The disclosures that knocked former Republican candidate Herman Cain off the presidential primary ballot last week are woefully typical of the attitude that pervades the workplace more than 45 years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 2000e et seq.). The employer – most often male – occupies a position of such dominance over his employees – male and female – that he himself is often not cognizant of the offensive nature of his actions. Like Cain, he may even go so far as to completely deny allegations made by female ex-employees whom he supervised, and to attack the integrity of the women who have accused him. Indeed, it is entirely possible that Cain honestly believes these statements; if so, his attitude toward female subordinates is more insidious than it would be if he simply admitted that he took advantage of them.
Equally typical and tragic is the attitude of the victims themselves – the employees whose lives are often made miserable by the offensive actions of their supervisors. Only when one of them speaks out do the rest follow. Of course, their reasons for suffering in silence are understandable. They fear retribution if they are still employed, and often their fears are justified.
But while a job is a treasured asset in this economy, I submit that personal dignity is still the greater treasure. The pure fact is, you will never have a comfortable employment relationship in an environment where you are being exploited. So I suggest to anyone who is the victim of a hostile work environment motivated by gender, race, age or infirmity, to do the following:
1. Tell the offender to stop. Advise him or her that his actions are offensive and must cease immediately.
2. Make a diary of every discriminatory action that you witness, whether or not directed toward you. If you later have to assert a discrimination claim, your diary will serve you better than mere memory.
3. If the offensive actions are repeated after you’ve told the offender to stop, contact your HR supervisor.
4. Periodically inspect and copy your employment file and reviews. It’s your right in Illinois, and it will guard against any manipulation of your file if the offender seeks retaliation against you.
5. Call us. You are not without rights. We have obtained substantial settlements for victims of hostile-environment employment discrimination, and are experienced in litigating these claims if settlement cannot be achieved.