Multiple Perpetrators at the Library

Posted April 3rd, 2014 by Duken

My sexual harassment experience is the result of a combination of bad management and bad politics. My experience also illustrates that sexual harassment can happen in places you would least suspect—mine happened in a public library—and that there can be more than one perpetrator. My story should also illustrate that sexual harassment is not as overt as the examples given in sexual harassment seminars.

I will give you some information about myself because it is pertinent to the story. I am female, married with 2 daughters. My daughters were very young when I became ill with what would later be diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome with the pain associated with it now being called fibromyalgia. I was so sick that I had to drop my college classes and was unable to work for 7 years because of it. When my daughters were old enough to start helping out with chores around the house I decided to try working part-time.

Sexual Harassment by a Colleague at the Library

I started working at the local public library that is financed and run by the city (most states have county run libraries but this state did not). I was introduced to everyone on staff which included a mentally challenged man that re-shelved books; I will refer to him as M. At first he asked me the same kinds of questions about my daughters as the women did. How old are they, what grade are they in, what school do they go to?, etc. Then one day he asked a very sexually charged question, somewhere along the lines of “Do your girls like to french kiss men?” Then he laughed and walked away. I was so stunned that I just stood there with my mouth open and didn’t know what to say. My daughters were 10 and 14 years old at the time. My boss , I’ll call her D., heard what happened and told me, “Oh, yeah, feel free to tell him to stuff it.” I asked her what was someone like him doing working in a library and she said that the male director considered him a “sacred cow”. In other words, he was never going to be fired no matter what he did. I asked why and she said that he used to volunteer as a shelver and when the position came open his father threatened to sue if they did not hire him. The director believed that the father would also sue if M was ever fired. (I am not sure if this is true or not because it all took place before I started working at the library, but it was the line we were all fed to justify why he wasn’t being fired.) I would have liked to pursue the matter further but I was just re-entering the work force and did not want to jeopardize my job.

My boss then started warning me about other quirky habits of M. and said to never wear a silk blouse because he would want to touch it, and that if he ever said he had a dream about you it would be sexual in nature. He mentioned about a week later that he had a dream about me and I walked away and said in a very stern voice, “I don’t want to hear about it!” He attends a lot of the local school football games with his camera in tow because he is especially fond of cheerleaders. I witnessed when he approached one woman whose daughter was a cheerleader and said to her, “What would you do if I kissed your daughter after a game?” She responded, “I wouldn’t do anything but my husband would punch you in the nose.” He laughed and walked away. Another co-worker whose daughter was a cheerleader brought pictures of her in her cheerleading outfit and put them on her desk. I thought it was a mistake but felt she had to experience it herself or she would not believe me. He came back to our work area every day and started asking questions about the pictures and some could be construed as sexual in nature. “Does she do the splits, does she do handstands?” He hounded her so badly about the pictures that she finally took them home.

I once warned a co-worker, who brought her young daughter to a staff meeting because she was on the way to take her to school, about M. The little girl was wearing a dress and was sitting in a chair across the room from M. She got very fidgety and started opening and closing her legs. M. couldn’t take his eyes off of her. I told the mother to be careful of her daughter around M. and that he would be asking her sexual questions about her daughter. She humored me and pretended to take my warning seriously. She told me later that she went home that day and told her husband what took place. She told him she didn’t believe me because she thought I was prejudiced against M. and besides a public library wouldn’t have anyone like him employed there if he were sexually attracted to children. Then M. did approach her and started asking sexual questions about her daughter, she was only 5 or 6 at the time. I realized that was why my boss, D., didn’t warn me about him at first, she had to let me find out for myself because she probably got the same kind of reaction from other employees when she first warned them.

I was present one day when he said to one woman, “When you decide to take that picture out of the frame on your desk, can I have it?” She was furious and stormed away and said to him, “M., that is my granddaughter!” Her granddaughter was only 2 to 3 years old at the time. Her office was not near his work area and he had no reason for ever being in her office, yet he went skulking about the place looking at the pictures on people’s desks. I never kept pictures of my daughters on my desk for that reason. Things came to a head one day when he said to two of our elderly volunteers, “Do you know what a bull dyke is?” Then he laughed and walked away as usual. My boss, D., was furious and decided that enough was enough. She was going to complain about him in our next staff meeting. The director got wind of it and came in and announced that the subject of M. was off limits.

