May 1, 2019

Retaliation: Untitled E

This week, we're sharing stories about retaliation from workers at Google and Facebook.

Note: In the following story, “client company” refers to the big-name tech company itself.

I am a vendor at our office and have faced retaliation from FTEs, other contractors, and my own vendor company for reporting sexual harassment that I both witnessed and experienced. The worst part is that our vendor company’s HR manager was directly involved in the retaliation. And when I reached out to the tech company’s contingent worker team because I didn’t have anyone to report it to, I was basically told that they could not help me because I’m not technically their employee. So even though the retaliation and harassment occurred in their offices, working on their products and research, vendor companies are free to treat their contingent workforce however they want without the “client” company getting involved.

A couple of my co-workers and I made multiple, separate reports of numerous incidents of harassment and inappropriate behavior we experienced or witnessed from “Jeff”, a contractor through a different agency (the agency that manages all of the staffing partners for the client company). “Jeff” had made several racist and sexist comments and had been singling out the few women on the team with inappropriate comments and spreading rumors about them. It got to the point where “Jeff” would stalk two young women that were assigned to his team, watching and waiting for one of them to be alone so he could corner them in a conference room or force them into a “one-on-one” meeting with him to “check-in,” all while making inappropriate comments to them. Following guidance for vendors, we reported these incidents to our vendor company management and HR Manager “Jill.”  Throughout the reporting process, we had to tell our stories 3+ times to various people and were asked questions like “Well did you ever tell him to stop when he cornered you alone in a conference room?” and “What are you hoping to get out of reporting this?” and “Did you try ignoring it?” We were told by “Jill” that they would investigate these claims, then waited over 2 months with no updates or progress on the investigation. When we checked in with “Jill,” she would tell us that they were stalled because the situation involved two different contractors so it was difficult to coordinate the investigation or get any information “especially during the holidays when people are on vacations.” We were told that the client company had received information about the situation and our reports from our vendor company, but declined to be involved because the situation did not directly involve any FTEs. In the meantime, nothing was done to separate these young women from having to work closely with their harasser (the way our work is assigned, it would have been VERY easy to change around their assignments to minimize interaction with him). As time went on, “Jeff” started making up lies about the two women’s job performance, telling others in team meetings that they “weren’t dedicated” and that he could have them “fired tomorrow” since they were “easily replaceable.”

After asking for updates several times, we had basically given up hope that anything would happen to help the situation or that anyone would help us.  With no action from either the client company or our vendor company, we tried to support each other the best we could. The constant vigilance required to stay in groups of two or more in order to avoid harassment was extremely taxing. When we were finally updated about the investigation, “Jill” told us that “Jeff” had received “training and corrective action” but that they did not find any grounds for termination. The only advice we were given on how to handle the situation was that we should go back to working with him and “pretend like nothing had happened.” We were also warned that, if we mentioned anything about this investigation to anyone else, we would have our employment terminated (we are at-will employees with our vendor company).

After “Jeff” received his “training and corrective action”, he continued to harass the young women on his team and even started spreading rumors to other men on the team that we had “made up false reports” about him because we “hate men”, portraying himself as the true victim and blaming us for the problems on the team. He even started to make up completely fabricated stories about inappropriate things we had done. We continued to report his behavior to our HR team but received only a vague response with no follow-up. Eventually “Jeff” was moved to another team, though we were specifically told that it was not related to our harassment complaints or the investigation but rather that they decided he would be a good fit in a different role.  A couple weeks after “Jeff” was removed from the team, HR Manager “Jill” contacted me to discuss allegations that had been made against me. During the phone call, “Jill” stated that both FTEs and contractors had reported discrimination claims against me and that I was the subject of a “formal investigation” by both the client company’s HR and the vendor company. The claims “Jill” outlined to me were completely false and, based on their content, it was clear that other FTE and CW men from the team that worked closely with “Jeff” were involved in fabricating lies about us as retaliation for reporting the harassment we experienced.  We later confirmed through coworkers (who spoke to us secretly for fear of also being retaliated against) that there was a group of men on the team that blamed us for “Jeff’s” reassignment and wanted to get us in trouble.

Throughout the investigation into these claims, “Jill” only spoke with witnesses provided by the men who falsely reported me and did not speak with other witnesses that could have confirmed my side of the story. “Jill” said that she could not speak to some of the witnesses I named because they work for a different contracting company and “it would be too difficult to arrange that.” I later learned that other women who had been involved in reporting “Jeff’s” harassment had similarly false reports made against them.  We tried to tell Jill that these reports were obviously retaliation, but she dismissed our concerns stating that “several people confirmed that this happened.”

We tried to reach out to the company’s Contingent Worker team using the channels and processes they outlined to us, but they declined to help us. Instead, they told us to escalate our problems internally with our vendor company back to the very people who did not believe us in the first place. Our interactions with our vendor’s HR manager have been so biased, incompetent, and downright hostile that none of us have any faith that they care at all. Neither the client company nor our vendor company have provided ANY help or resources in dealing with the harassment and have, through their actions, essentially given us only two options: continue to work on a hostile team with those who are still actively retaliating against us or find another job.

The saddest part of all this is that it is not an uncommon story. I would estimate that 80% of the women I know in our office (not even just on my team) have been directly harassed and had to report to HR or have participated in an HR investigation as a witness of harassment. A majority of the time, HR has done nothing meaningful to help the victims. What I’ve learned is that the function of HR at companies like these is not to protect the workers or create a healthy work environment, but to protect the company from legal liability for what happens in their offices. As long as they can determine that they can’t be legally impacted by what is occurring, they are more than willing to sit back and allow women to work in hostile environments with their harassers.