The news has been downright flooded with stories of sexual harassment year, especially in the gilded geek kingdom of Silicon Valley.
But—spoiler alert!—sexual harassment at work extends its grubby hands far beyond corporate environments. Servers, hotel workers and retail employees are often put in the most difficult situations when a steady stream of customers—who they can't rebuff or flip off—harass them.
Before we get into our woeful tales of tawdry texts and inappropriate bosses, let's go ahead and define exactly what sexual harassment is so we're all crystal clear. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Commission:
"Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment."
Sexual harassment can occur in a wide, wonderful variety of circumstances (depending on the creativity/depravity of the perpetrator) including, but not limited to the following:
• The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
• The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
• The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. (Watching you sexually demean the intern is like, making my lunch come up.)
• Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
• The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome. (Repeat after me—no means no, consent is sexy.)
Basically, if anyone at work—whether it's a co-worker, boss or charming passer-by—harasses you, tells you they like a body part of yours, physically touches you or sends you a text with a vagina on it, and you don’t want them to, thereby creating an uncomfortable environment, it’s considered sexual harassment.
OK, who are the worst offenders?
Sexual harassment at a company that created a hook-up app? No way! Former Tinder VP and Co-Founder Whitney Wolfe was subjected to horrifying text messages from co-Founder Justin Mateen (who is no longer with the company), which lead to her leaving her job and suing Tinder. Wolfe and Mateen dated from March to December 2013, but when they broke up, clearly he couldn’t handle it.
Here are a few of the lovely texts Mateen sent Wolfe's way:
You prefer to social climb Middle Aged Muslim pigs that stand for nothing.
Live with yourself knowing you are a liar.
So pathetic I even imagined a life w u. I actually thought u would be a good mother and wife. I have horrible judgment. He can enjoy my leftovers.
There are countless messages where he accuses her of being dishonest and would not leave her alone, despite her repeatedly professional attempts to get him to stop:
You’re effecting my work environment. I am trying to do my job and this is very out of control. Please don’t do this during work hours.
Ok, Justin I’m sorry you’re so upset. We are broken up and this is inappropriate.
Please stop threatening me and get back to work.
Ultimately, the suit was settled for just over $1 million, but without any admission of wrongdoing. Since the text messages were released to the public however, Mateen probably won’t win the court of public opinion.
Rachel Kremer worked for the real estate juggernaut from June 2012 to August 2014. She was fired for allegedly not reaching her sales quota. But, as I'm sure you're wondering . . . that’s probably not the real reason. In a lawsuit filed just last week, she accuses her former employer of “sexual torture.” Sexual torture might sound a little extreme—until you read the kinds of text messages she received from her former bosses Cody Fagnant and Gabe Schmidt:
Call me. Matt is showering. Thinking 333 drinks and your smooth vagina.
I have a great opportunity that just opened up on my face in the 92660 market. Call me if you are interested. This is an exclusive position and won't last long. Haha. Goodnight Rachey.
I want to f–-- the s–-- out of you.
If that doesn’t sound horrible enough (seriously, how does one even respond to things like this?), she also was the lucky recipient of a dick pic. Oh, and Kremer also alleges that Schmidt would rate and classify female employees by their breast size.
Apparently, sexual harassment is par for the course at Zillow. The lawsuit—first reported by The Recorder—also alleges that corporate culture encourages this kind of behavior:
“Privately, Zillow executives bragged that the office culture led to more sexual encounters than Match.com and referred to the internal office directory as ‘Zinder’ named after the dating application Tinder.”
This is the fourth labor-related lawsuit filed against Zillow in the past two weeks. I mean, wow. How many lawsuits does it take to create a work environment that isn't synonymous with torture? Maybe . . . four?
3. The Service Industry
It’s not just the suit and tie-crowd who get sexually harassed at work—it’s straight-up rampant in the service industry. According to a joint survey from Restaurant Opportunity Centers United and Forward Together, 43% of female restaurant workers were pressured for dates by customers, 35% reported the harassment became physical with unwanted touching and pinching (ugh and ouch), and 17% say that escalated to groping or even kissing (WTF?).
In an anonymous XOJane article, a former hotel front desk worker describes being solicited for sex constantly by hotel guests. Because she must remain at the front desk, she is trapped and must endure this, sometimes even for hours on end, or risk getting fired:
“We are called the Front Desk Staff because we have to be there, manning the front desk. So, when a guest wants to flirt, we can’t leave. That guy literally has a captivate audience. Leave and risk your job. Stop smiling and risk your job. Piss that guy off and risk your job. Ask your friends or significant other to hang out in the lobby with you, and you will lose your job.
She explains that while a boss may be sympathetic to your situation, ultimately it's a numbers game. Your comfort and safety are sacrificed on the alter of revenue and by your own fundamental need for a paying job:
"What can you do? You’re a dime a dozen, easily replaceable. There’s always a stack of applications of people who want your job. There are Post-it notes with messages from former employees, all wanting to come back. There may not be anyone who can do what you do better or more efficiently, but when the boss does the math on what your complaints are worth vs replacing you, well you don’t come out on top in this one."