You Thought THAT Was Outrageous Sexual Harassment? No, THIS Is Outrageous Sexual Harassment…

Yes, disbarred judge Ted Abrams’conduct was terrible.  His harassing behavior towards a female lawyer, however, was chivalry itself compared to what Derek Wright, the owner of Pleasant Grove-based Lone Peak Controls and D& L Electric Control Company, subjected the company’s office manager to during her five year tenure, before he fired her for complaining about him.

In her sexual harassment law suit filed this week, Trudy Nycole Anderson alleges that Wright…

  • Gave her a Monday-through-Friday “schedule” outlining what she should wear, with “Mini-skirt Monday,” “Tube-top Tuesday,” “Wet T-shirt Wednesday,” “No bra Thursday” and “Bikini top Friday.”
  • Repeatedly asked her about her breast size and talked about her breasts in front of other employees.
  • Asked her to show him her breasts.
  • Inquired about whether she shaved her pubic area.
  •  …Slapped Anderson on her buttocks at least twice.
  • Asked her for oral sex on several occasions.
  • …. Said he would give her a mammogram for free.
  • Told her  he was installing a shower in the office so the two could shower together.
  • Offered her a recipe for “sex cake.”
  • Sprayed a substance around the office, saying it was meant to arouse women.
  • Gave  her a document to sign stating that she would agree to allow him to sexually harass her. If Anderson didn’t sign the document, Wright told her, she would lose her job.

Wright knew Anderson was a single mother of three, and Anderson speculates that he thought he could engage in such conduct because she couldn’t afford to quit her job.

Anderson is suing under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming she reported the sexual harassment and Wright retaliated by firing her in February 2011, and is also suing for battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress; and intentional infliction of emotional distress. If there is any justice, she should own the company when all the suing is done.

I want to know, however, by what diseased mind and de-magnetized moral compass could a superior treat any woman like this? There are eleven examples of harassing conduct listed among Anderson’s allegations, and any one of them would easily support a verdict of sexual harassment by creating a hostile work environment. These were also undoubtedly accompanied by a non-stop string of looks, leers, snickers, remarks, and less offensive conduct that was nonetheless rude, suggestive and oppressive. What did this environment do to the psyches and self-respect of the other female employees in this company over five years? How did the rest of the men act, if the boss was behaving this way? In five years, why didn’t anyone help Trudy Nycole Anderson? Thanks to Wright, the entire culture in the organization was rotten and ethically inert.

I have never written this or even thought it, but Wright has convinced me. There is a need for a criminal sexual harassment statute to cover outrageous, cruel, inhuman, bullying conduct like this for the purpose of using the power of employment to force a woman into unwanted and involuntary sex. Call it “Attempted Power Rape,” or “Criminal Sexual Predatory Conduct in the Workplace,”  or something that comes closer to describing the daily abuse Anderson suffered at the hands of  this unspeakable pig. “Harassment” doesn’t come close to describing what Derek Wright did to Trudy Anderson.

9 thoughts on “You Thought THAT Was Outrageous Sexual Harassment? No, THIS Is Outrageous Sexual Harassment…

  1. Hang on a moment there, Jack. I could be wrong, but I seem to recall at least one earlier Ethics Alarm post decrying knee-jerk laws created in reaction to specific examples of particularly egregious behavior.

    Irrespective of the above: If Ms. Anderson’s allegations are proven, this man will probably lose his business and most of his life’s savings. That’s absolutely as it should be (one might feel sorry for the other employees, but if the claims are legitimate none of what was happening to her could possibly have been a secret and those employees were effectively, if not directly, complicit. As you say, “the entire culture in the organization was rotten and ethically inert”). That’s a pretty significant punishment.

    More importantly: societies can, do and should make criminal laws in reaction to certain types of bad behavior. But your call for same in this case is troublesome, in two regards:

    1) Where does one set the threshold between sexual harassment as a tort and sexual harassment as a crime? There have been enough cases in tort law where the lines between whether actual harassment occurred is fuzzy. Add criminal statutes and you’re likely to produce some significant unintended consequences.

