forward and asserting their rights.
We’ve got these laws on the books. They’re there for a reason.
They’re there to protect people. There’s a metaphorical and, in
some cases, a literal contract in the workplace. I go to work. I
do my thing. Hopefully, I get along with my coworkers. Maybe
I don’t, but I get paid. I go home to my family. So when you’ve
got a boss or coworkers that mess with that equation—that
put impediments in front of you going to work and doing your
thing and earning a living to provide for your family—I’ve got
a problem with that,
and so does the law,
When people come
to my office, the first
thing that I tell them
is I just commend you
on the strength that
it takes to pick up the
phone, or to get on
the internet, to make
an appointment with the lawyer, come down to my office, and
sit across this conference table from me to talk about this
horrible treatment that you may have endured.
I was at the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Com-mission] for four years as a senior trial attorney, and I worked
cases in eastern Washington where you’ve got four men that
literally rule over little fiefdoms within the orchards. They
have absolute power over the workers in their charge. If they
choose to call out a young woman, or several young women,
and to abuse them horribly, unfortunately, they feel emboldened that they can do something. And it’s sad to me, that in
the current climate, that victims of rape would be reluctant to
come forward to law enforcement for fear of deportation.
But the good thing about the law, Title VII, and Washington
Law Against Discrimination: it doesn’t care whether or not
you are documented. The bottom line is if you are abused in
the workplace, you’ve got recourse. So we talk about #Me Too,
and the movement as if it’s a monolith, and it’s not. You’ve
got this issue of intersectionality, in that you’ve got women of
color—black and brown women—that are experiencing sexual
harassment in a way that, perhaps, their white peers, their
white counterparts, aren’t.
It’s, I think, obvious to everyone in the room that as #Me Too
began, we were dealing with beautiful white actresses, rich
folks, that are coming forward with their stories, but the stories are painfully familiar in a way. But you look at black and
brown women that have perhaps similar stories to tell, and
for whatever reason, they’re marginalized. We don’t give their
stories the same credence.
So as we look at #Me Too, as we look at claims in the workplace, I would hope that we would evaluate and look at the
claims on par, without regard to whether or not we are dealing
with a Caucasian woman, a black woman, whether you’re rich,
whether you’re poor, whether you are a high-powered executive,
or an hourly worker, and to listen to these folks as they come
forward with their stories, and make things, hopefully, better
ELIZABETH VAN MOPPES:
So it is an incredibly difficult thing to make a complaint,
JAMAL N. WHITEHEAD:
and then to meet with somebody you’ve never even heard of
before, and tell them an incredibly personal event, or series of
events that you’re pret-
ty sure this person is
not going to believe, or
has already been paid
off by the employer to
not believe. ... I get that
question a lot right
off the bat.
“You’re being paid by
the employer, by my
boss. Why should I
even tell you anything?” And I will tell you exactly what I tell
them, or what I will tell you if I ever have the chance to meet
you if you have a complaint. I am here as an independent
investigator. Yes, my time is being paid for by your em-
ployer, but your employer has a legal duty to look into your
complaint, and they have a legal duty to make sure that that
investigation is done as independently and fairly as possible.
My job is to determine the facts. It is not to determine the
law. It is to determine whether or not a policy has been violated.
Hopefully, there is a policy, there is a handbook. That’s another
story entirely. I talked to this person. I will spend anywhere
from two hours to, the longest I’ve ever spent with any witness
was 18 hours. Getting their story, getting [the names of] their
witnesses, and then I will go meet those witnesses. …
It’s not usually he said, she said. There are usually a lot of
other factors that come into play. There’s almost always doc-
umentation. There’s almost always a witness to somebody’s
demeanor. There’s almost always something in a timeline that
doesn’t play out, someone who says this happened during
this time frame, but it just isn’t going to work that way. I put it
into a report, and I give that report to the employer. Whether
or not the employer chooses to share it with the employee is
up to them, or up to Jamal, and I have nothing to do with that
part either. And then I step back, and I wait for Jamal to call
me and put me on the stand.
I don’t see anything wrong with some sort of annual, or
regular requirement. You’ve got OSHA [Occupational Safety
and Health Administration] requirements where it talks about
safe handling of heavy equipment, or how to load the boxes on
the truck, all of that. So there are regular safety requirements
in other contexts that workers have to undergo.
"You are responsible for your coworkers.
If you are a manager, you are not only
responsible, but you’re legally liable."
ELIZABETH VAN MOPPES