Authorities with the U.S. Department of Justice have taken up the cause of a male prison cook, employed in a state youth corrections center in Chino, who was reportedly sexually harassed by a female co-worker for months with no intervention from supervisors who knew what was happening.
Our Chino sexual harassment lawyers note his lawsuit indicates that not only were his complaints ignored by administrators within the prison system, he was openly mocked for not being able to “take it” from a “whiny woman.”
His harasser was not a supervisor. In fact, the two shared the same title. But we find this kind of reaction particularly common when we are talking about a male worker who accuses a female of this kind of aggression and/or harassment. There is a misconception that such behavior is secretly welcome or that the accuser should have no trouble fending it off.
At best, this is misguided and, under most circumstances, it’s illegal. Employers have a responsibility to address such actions, which in this case involved not only sexual innuendos, blatant romantic come-ons and, on at least one occasion, a sexual assault.
According to court documents, the male employee worked as a cook at the corrections center with the female employee, who was also a cook, for about a year before the harassment started.
It began with repeated propositions from the female employee. She asked him several times “what it would take” to convince him to have sexual intercourse with her. She made repeated comments about his body, his genitalia and what she hoped to do to him.
At first, he tried to brush these comments aside. But his co-workers behavior only escalated. In one instance, he reported he was carrying some trays upstairs to her when she met him the stairway, her blouse unbuttoned. She propositioned him. He turned and walked away.
He said at this point, he outright told her to stop. He said her actions and comments were offensive and unwelcome. But this reportedly did not stop her.
Then one day in mid-August, 2008, the woman approached him from behind, smacked him in the head and yelled at him for speaking to another female colleague, whom she referred to by an offensive term. She then proceeded to put her hand down the front of his pants, grabbed his genitalia and demanded to know when he was going to “let me do something about this.”
The incident, which horrified and humiliated him, was witnessed by two supervisors in the kitchen. The following day, the male worker complained to one of those supervisors that he was tired of the harassment. He wanted it to stop. That supervisor in turn took the complaint to her supervisor.
The superior reportedly laughed at the complaint, mocking the plaintiff for being a military man who was unable to “take it.”
Nothing was done. He continued to make complaints. Supervisors continued to do nothing. When one of his immediate supervisors attempted to take it up the chain of command, it was pushed back down in what the administrator said was the policy of the prison system, to handle complaints at the lowest level.
It wasn’t until the following spring that the prison system opened an internal investigation into the matter. After several months, it was concluded that yes, the female worker’s actions had been inappropriate and had violated policy with regard to sexual harassment. And still, nothing was done.
In fact, the two continued to work together until the fall, when the woman was placed on leave and eventually fired for a totally unrelated offense.
This lengthy road to action, pocked by inaction and a blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of employees, was the reason the DOJ is now stepping in.