room that we worked in was like a men's locker room." Both women say they were subjected to repeated verbal and sexual abuse by coworkers and managers.
As tensions rose, the women say things got even more out of hand. "There was another sales rep," Denise says. "As I'd walk or pass him in the hallway, he would grab my arm, twist it, put it behind my back, and a couple times I thought he was going to break my arm. And it was just like that was okay to treat me like that. I guess it was just like acceptable behavior over there.
Denise says one man in particular repeatedly assaulted her and would ask her inappropriate questions. "Whenever I encountered him, he would push me against the wall, rub up against me," she says. "He would ask me, 'Do you like sex? Did you have sex last night?' Or, 'Did you have some sex today? Do you like sex?'"
According to Charlotte, even the top executive participated in the harassment. "John Burgess, the owner, had his assistant proposition me to have sex with him," she says. "She started telling me a story of how he sleeps with women in the company and how I can get a better job if I do sleep with him."
Shortly after Charlotte rejected her boss's proposition, she says, she was demoted. "The next day I went to the [Human Resources] department and spoke with the manager," Charlotte says. "She looked at me and shrugged her shoulders and said, 'That's how he is.'"
Even though she said she complained, Charlotte claims his behavior became more persistent. "He started calling me every single day on the phone," she says. "Paging me into his office. Making comments to me about sleeping with him. One day he told me he wanted me to leave work with him to go have sex with him."
Denise claims she, too, was harassed by John Burgess. "He was asking me about how often I had sex and telling me you only have so much time before you're unattractive. And he used to always tell me, come and see me. And I knew that he was interested in me, so of course I never went to see him."
Denise and Charlotte finally quit their jobs and they joined a pending class action lawsuit along with 101 other women who worked for the same company.
A statement released by the company said: "The company has continually and consistently denied the allegations and has cooperated with the court by not publicly discussing the case. As such, the company cannot and will not deviate from the court decree and believes that any comment by either party on the matter is totally inappropriate."
Anne Whiteman has worked at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport for 21 years. She was the first woman certified at that airport to work in the radar room, responsible for making sure that airplanes under her watch were guided in for a safe landing. But the job that filled her with so much pride would ultimately push her to the edge and test her courage.
After witnessing a frightening incident between two other radar operators in which they allowed two planes to come within 300 feet of each other—the standard separation of aircraft is 1,000 feet—Anne says she alerted officials at the Federal Aviation Administration of the dangerous conditions. She was quickly labeled as a snitch, she says, and became the subject of severe harassment. "I couldn't get anybody to understand that this wasn't about me being picked on," Anne says. "This was about the safety of air traffic. This was about innocent people's lives. This was about a system that had gone awry."
Anne says the more she tried to prove her allegations, the worse the harassment grew. She says that her life was threatened, she was physically harassed and assaulted, and she was moved out of the radar room and into the control tower as an air traffic controller. Through it all, quitting was never an option. "I mean, I make the best of it at work," Anne says. "I love the people I work with in the control tower. They could not have been any nicer."
Anne filed a report about the practices of the air traffic controllers at the Dallas airport with the Inspector General Office of the Department of Transportation. An investigation found that some operational errors—when two aircraft come too close to each other—were indeed being covered up and a report was submitted to a Congressional subcommittee and the office of the President of the United States. However, Anne remains dissatisfied with the resolution and disciplinary action taken as a result of the investigation.
On October 6, 2005, Anne Whiteman will receive the Special Counsel's Public Servant Award for her contribution to public service and airline safety. For more information visit www.osc.gov.
"This is the thing that really devastated me when I was doing my research," Charlize Theron says about studying for her role in North Country as a woman who fights sexual harassment at a Minnesota mine. "I think a lot of people think that this only happens at the workplace, and then when they go home it's fine. But it's so unbelievable. It really infiltrated their social structure. It influenced their children, their husbands. I think that's what people don't realize: It's just relentless."
If you feel you have been a victim of sexual harassment or any other form of discrimination at work or by a potential employer, you can contact:
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
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