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How Employers Deal with Sexual Harassment

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Sarah Jaffe provides the details of a story that says all too much about how too many corporations deal with sexual harassment on the job. They cover it up, try to shut down the worker, and facilitate the harasser to continue exploiting women.

Not long afterward, as she waited for her carpooling colleague again, the coach came up to Agganis and began rubbing her shoulder. She pulled away. He said nothing then, but in their next weekly “coaching,” Agganis said, he told her one of her metrics was a little below target and that he could write her up for it—but he wouldn’t. “I felt threatened that if I didn’t put up with his behavior he would write me up and make trouble for me,” she said. Agganis began having panic attacks, and was prescribed anti-anxiety medication for the first time in her life.

When she went to human resources to make a complaint, though, she felt dismissed. By that time, she’d googled her coach, Gary Rochon, and according to the legal complaint she’s filed, found that he had lost his medical license in Wisconsin for having a sexual relationship with a patient. Healso lost a job in Maine following accusations of sexual harassment. Agganis questioned T-Mobile’s judgment in hiring someone with his history to manage a workplace staffing mostly young women, and asked for him to be put on suspension while the company conducted the internal investigation she was told would happen. Instead, she said, she was advised to stick it out until the next rotation, when she would be given a new supervisor.

She was asked to sign a confidentiality form, she said. Agganis asked for time to read the form, and was shocked to discover that it seemed to be telling her that if she talked to her co-workers about her sexual-harassment complaint, she could be disciplined or even fired. “I didn’t want to lose my job,” she said. “But I couldn’t stay where I was being harassed.” She was led to believe that if she didn’t sign the form, there would be no investigation. She signed it, and then she resigned from her job.

Luckily this woman knows the power of a union:

Agganis didn’t give up. Instead, she reached out to the Communications Workers of America, a union that represents many telecom workers, including some at T-Mobile, but not at the Oakland call center. The union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on her behalf, arguing that the confidentiality agreement violated the National Labor Relations Act’s protections for workers—the act specifically allows workers to discuss “issues related to their terms and conditions of employment,” and act collectively to change those conditions. This August, an NLRB Administrative Law Judge ruled in her favor, requiring T-Mobile to rescind the confidentiality agreements and post notice to its employees at the Maine and South Carolina sites, informing them that it had violated the NLRA and informing them of their rights under the act.

And then this month, backed by CWA, Agganis went public. She’d filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Center and the Maine Human Rights Commission, which issued her a Right to Sue letter. She filed suit in the United States District Court in Maine, charging sex discrimination and wrongful discharge in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Maine Human Rights Act. On October 6, she held a news conference near the T-Mobile call center, and she and her supporters handed out flyers to T-Mobile employees informing them of her complaint.

That’s great for her and it once again shows how unions are so, so much more than just a vehicle for workers to get more money. But a lot of workers don’t have access to unions or don’t know who to reach out to for help on the job. These confidentality agreements employers make employees sign are deeply disturbing and should be illegal. When the employer prioritizes sweeping information under the rug over making sure workers are not sexually harassed (or otherwise exploited or made to labor in unsafe workplaces or whatever) they are acting in a manner that should have legal ramifications.

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