We had a telephone list of all the employee’s phone numbers that were given out to everyone in case of emergencies. M. used this list as his personal dating service; he would call the single women to ask them for dates. When my husband was in the service and would go out of town I often got hang up calls that I suspected was from M. I did not have caller I.D. at the time but our number was unlisted and we did not give it out to a lot of people. My daughters also had their own phone number, also unlisted, so I knew it wasn’t their friends. I decided to experiment and not tell anyone at work when my husband would be out of town and the phone calls stopped. Another married co-worker did have caller I.D. and came home and found that he had called her; she called him back and asked what he wanted. He was so shocked that she knew it was him and could not give a valid reason for why he called her. He later told her at work that he had a dream about her and in his dream he was huffing and puffing. She was offended because she felt he was alluding to having sex with her and went to her supervisor to complain. Her supervisor was also offended by what he said and told her they should go to the director right away and let him know about it; both of these women were new to our work environment and did not realize that nothing would be done about it. They were stunned to find out that in fact, nothing was done about it; the director didn’t even talk to M. about it.

M.’s behavior progressed to the point where he showed up in our break room on two different occasions in various stages of undress, once without a shirt and once with his pants down. Neither of the women that witnessed these events reported it because they knew by then that it would be futile.

M., who was approaching 50, had developed a crush on a young girl in her 20’s that was working at the library. He came looking for her every day and he asked her out on several occasions. He also used to keep tabs of her outfits and he had some that were his favorites. He often approached her and requested that she wear a particular outfit again. I was witness to some of these requests and she complained to me on other occasions because this was very upsetting to her. She told me that it gave her the “creeps” to know that he was watching her so closely.

A Stalker

We not only had to worry about inappropriate sexual behavior from our male co- workers, but, we also had a problem with one patron in particular that came to the library for the sole purpose of stalking young girls. The first time that I found out about him was when I was working the circulation desk one evening. Even though I worked in Technical Services where we ordered, received, catalogued, and put covers, and pockets in the books, we were expected to also work the circulation desk. A teenage girl approached me at the circulation desk and said that a man had been following her around the library and staring at her and his activities were starting to scare her. I asked her who he was and she pointed to the man that started walking towards the door as she pointed him out. I talked to the supervisor, a man I’ll call Ben (not his real name), and pointed the man out to him. I then asked if I should call the police. He said the director does not allow us to call the police about him, that he came into the library quite often to do that very activity and that his nickname was “The Creeper”. I was stunned and asked him why the director did not allow us to call the police (I later found out how much the director hated the police chief). He wasn’t really sure but he was just as frustrated about the situation as I was. Ben was so frustrated that he once approached “The Creeper” in the book stacks and took a polaroid picture of the man and pinned it to our bulletin board. I think this was Ben’s way of letting the director know just how frustrated he was by the director’s policy. Ben later found out that “The Creeper” was banned from our local mall for the very same activity. Every time I saw him come in the building I knew it wouldn’t be long before a teenage girl would approach the desk to say that he was stalking her.

Sexual Harassment by a Janitor

The other co-worker that was sexually harassing us was a male janitor. When I started working at the library there were two janitorial personnel that worked there from 2 a.m. till 10 a.m. One was a woman and the second was an older man that retired a few months afterward. A man in his mid 40’s to early 50’s was then hired to take his place. He was the janitor that started sexually harassing us. He thought he was god’s gift to women. I mentioned the hours they worked because it was important. By the time the staff arrived at 8 a.m. the janitors had finished all their work and did not have much to do. The male janitor, I’ll call R., felt it was our job in Technical Services to entertain him until he left at 10 a.m. We were part time and only had four hours to do our job. Having to talk to R. for two of our four hours was getting quite tiresome especially since his conversations were always about his conquest of women. I kept waiting for our supervisors to notice this pattern and have a talk with him and tell him we had too much work to do but it never happened. He had also picked out an insulting nickname to call my co-worker. The nickname was meant to convey to her that he thought of her as a lightweight, no one to be afraid of; the nickname was “sissy pants”. I knew she hated that nickname and I kept waiting for her to speak up and tell him so but she never did. I’m just sorry now that I never said anything to him about it.

R. would approach me from behind in the break room and put his hands around my eyes while pulling in close to my body and saying “guess who?”. He always did this when no one else was around; he was smart and didn’t want any witnesses. I complained about this to another co-worker and she said that he was always coming into her office, where she worked alone, and approaching her from behind to rub her shoulders. He once showed up for work in a Santa outfit around Christmas time and tried to get the women to sit on his lap. I wasn’t working that day and found out about it from co-workers.

