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Essay: I was the victim of harassment by a bully, here's what I did about it

Kathleen M. Bonczyk, MBA, Esq.


No profession is immune to harassment and discrimination. I know. I was subjected to its indignity years ago while a Human Resources executive, and again later as an attorney. I have fought for the rights of marginalized clients who might not otherwise have access to counsel so much so that after leaving a mediation session a couple years back, the mediator was overheard saying "its always about the minorities with her."


An advocate for equality my entire professional life, I was thrilled upon seeing my first research piece, a CEU article addressing the harassment of nurses, published in the respected industry journal Nursing Spectrum 27 years ago.


Thousands of nurses read it. Some contacted me to say how much they appreciated the information. One nurse said she reported the harassment she had been experiencing, and her complaint was swiftly and appropriately dealt with. She said while the harassment made her feel victimized, standing up for herself empowered her. "Mission accomplished" I thought proudly.


Today, even after "Me Too" or "We Too" as my friend Jane Brady Nosal whose 24-year-old daughter Caroline was murdered by the man who Caroline complained to management about prefers to call the movement, gender-based harassment is still alive and kicking.


ABUSE IN THE LEGAL INDUSTRY


When employers seek legal guidance on how to ensure diversity, inclusion, and respect is present in their workplaces, it's ironic that some of the law firms who perform these services abuse their own staff. The legal profession has certainly been hit with its fair share of discrimination lawsuits.


I personally know of one well known "secret" involving the married founder of a firm who had been carrying on a torrid affair with his married bookkeeper. While this situation did not constitute sexual harassment per se (it was potentially sexual favoritism), as an organizational leader he should have known better.


Amongst other concerns was the message that this workplace affair projected to everyone. Also, as the bookkeeper had a jealous husband at home, everyone's safety could have been placed at risk if the man confronted his wife and her lover at the office as jealous partners tend to do upon learning of such workplace liaisons.



(Video discussing sexual harassment vs. sexual favoritism in the workplace)


MY PERSONAL STORY


The individuals responsible for inhumane treatment directed toward me have always been caucasian males occupying high positions of power. Perhaps they believed their status gave them passes to bully and throw their weight around at will.


This one major harasser aligned himself with other men, converting the bullying to "mobbing." A particularly destructive form of abuse, mobbing occurs when two or more individuals team up and target one person. When you boil mobbing down to its horrendous fundamental core, it's an abuse of power by cowards.


The first harasser's chief co-tormenter of me was your garden-variety bull-in-a-china-shop bully. He had a hyper-aggressive personality and had publicly stated to the world just how he and his associates - all male caucasians just like him - felt about me. Mind you: None of them had ever met me when this harasser made his derogatory public proclamations.


Said lawyer is the principal of a firm in a major American city. On his website and social media is a picture of a female described as a summer intern. I believed her to be a 23-ish year old law student. Posed from the side, hand on hip, buttocks protruding, she wore the tightest dress possible hugging her skin, laced at the busom and falling several inches above the knees.


I confronted the man and told him I thought it was inappropriate material to be published on a law firm's website. He corrected me. The female depicted in that image was just 14 years old.


Even in light of the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, he felt there was nothing wrong with the picture or what it might convey. He took responsibility for nothing, then blamed me for misconstruing things.


To me, this conveys how individuals like him regard women. They think by hiring a minority they've done their jobs to promote equality. It's nonsense. Look to see who the final decision-makers are and you'll see if it's sincere or not. I don't think this person had a daughter as I'm sure he would have never allowed his young teen to report to a part-time job in an office where she would bump into middle aged men whether clients or co-workers.


I feel my harassers looked down on the fact that I am a self-made female and a minority functioning in an industry historically dominated by caucasian males. I was not a part of their "club" nor did I ever want to be.


To top it off, I am strong-willed and was not afraid to go toe-to-toe against them if the situation required it. I spoke my mind. My positions and opinions were supported by facts and the law and I did not back down when those facts and the law said my position was correct.


Perhaps it was.a bruise to their egos when I did this. I don't know. All I did know is that it was painful to be attacked personally and referred to by such sexist terms including "B___" and "C___" even while considering the small-mindedness of the source.


I was humiliated. This, of course, is the goal of the bigotry known as harassment: To psychologically cut people down on the grounds of gender, a birth characteristic. Someone who is confident in themselves don't need to resort to such low-ball tactics. Still, in the moment, it does hurt, for a little while anyway.


When I objected to their behavior, these experts in gaslighting tried to turn the situation around and make it appear they were victims and had a right to gang up and treat me the way they did.


I was having none of it. When the word "C__" in particular was used, I stood up to the individual who endorsed its usage.The response was words to the effect of "You're being too sensitive...toughen up. Can you imagine?


I responded NO...t's not. "C___" is the most vulgar, vile insult that could ever be used to describe women. It objectifies and cuts down an entire class of people by regarding them as merely the sum of their private parts. The word is surpassed only by the "N" word in terms of its inhumane nature, viciousness and destructiveness.


I attempted to have a discussion about all of this, to somehow turn lemons into lemonade and try to convert this painful experience into an open dialogue on diversity and inclusion.


It was a waste of time. There's no use in attempting a dialogue on tolerance and respect with the intolerant and disrespectful.


Meantime, whenever "Mr. X Y and Z" felt challenged by me professionally, their strategy was to attack me as a person instead of sticking to the legal issues, as if it were their birthright.


Then one day one of these bigots attacked me (again) in front of people whom I respected. It was the third occasion he had done so in just over a week: The first time I ignored it. The second time, I told him to stop---in writing. The third third time he engaged in his derogatory and offensive conduct, he did it in open court. He was reprimanded by the judge which I appreciated.


Still, given his past pattern and practice of abuse alone and with others, I had had enough, truly and completely enough.


I could have filed an official complaint as I have encouraged so many others to do in response to abuse. I decided, for me, the best way to address it was to handle it right then and there, on the spot and in the moment.


I took a deep breath. I stood up. I asked to speak. I told the judge what had been happening.


I stated that I would not tolerate his abuse any further. I demanded respect. Then I posed the question inquiring whether this person would ever treat a fellow male in the way he felt he had the right to treat me.


Silence.


Then I sat down and went on with the business at hand.


It ended, at least with regard to this individual's behavior.


Sadly, however, the discrimination that is quid pro quo and hostile environment harassment lives on...




#SexualHarassment