Service of Who Will be Left? Are Companies Jumping the Gun?

December 21st, 2017

Categories: Sexual Harassment, Timing, Workplace Disputes

Photo: 411mania.com

I covered this subject in October in “Service of Why Now? Does Today’s Indignation & Punishment of Sexual Harassment & Assault Have Legs?” Why the same subject so soon again? The topic continues to haunt me as it expands like wine spilled from an entire magnum of red on a white tablecloth. The corporate skin and ear, once so thick and deaf to women reporting abuse, has suddenly become thin, sharp-hearing and trigger happy.

Photo: cnn.com

What inspired today’s post? I couldn’t find the Tavis Smiley show last Wednesday night and the next morning learned that PBS suspended the distribution of his show due to misconduct allegations against him.

The PBS investigators wouldn’t tell Smiley who is accusing him of what, he said in a Facebook video, [and later on Don Lemon’s CNN Tonight]. On Facebook he added: “I have never groped, coerced or exposed myself inappropriately to any workplace colleague in my entire broadcast career, covering 6 networks over 30 years.” I wonder if he’d had help with his statement from his lawyer as the word “inappropriately” hit me funny. When is groping, coercion or exposure appropriate in an office setting or am I being picky and naive? Later he admitted to one or more consensual relationships with staff.

Photo: slate.com

As I mentioned above, Smiley is not employed by PBS; it distributes his program which makes his case different than Sam Seder’s. Seder, an MSNBC political commentator and podcast host of the “Majority Report,” was fired and for a different reason: He was accused by a far-right activist for writing an “inflammatory tweet he posted in 2009,” according to Jonah Engel Bromwich in The New York Times. The cable channel had the grace to rehire Seder after thousands signed a petition in Seder’s favor, reaffirming that the tweet in question was “meant to be satire.”

The tweet: “Don’t care re [Roman] Polanski, but i hope if my daughter is ever raped it is by an older truly talented man w/ a great sense of mise en scene.” Seder was reacting to support of Polanski by the French culture and foreign ministers. It was “a cutting parody of a statement defending the director,” wrote Bromwich. As you may recall Polanski “was arrested in Switzerland in 2009 in connection with” the rape of a 13 year old in the 1970s.

Here’s MSNBC president Phil Griffin explanation for reinstating Seder in Bromwich’s article: “‘We made our initial decision for the right reasons — because we don’t consider rape to be a funny topic to be joked about, but we’ve heard the feedback, and we understand the point Sam was trying to make in that tweet was actually in line with our values, even though the language was not. Sam will be welcome on our air going forward.’”

Office romances are mundane. Some go sour; others are forbidden according to company policy. I wonder how investigators are able to distinguish which accusations described abusive and frightening behavior and which may have at one point been consensual. Might any represent payback by a jilted lover or even by an ignored, delusional, colleague or staffer hoping to catch the eye of a celebrity or boss?

Companies are free to fire whom they want but I get the feeling that fear and chaos in the C-suite has resulted in some too-quick reactions. Smiley is not on trial and is not an employee so I suppose nobody owes him any information about who reported him.

Is it OK, appearance-wise, for companies to revert to this country’s witch-hunting puritan roots and indict without a trial? Does this reaction let off the hook executives who previously dusted complaints under the rug and often fired the women who reported them?

Kudos to MSNBC for reinstating Seder but shouldn’t the company have investigated first and fired Seder second? And what about all the real cases of abuse and coercion involving average citizens affecting hotel and restaurant workers? Do they count?

Photo: lawprofessors.typepad.com

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7 Responses to “Service of Who Will be Left? Are Companies Jumping the Gun?”

  1. Judith B Schuster Said:

    One member of the staff where I worked was a serial harasser. I was warned about him the first week I was employed there and, within a few days, I experienced his act personally. He once kissed my arm up to my neck in front of my manager who went to department management and the harasser was once again lectured on inappropriate behavior. It continued until he retired. Last week at a luncheon with former colleagues, I asked that manager, who rose to be a vice president, what would happen to the harasser today. He was quick to reply that he would have been terminated and that would have been welcomed by any woman on staff. At the time, I believe the harasser was considered too important to be terminated. After all, he didn’t rape people, he just touched women inappropriately. I don’t suggest that with the first instance of inappropriate touching, men should be fired, but I do think that guys will think twice about whom they touch and whether it is welcome or not. Easy rule, at the office, don’t touch, but you can ask someone out. If that leads to welcome touching, it’s fine, but don’t touch in the workplace! (I say this because I met my husband of 54 years at the office. He never touched me in the workplace, but he did ask me out the first time there. We wound up working together for several years, both before and after we were married, but he never touched me at the office!)

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Judy,

    Wow. I know of quite a few people who met at work and married, you among them. I also know of people who had affairs that turned south and still had to work together, awkward when one is a boss.

    I had a memorably horrible time at the first Christmas party I attended at my first job after college. The married men tried to kiss us. I found it disgusting as none appealed to me, were much older than I was, were all married and in any case, I had a boyfriend. I didn’t stay long.

  3. Martha Takayama Said:

    I am feeling overwhelmed and sad from the amount of headline news on this topic. It is not possible to minimise the numerous devastating effects of harassment and violence against women and also men in the work environment and everyday lives at all social eoonomic levels. However, I think that there is a certain element of cynicism in the manner in which all kinds of unnecessary verbiage and specific details are being covered for sensational value. This important and painful topic can be addressed with much more selective judgment and restraint. It is also important to recognise the prevailing attitude of the time frame in which behavior that is now considered vulgar or unacceptable occurred and to distinguish between rude and offensive behavior and violent and criminal behavior. I do think that there is a lot of confusion and that a lot of “Sudden fear and chaos in the C-suite has resulted in some too-quick reactions.” I also think that the other facet of this sudden concern to right years of wrong also can smack of hypocrisy, false morality, and risks turning into a return to “witch-hunting puritan roots and indictment “without a trial” Worst of all is when the “righteous” reporter of the inappropriate or illegal behavior is denounced shortly thereafter as being accused or suspended for the same reasons. There is a resultant element of confusion and mayhem.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    We seem increasingly to live in a world of extremes–we ignore or we overreact about so many things. Unfortunately such a climate makes it difficult to negotiate and compromise. A person’s reputation is trashed in a moment.

    In conversation, responding to my original post on the issue of why now, someone suggested that the difference between now and before–as early as two years ago–is that the media has picked up and run with the ball, unrelenting in coverage of each case of a high profile person. The shame of it is that the accusation and firing may follow Sam Seder forever. The jury–self-made as PBS has made itself–is still out for Tavis Smiley.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    It’s tempting to ignore these ongoing “scandals” since they are getting too numerous to deal with. Worse yet potshots are being taken at innocent people, US Senator Schumer, for starters. This has been a sexually oriented and predatory society for decades, scantily hidden by hypocritical Victorian prudery. It’s going to take a lot more than airing of so called scandals to fix things, and trashing careers merely worsens the situation. While no fix-it solution comes to mind, ruining lives — 30, 40 years after the fact accomplishes nothing.

  6. jmbyington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    The Sam Seder example of fire first check the facts second shows how out of control things are. The public outcry saved him.

    I don’t think a person should be off the hook for doing unspeakable things like rape but making lewd remarks, while more than irritating when unwelcome and in the workplace, should not be given equal weight. The good outcome is awareness. Women who report inappropriate behavior will be heard, not fired, as before

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Perhaps you are right, but don’t be too sure!

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