The incident that brought everything to a head with R. was when he followed me outside one day when I was throwing away newspapers (we kept the current month and the last month) and put his arm around my shoulder. He then let it drop down to my waist and reached into my coat pocket and pulled out a tampon. He started waving it around saying, “Whoo- Hoo, what’s this, what’s this?” I was embarrassed by this invasion of privacy and told him so. I decided then and there to complain to supervisors about him. I first went to the other women that were tired of his antics and we all complained to our supervisors. He was never disciplined, instead he was PROMOTED!!!!! He received a better paying job with better hours within the city. He went to work for the parks dept. helping out with the pools. He had to finally be fired by the city when he was caught by a female lifeguard masturbating in the women’s locker room. I didn’t find out about this through the rumor mill, I read about it in the paper. If memory serves me correct I believe the charges were later dropped because the teenage lifeguard was too traumatized to testify.

Harassment from the Director of the Library

The final perpetrator was the director of the Library itself. You might be wondering why so many women were putting up with this kind of treatment at work and I can tell you in one word—–flexibility. It is hard to believe but women with children will put up with just about anything as long as they have flexible hours so that they can take care of their children when they are sick or need to go to doctor’s appointments. Also, the director had been eliminating any woman that ever stood up to him and the rest of us were taking note of it. He did this by making their working lives so miserable that they finally quit.

I had worked for the library from 1992-2004, and the abuse that I am relating took place over that entire time period. We were dealing with a hostile work environment because the director loved to make sexual remarks and humiliate us as often as he could. He also made some clumsy attempts at quid pro quo (the form of sexual harrassment where the boss demands sex for promotions, to keep job, etc.) but I will address those later.

When I first started working for the library, my boss was D. She was head of Technical Services. D. would often stand up to the director when he was wrong about something and for that reason he started making her work life miserable. He was nit picky and pointed out the tiniest mistakes she made in her cataloging. He also buried her in work and anytime he came up with a new project that had to be accomplished at the library he put her in charge of it. One day when D. decided to treat her staff to sub sandwiches in the break room, the director came through and made a smart remark about it. I realized then that he felt threatened by female friendships. I was upset when D. found a job with another library but I understood why she had to leave.

A new children’s librarian was hired in 1994, I’ll call her J. Once when she was setting up for a water activity for the children’s summer reading program, he made a remark in front of a co-worker, “I can’t wait to see her in a bikini”. She was the second woman that he drove away because she stood up to him. Our young adult reading section had been sorely neglected and she had to fight him every step of the way to get it back up to par. She also had to fight to order videos for the young adult section. These were much needed instructional videos on subjects such as drugs, youth pregnancy, peer relationships, and gangs. She also instituted a summer reading program for the young adults that heretofore had been missing. My co-workers and I noticed a big difference in the quality of books that she ordered. She had a remarkable talent for writing and getting grants for our children’s & young adult services. Our readership among young adult readers increased because of her. He chased her away by undermining her at every turn and constantly criticizing her. She now works for another city library where she has won awards for her children’s programs.

The director was not satisfied with just sexually harassing the children’s librarians; he found an onerous way of causing these ladies financial hardships during the summer reading program. The Library foundation paid for the prizes for the reading program however, he made the children’s librarians’ pay for the prizes out of their own pocket and then waited weeks to reimburse them with the foundation money. I knew about this financial arrangement because the last two children’s librarians were friends of mine and had complained to me about the financial hardship this was causing them and their families. I processed the mail and would often see the bank statement with the dividends on the certificate of deposit for the foundation money. I then came to the conclusion that the director was waiting to reimburse the children’s librarians after the interest was posted to the certificate of deposit while “borrowing” their money interest free. He could have set up a petty cash account with the city to do this but it was just easier to bully the children’s librarians into using their own money.

Another co-worker was a victim of his malicious sense of humor. He would come into her office, where she worked alone, and tell her that he was thinking of eliminating her position. He would then ask her what she was going to do if he did that. She had one of the rare full time positions with health benefits at the library (9 out of a staff of 23). She had 2 children with complicated health issues, and even though her husband was in the military she needed the health benefits from her job to cover the medical costs that the military would not. The director knew this and I believe that is why he targeted her. This is one of the instances in which I believe he was trying, rather badly, to do quid pro quo. She knew that his threat was not an empty threat because years earlier he had taken the job of acquisitions which was full-time and turned it into a part-time job. When she complained to her supervisor, the assistant director, she was told that he was just “teasing”. He “teased” her about this for years and his “teasing” was especially bad when her husband, who years earlier had gotten out of the military, was facing the loss of his job because the plant where he worked was closing. The director would say things such as, “What’s your husband going to do when you lose your job, too?” This is one of those instances of where the director was not as overt about his sexual harassment. He wasn’t being as direct as saying, “You’d better start having sex with me or you’ll lose your job.” He just hinted around about it, I believe the response that he wanted from her was, “What do I have to do to make my job safe?”