    2) Is there actually enough behavior out there that crosses this threshold to warrant such a law? Maybe. But it would seem unwise to create a law in reaction to one case of spectacularly bad behavior. If harassment on this scale is common, there may be justification to consider some form of criminal statute – provided that a clear and reasonable threshold can be identified.

    • Excellent point, Arthur, and an important one; I like it a lot—in part because, as you say, it is my own. But I don’t think it applies here. I am not suggesting an over-broad, knee-jerk law in emotional response to a rare incident that has already done its harm; the is not Barn Door Fallacy stuff. Sexual harassment law on the civil side is already fact specific and full of borderline calls…the hostile work environment element often rests on completely subjective reactions to conduct that might strike a different person as harmless or even welcome, rendering it rude but not a Title VII violation. There is nothing especially daunting or difficult about proving a criminal violation that isn’t endemic to all litigation disputes. Both civil and criminal laws can be misinterpreted and lead to injustice. The question is whether a criminal law is needed, and whether civil penalties are enough to both discourage offenders and protect victims.
      They should be, but this incident convinces me that for a small, vile, determined group of sexual predators, they are not. The essential element of a criminal law would have to be the most offensive, blatant, and easy to prove of the forms of sexual harassment: quid pro quo harassment, in which a supervisor or employer requires sexual performance as a condition of continued employment. I see little distinction between this and extortion, which is a crime—not when it involves conduct as egregious as Wrights. (Is this situation unique or rare? I work in this area, and once I would have said “yes.” It is not rare enough, and the threat of criminal penalties might make it rarer—and if not, they would at least put sociopaths like Wright behind bars for subjecting a woman to such threats and indignities.) The smoking gun is the document she was asked to sign…”Let me do what I want, or I’ll fire you.” He knew she was a single mother in a bad economy. This is the equivalent of a gun to the head. I see no good reason not to make this sort of thing a crime.

      What changed my mind about the issue is the fact that Anderson had to put up with this barrage for 5 years. I can’t imagine the toll it took. My question for you is, why wouldn’t this be a crime? Why isn’t using the loss of a steady income for someone supporting a family to coerce unwanted sexual submission regarded as just as objectionable as forcing a woman to have sex at knife point? I think I know why.

      At the time sexual harassment laws were passed, quid pro quo harassment had been standard practice for centuries. Producers and directors hired starlets expecting to sleep with them; those who refused were fired and ruined. Executives hired secretaries with the tacit understanding that they were expected to “put out.” It was a bulwark of a make dominated workplace. Men passed Title VII, and they were easy on themselves—they wanted to change the culture, but they didn’t want to be too hard on the “old-fashioned guys” who wouldn’t be able change what they were raised to believe wasn’t wrongful conduct in the first place. (I was intimately involved in a such a case in the 80’s. The harasser, to his dying day, believed that he wasn’t doing anything wrong.) Well, they have had three decades, and for some bosses it just hasn’t sunk in. The culture has changed a great deal, making conduct like Wright’s comparatively worse and even less forgivable. It’s time.

      • “Sexual harassment law on the civil side is already fact specific and full of borderline calls…the hostile work environment element often rests on completely subjective reactions to conduct that might strike a different person as harmless or even welcome, rendering it rude but not a Title VII violation. There is nothing especially daunting or difficult about proving a criminal violation that isn’t endemic to all litigation disputes. Both civil and criminal laws can be misinterpreted and lead to injustice.”

