One Big Reason Why You Shouldn’t Let Sexual Harassment Go Unchecked
Recent case demonstrates how harassers who get away with bad behavior may be likely to repeat it
“That was just a big wake-up call for me. I wasn’t the first and I wasn’t going to be the last,” Savanna Halliwell recently stated.
After Halliwell filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her employer in July of 2015, something unexpected happened: former employees, whom Halliwell had never met, began contacting her and saying that they, too, had been sexually harassed by their manager.
Emily’s Good Things to Eat bakery recently agreed to pay Halliwell $85,000 to settle the lawsuit. While most settlements are negotiated to include the condition of a “gag order,” in which neither party is allowed to discuss the proceedings, this settlement did not.
That’s because Halliwell fought hard to retain her right to discuss the case. Reason: She claimed that she didn’t want anyone else to be subjected to the inappropriate conduct that she and other female employees allege that they had to endure while working under bakery manager and co-owner Robert Nahas.
Let’s take a look at Halliwell’s case and then discuss what it means to other employees who may be dealing with similar situations.
Hugs Were Mandatory
Halliwell was in her early 20s when she began working at Emily’s Good Things to Eat. The bakery is owned by Emily Reilly, the former mayor of the town where the bakery is located, and Reilly’s husband Robert Nahas.
Nahas managed the day-to-day operations of the bakery during Halliwell’s employment. She claimed that she often had to work with Nahas alone in the office, and that his conduct made her extremely uncomfortable.
In her lawsuit, Halliwell alleged that Nahas would frequently smell her hair and her belongings, lick her coffee cup, and insist that she give him a hug before she left.
In an article in the local paper, Halliwell stated, “In my mind, the word ‘hug’ doesn’t even begin to describe that interaction. He would just bring me close into his body. He’d be moaning and groaning. He’d sniff my hair, kiss the side of my neck and rub his hands under my shirt and under my pants.”
Halliwell claimed that she complained to Reilly, but that her concerns were not addressed.
Lawsuit Caught Media’s Attention
Halliwell contacted an attorney and filed a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Because of Reilly’s prominent position in the town, the press reported on the case.
After that, seven former employees of the bakery came forward to state Nahas had also harassed them. Each gave statements to Halliwell’s attorneys that described the inappropriate conduct that Nahas allegedly exhibited while they worked for him.
Several women reported that Nahas preferred to hire young, attractive females.
Many of the women claimed that Nahas touched them inappropriately. For example, Nahas would insist that they hug him, he would make excuses to brush up against them, or he would put his arms around them during training. They also alleged that Nahas attempted to engage them in personal conversations about their boyfriends and where they liked to socialize.
Nahas reportedly became verbally abusive after his advances were rejected, according to several of the former staffers. Some of the former employees claimed that they were terminated after rebuffing him.
One former employee stated that, on two separate occasions, Nahas gave her $100 as an apology for his inappropriate conduct.
Another former staffer claimed that Nahas offered to give her a ride home after a social event, but refused to stop his car when they arrived at her house. She became nervous and demanded that he pull over. She was able to exit the vehicle, but she was shaken by the experience. She quit the next day.
Many of the former bakery workers stated that they complained to Reilly to no avail. They claim that she made excuses for her husband’s behavior and failed to investigate their allegations.
The bakery states that it agreed to settle the case not as admission of guilt, but because doing so was in the best interest of the business.
(The case discussed here is Halliwell v. Emily Reilly, et. al.)
Sexual Harassment Comes in Many Forms
Sexual harassment can come in many forms. Serial harassers, in particular, may be very skilled at making their behavior just subtle enough so that the victims feel that they cannot demand serious recourse. After all, without a direct proposition or assault, it’s all too easy for management to blow off an uncomfortable situation.
Then, unfortunately, victims may walk away feeling like they were in the wrong.
However, it’s important to remember that you have the right to feel safe in the workplace. That means that you shouldn’t have to put up with any uncomfortable sexual behavior on the job, no matter how subtle.
If interactions with a coworker or manager leave you feeling uneasy, it’s wise to pay attention to that gut instinct.
Remember, as this case shows, a harasser who is not held accountable for his or her behavior is likely to repeat it.
If you have been subjected to inappropriate sexual behavior at work, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney to find out about your legal rights. Keep in mind that in standing up for yourself, you may also be saving someone else from having to go through a similar experience.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.