One day in July 1998, I returned to work after a day off to find some pages from a Victoria’s Secret catalog in my desk drawer. I asked my co-workers if they knew who put it there and they said “No.” Ben, who was now the head of Technical Services, suggested that I ask the director about them. The director told me that they had been used as wrapping material to return audio tapes to the library. I re-examined the pages and there were no wrinkles or creases on them. Also, that was not a good excuse for why they were in my drawer. They should have been thrown in the trash can and the trash is emptied every night. I tore the pages up because I was incensed about it but I made a note to myself on my e-mail account about the incident.

The director loved to humiliate all the women but he especially loved to humiliate the women that he had sexually harassed. He got a sick thrill out of making inappropriate comments about other women’s bodies. He made a lot of the comments in front of the woman whose job he kept threatening to eliminate, I’ll call her C. Here is a quick run-down of some of the things he said in front of C. He said to the children’s librarian that was dressed as an M&M for the children’s Halloween party, “What’s your husband going to be, a tongue?” He said to another woman, “You’re dressed like a Catholic schoolgirl, the object of every man’s fantasy.” He told C. that the reason for the worn spots on the circulation desk was because another woman’s breasts had made them when they dragged across it. He was ferrying C. and some other co-workers to a library conference once and he told her he thought her hips were too big for his back seat.

He once approached a co-worker that shared an office with me and told her that he would get her a computer to help her with her job “if you are good.” She was getting ready to leave for the day and she said she didn’t know what he was talking about because she was one of his better employees. He again repeated that she would get a computer “if you are good.” She said she was not going to beg for a computer and left. This happened on a Friday afternoon & when she returned to work on Monday morning he had e-mailed her and her supervisor to say that she would not be getting a computer. This was the second incident of his sloppy attempt at quid pro quo. After this incident he made it a habit of calling her “Grandma” as often as he could. She is a grandmother, but, she is younger than he is!! This particular co-worker was also not being paid the proper amount of money for the work that she did. She worked in Technical Services yet she was paid as a shelver, the lowest pay rate at the library. Anytime she complained about it he threatened to have her shelve.

He made the grandmother remark a second time when we had a job opening in Technical Services. We had a new person in charge since Ben moved out of state, I’ll call her S. The director said to S., “You need to hire some younger blood because you have too many Grandmas’ in Tech. Services.” I then reminded the director that S. and I were not grandmothers, he then said, “Well, you could be.” He later made a grandmother remark to me in an e-mail, referring to a library policy that he said was “Grandmothered in”. I am younger than he is and he thought it was funny to refer to me as a grandmother.

He often made sexual remarks in e-mails as well. He once referred to the children’s librarian and S. as the Double-Mint twins (double your pleasure, double your fun.) He ended another e-mail with the sexual phrase “the earth did not move.”

The director started off as a bully, he fell into sexual harassment once he found out that there were no repercussions for how he treated us. Other women had complained about him when they quit the library but the city would not do anything about him. Each time he got away with something he got bolder.

When a new work space was being built for Technical Services, he thought it was funny to tell everyone that he was going to put me in the room by myself. The ultimate humiliation came when I walked into the break room to hear the janitress repeat that statement. When the office space was finished he put a sign above the entrance that was meant to embarrass me and the co-worker that shared the space. The sign had a picture of two margaritas on the front and he took a compilation of our names and put the word “land” on the end that said, Welcome to L—-L—land. We were both insulted by the sign. I felt that the drinks were meant to imply that we were a bunch of party girls. My co-worker said that since both our names start with “L” that it was meant as “Welcome to LaLaland.” No matter what the sign meant, it had no place in a business since it had pictures of alcoholic drinks on the front. He could have picked any number of pictures off of his computer, but he picked margaritas.

I had finally reached my fill of his antics when he talked about a good friend of mine in a staff meeting when she was not there to defend herself. He had said in that meeting that she would never have to serve on the safety committee. Since only full time staff serve on the committee and there are so few (9 out of 23), everyone wanted to know why. He couldn’t come up with a good answer. He kept saying things like, “she’s too tall.” “I don’t want her around all those guys”. When one woman, that had blonde highlights in her hair, pressed him for a better answer. He looked right at her and said, “Let me put it this way, she is blonder than you.” She got up and left the meeting and wrote down an account of the meeting. I too wrote an account of what took place in the meeting.

