Electronic harassment

You don't have to insult a person to her face or before others to trigger humiliation and grief.

By Raymond Dreyfack January 1, 2000

You don’t have to insult a person to her face or before others to trigger humiliation and grief.

One day Marge Green, a production worker and friend of Maintenance Department Stockroom Attendant Harriet Rainey, confronted Harriet with printouts which she perused with growing distress. Contained therein were remarks by an assistant supervisor, group leader, and other employees in which Rainey was referred to as “a tease,” “hot pants Hattie,” and “a dumb broad,” to cite a small sampling. The remarks upset Harriet to the point of tears.

“Where did you get this stuff?” she demanded.

“In e-mail,” Marge replied. “I’ve been collecting it, and you’re not the only victim. I think we should file a grievance, or sue, or something.”

Rainey voiced vehement agreement.

Harriet and Marge informed Personnel Director Gloria Traub of their intention to sue for sexual bias under the Civil Rights Act. Traub was sympathetic but persuaded them to hold off until she had a chance to look into the matter. Traub decided to inform the plant manager. Following an investigation, the e-mail correspondents asserted that the messages were just kidding around and not to be taken seriously. As one employee said, “We didn’t mean nothing by it.”

Question: If this were your problem to resolve, what would you do?

Executive resolution: At a managers’s meeting, it was decided to issue a corporate policy statement banning sex-related, inappropriate, and discriminatory comments in e-mail, written, and oral communications. It was made clear in the bulletin that violators would be severely punished and that repetition would result in dismissal.

When the plant manager summoned Harriet and Marge to his office and explained the problem’s resolution, they agreed to hold off on court action, for the time being at least.