The woman who had worked for the county for three years and seven months walked into our offices for a scheduled meeting carrying a canvas bag full of journals. She also had some papers that were not inside the canvas bag, and a rectangular box.
The mailing label bore her address, but the name on the box was that of her former boss.
Inside the box was a cat-o’-nine tails. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a whip.
A male boss sending a whip to his female subordinate.
The woman had just been fired. She sat down at our conference room table and told me about the sexual harassment she had allegedly endured from her boss. Her proof, she said, was the journals and the whip.
But her boss tells a different story.
He acknowledged having sent his subordinate the cat-o’-nine tails, but claimed that he had ordered it for her as a favor. She paid him for it, he said.
He said she had seen it while he had been looking at a Smoky Mountain Knife Works catalogue. He said he has an account with the company, which was why his name was on the mailing label. He said the woman was into pirates and things of that nature, and that was why she wanted the multi-tailed whip. It was an implement for severe physical punishment, and was used centuries ago in the Royal Navy.
The woman showed me some photos of herself on her cell phone. In one, portions of her hair were pink and purple. In another, she was wearing a crazy hat.
It wasn’t hard to imagine that she might dig pirates.
She claimed that she was told that she had to get permission from her boss before dying her hair. She told me that she dyed her hair from black to red, then texted her boss a photo of herself to make sure the color met with his approval.
To me, there were two things wrong with this story: One, why would she go to the trouble and expense of dying her hair and then asking her boss if it was okay?
And, two: the photo she said she texted him showed her grinning from ear to ear. She did not look to me like a bullied woman who was making sure her controlling male boss approved.
not difficult to believe
The woman told me that her boss and the men in his department would often gather around his computer screen to view pornographic or near-pornographic emails.
Her boss denied it.
A former employee in that department who now holds another job in county government admitted to me, very uncomfortably and reluctantly, that he remembers there having been one time when there was such an email.
It is not difficult to believe that the woman may have been telling the truth.
Last year, this newspaper published stories about inappropriate emails having been sent to others in county government by certain officials, elected and otherwise. Even the Human Resources department had been guilty of the blatant, alarming infractions.
going in reverse
The woman told me about having traveled to Dallas with her boss and the male former employee who is now working in another area of county government. She said she was sandwiched between the two of them in a county pick-up, with her boss shifting gears around her legs.
The former-employee acknowledged that it had happened. So did the woman’s former boss, who I could hear sucking in his breath on the other end of the phone line when I relayed to him what she had said.
“It never occurred to me,” he said, referring to the fact that such a scenario might be construed as sexual harassment.
The woman told me that the HR department had recommended that the Sheriff’s Office investigate her claims.
Sheriff Roger Deeds told me that the case had been dropped because the woman would not produce the journals she claimed to have.
The woman told me that the investigator who was to handle the matter had offered to give her time to comb through the journals and write in a separate notebook the portions that specifically pertained to her claims against her boss. That way, other private details of her life would not be seen by others.
he said, she said
I did not write a news story about this, naming the parties involved, because I have no way of knowing the real story.
It is possible the woman is telling the truth. It is also possible that the delay with the journals was due to her creating them from scratch to retaliate against the man who fired her – a boss who she admitted having had frequent clashes with.
What happened here, though, can serve as a valuable lesson.
Anyone, male or female, who strains the boundaries of professionalism through wacky clothing, hair colors, tattoos, piercings, etc., may – fairly or unfairly – have their credibility questioned at a time when they desperately need credibility.
And anyone who sends packages to a subordinate’s home address, or shifts gears around the employee’s legs while in a company vehicle on company time, may find themselves being interrogated by a sheriff’s investigator or an attorney at a deposition table.
The corporate world is not a fantasy land filled with pirates and cat-o’-nine tails.
But that doesn’t mean that no one is forced to walk the plank any more.
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