The Investigation

I decided then and there to complain to his bosses at city hall. The investigation that followed was meant as window dressing to pretend they were taking things seriously. Even though my co-workers backed me up, he was returned to work after a mere slap on the wrist. I know that my co-workers backed me up because I saw the city’s notes from the investigation during the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) investigation. He was allowed to return to work as if he had done nothing wrong, needless to say, we women were very disappointed in how this was handled. I had to call the city official that conducted the investigation and when he finally returned my call, he told me that the investigation showed there were problems at the library and there were lots of problems with management. He told me that he was going to require all of the managers to take a management course and the director was going to have to go to counseling. He then said that he and the mayor would be visiting the library more often to make sure that problems don’t persist. None of this ever took place.

The director started retaliating against me right away by increasing my workload. I hung in there for the sake of my co-workers and filed a claim with our state EEOC chapter. My boss did not know about the EEOC complaint before he tried to influence the children’s librarian to add some offensive material to our collection. He told me one day that he had ordered some “controversial” young adult graphic novels (some people would call them comic books). He bought them out of his director’s funds. He said that I was to put them on his desk when they arrived because he and the children’s librarian needed to look at them (she was one of the women he was sexually harassing.) I thought that was odd because I couldn’t think of any graphic novels that we had in our collection that could be considered controversial. They arrived in a few days and as I was unpacking them I realized why he said they were controversial. Their content had more sex and violence then anything we had in our collection. The cover that disturbed me the most was the one that had a battlefield with bloody severed heads on it. I showed them to my co-worker and asked what she thought of them, I repeated that the director called them controversial. Another co-worker came in and told us she had heard the director use the word “controversial” to describe them. Both of my co-workers said they would classify the books as soft porn because the women were very scantily clad and there were many allusions to sex. He later called the children’s librarian into his office and started describing how the women are drawn. He said something to the effect that it was obvious that the graphic novels were drawn by men because the female characters seemed to be a man’s idea of the perfect woman. He then made her take a few of the graphic novels to look them over and see if she wanted to add them to the collection. She later told me that she had been “uncomfortable” with the conversation in his office. She was also offended by the content of the graphic novels and told him she did not want to add them to the collection. She put post-it notes on the pages that offended her. She was afraid that he would add them to the collection anyway and asked a co-worker for advice on what to do if he did. She knew that she would have to defend the purchase of those books if parents complained. The co-worker told her to send out an e-mail message to the whole staff saying that she did not order them and if parents complained to send them to the director.

He approached me with one of the books in his hand the next day and said, “This has a good storyline, if you like Sci-Fi.” I quickly walked back to my office while saying, “No, I do not!” My office co-worker heard the exchange and said that he had a lot of nerve trying to show me those novels since I was the one that reported him for the sexual harassment. We then realized that he read these novels and he was using his position as the director to get the library to buy these books for him. This was also his way to get his predominantly female staff to look at pictures of scantily clad women, he obviously gets a sick thrill out of this since he put the pages from Victoria’s Secret catalog in my drawer and he required the children’s librarian to look at the books as part of her job. I took pictures of the pages the children’s librarian had put post-it notes on so that I had these as evidence for the EEOC investigation. I will describe some of those pictures now. Picture #1- was a head and bust shot of a woman, a raven haired beauty with ample cleavage. Picture #2- was of a man throwing the entire contents of his wine glass into a woman’s cleavage. (A clear sign of disrespect for women and their bodies, I guess the director wanted to pass this disrespect on to younger generations.) Pictures # 3 & 4 were the cover of the novels- both had a buxom woman wearing a flowing outfit that shows plenty of skin. I realize that there are worse reading material out there but, remember that the director wanted these materials to go into the young adult area (ages 12-18). These are the wrong images and stereotypes to sow into young peoples minds.

Despite all of my evidence, e-mails, packing lists, pictures, and the notes of the city’s investigation where my co-workers backed me up; the local EEOC ruled in the directors’ favor. I was also documenting everything that happened on my calendar so that I knew specific dates. One date in particular, Sept. 21, 2003, was when M. was caught with his pants down in the break room. I also included the information about M. in my complaint with the local EEOC. That part of my complaint was never investigated!!! This state EEOC rules in the favor of the perpetrator 90% of the time and the statistics on their website bear this out. I looked up the statistics for the month that my case was reviewed and the results were that 89% of the cases were “No Reasonable Cause” and 11% were “Reasonable Cause”.

I had to finally quit because the retaliation was taking a big toll on my health. I have come to the conclusion that bullying and sexual harassment harms more than just individuals. In my case, it was also harming the community because it robbed us of the best people that used to work for the library. If you’re reading this and you’re worried that this might be a description of your public library then start looking around and asking questions. The library that I am describing could very well be yours.

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