For three months, the harassment took place, laced with violent language, often in uncomfortably close physical proximity.
“You know you will do your job or you will be smacked,” the new employee was warned, hand raised.
“You know there is nothing more fun than smacking a woman, that is, except for punching them.”
The section supervisor knew about the behavior, but did nothing for months. He even told one colleague he didn’t want to create “a no-fun zone” in the office.
Was this a recent Mad Men episode, depicting a hostile workplace of decades past?
Sadly, no. This was the Ohio Attorney General’s Office…last year…the Employment Law Section, of all places. The Section that advises other state agencies on how to create harassment-free workplaces.
Ultimately, an investigation by a sexual harassment investigator found that both the supervisor and harasser were in the wrong. But little came of it. For his months of hostility, the harasser was only suspended for 5 “working” days. The supervisor, incredibly, managed to “appeal” and get his finding overturned (the only overturned finding in five years)—no punishment whatsoever for turning the other way.
And the victim, not surprisingly, has left the office.
This horrific story of workplace harassment broke last Friday in papers across the state. And with Ohio women asking questions, AG DeWine’s excuses have only begged more questions.
Why did the harasser only get a 5-day “working” suspension? According to DeWine: “The comments weren’t directed toward any one person in the sense that he said he was going to hurt anybody or hurt the person.”
Actually, they were clearly directed at the same victim again and again for months. And she was told SHE “would be smacked.” DeWine has clearly not reviewed the facts of the case, or he is simply insensitive to their seriousness.
But beyond that, DeWine seems to suggest that if the comments were generally misogynistic and violent, that should not command serious accountability. Also deeply troubling.
And as for the supervisor, DeWine stated he was entitled to a “fair process.” But the AG’s Policy on Harassment does not even give the supervisor a right to appeal those investigative findings. So this politically connected supervisor benefitted from an “appeal’ process not even permitted by the office’s policy—and got off scot-free because of his second bite at the apple.
At a time where there remains far too much violence against women in our workplaces and in our communities generally, talk of violence and harassment in the Attorney General’s Office are absolutely unacceptable.
And so I will make three things clear from day 1:
1) Supervisors will report harassment and violence, or be held accountable.
2) Perpetrators will be held immediately accountable for their words or actions.
3) Victims will know that their well-being will be my top concern—not the fate of supervisors who looked the other way.
I will also overhaul the Employment Law Section so that it is staffed with leaders with the expertise and judgment to guide agencies across the state in creating harassment-free workplaces across state government.
Time for a change.