If you believe ugly, unacceptable, demeaning behavior toward women takes place only in Hollywood, think again.
It can and does happen anywhere.
Now we discover, even in local government, according to allegations contained in a Jackson County former employee’s resignation letter.
Along with detailing intraoffice issues, her letter, dated Oct. 23 and addressed to county Manager Don Adams and Human Resources Director Danielle Wittekind, accuses two former co-workers of serious improprieties and a supervisor of failing to take meaningful action or report her complaints.
“I had one male co-worker tell me that I needed to be punched in the mouth everyday until I learned to shut it,” she wrote. “The incident was talked about multiple times in the office and I made it clear that I was upset by the comment. To my knowledge, (the co-worker) was never even spoken to.”
Her two-page letter made its way to me soon after being sent. I wasn’t an intended recipient. For reasons of her own, the former county employee dispatched numerous copies to her previous co-workers. As one might expect with that sort of send-off, the letter took wing and soared far.
I called her. She declined to comment. I called others. Multiple people corroborated her complaints of a hostile workplace allowed to fester in Jackson County government.
While one co-worker made a threatening remark, she wrote, another threatened and sexually harassed her.
“He said he ‘would tear me up’ if he ever got his hands on me,” she wrote. “This comment came after months of inappropriate gift giving. At first, I thought (the co-worker) was being a nice guy, but then it quickly became awkward as he became possessive, pulling me aside to tell me not to wear certain outfits because the men in the office got too worked up and he didn’t like hearing them talk about me like that in the morning. Then he started telling me how distracting I was and finally one day he made the ‘tear me up’ comment.”
She said she talked to her boss about the co-worker’s unwanted advances.
“He informed me that (the co-worker) was probably joking and he couldn’t imagine him saying that. He asked if I wanted him to do anything, and I told him to let all of his guys know that if I had to choose between being the office bimbo and a (word deleted), that I was comfortable being a (word deleted) but I was no one’s bimbo.”
“Shortly after that,” she wrote, her supervisor told her to ride in the same work vehicle with the person she had identified as her harasser.
“I was upset, to say the least, that he would expect me to be alone with a man that I had already told him tried to proposition me,” she wrote. “I drove my own vehicle from that point on and tried to never be alone with any of the men in my department.”
I sent an email on Sunday requesting comment from Manager Adams and Human Resources Director Wittekind.
I urged them to be as responsive as possible, saying:
“I believe public transparency would be in Jackson County’s best interest. The law is very narrow with regard to what personnel information is public. However, a public agency can release personnel information when doing so is necessary to maintain public confidence in the integrity of the agency. Aptly, this is called the ‘integrity exception.’”
Here’s what Adams sent back:
“Management has received the resignation letter and is aware of the allegations within the letter. The Human Resources department, the Legal department and I (county manager) are currently investigating these issues.”
We certainly hope so. It seems this investigation is long past due.
Quintin Ellison is editor of The Sylva Herald.