        Therein the conundrum. As you note, “subjective reactions” are at the core of many complaints, and it seems to me that the evolution of what’s now legally construed as harassment is an outgrowth of rulemaking and trial precedent, rather than specific US Code. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_harassment#United_States. (yeah, yeah, Wiki’s got its issues…)

        Let me toss a hypothetical at you. Employee is mad at the boss and convinces the cops that boss made sexual advances in violation of law. Boss gets arrested, perpwalked, blasted in the local media and as a result the business tanks. And oh by the way – boss has to hire a very expensive defense attorney (yes, boss would need defense in tort action, but probably less expensive). Case gets looked by DA and may or may not get tossed out at that point.

        Either way, significant damage is done to both the business and the boss. The media pays more attention to alleged criminal activity than it does to disputes, even if those involve litigation. Point being that the boss incurs massive expense, negative publicity for the business and reduced standing in the community. Meantime, the aggrieved employee gets slapped with a small fine for filing a false police report. Add perjury if they testify falsely during discovery or at trial, but as noted, the damage to the boss and business is already done.

        In the case you cite in the OP, the existence of the “contract” would certainly seem to represent a sufficient threshold for such a criminal law, were one to be created. But wouldn’t the bar most likely be set lower? And how often does such clear evidence actually exist?

        In your excellent post today about the brouhaha at Widener, you make the point that in today’s world we are at risk from both those who are easily offended, even if no offense has occurred and those whose brains are “liquefied by political correctness” (great line, btw). We certainly agree that injustice occurs in both criminal and tort cases, and I’m certainly not arguing in defense of slimeballs like the one for which this unfortunate gal found herself working.. I would suggest instead that the potential for injustice is very significant here. A body on the floor with two in the hat is pretty certain to be a murder victim. The evidence of crime in a harassment case would typically seem to be less clear – and the system as it currently works seems at least somewhat effective.

        In other words: is it actually broke? Do we really need to fix it?

        • All legitimate concerns. Yes, I think it is broke.

          In your hypo, you are adding lots of other unethical conduct—a bogus complaint, a perp walk (which should be banned), an unsupported arrest. These are all general problems with criminal enforcement generally. Is this any worse or more unjust for a boss than an unfairly accused wife-beater? Look at the IMF chief’s rape arrest. You wouldn’t argue that we shouldn’t arrest men for legitimate rape because this rape accusation may have been weak.

          The bar for any arrest and prosecution should be high—it is ethically required to be high. If an employee being extorted for sex can’t show collaborating evidence or testimony, then there;s no case. In Wright’s case, if there was a criminal charge, the question would be whether he was “just” harassing her hoping to get lucky (the old joke: “Sometimes they say yes!”), or whether there was an overt, rather than implied threat.

          As I said, I have never even thought about such a law before. But the civil remedies are not proportional to 5 years of this kind of relentless coercion.
          Luckily, I don’t have to draft such a law. It could be done well…whether it would be is another question.

  2. Rare for me, but I am virtually speechless, except insofar as Trudy Anderson, a single mother during a deep economic depression, was afraid enough to put up with the pig Wright for as long as she did. Some specific, and worse, act on Wright’s part must have prompted her resignation and suit. Perhaps we’ll learn about it when the trial begins… and I hope very much that she doesn’t take a settlement: I’d like to see Wright on the stand, along with all the other employees who stood by and watch this happen.

  3. Strangely, although you admit that the woman “alleges” these things, and that these are her “allegations,” the rest of your post seems to treat them as proven fact, going so far as to call the defendant a “sociopath” based on nothing more than the complaint filed last week.

    (As for the comparison between this (alleged) situation and that of the judge, it seems to me that the judge’s behavior is worse. This woman could find a new job, in order to get away from this guy — but an attorney has no way to avoid a judge.)

    • 1. It’s not strange. I work in this area. It would be virtually unprecedented for such a long and bizarre list of harassment episodes to be fabricated. I’ll follow what happens, and if he is exonerated,I promise that I will run naked through the Library of Congress. (It’s not going to happen.) If there is a lawsuit, there are witnesses, and she has, for example, the “dress code”. That alone is hostile environment stuff

      2. You’re wrong. A lawyer can avoid a judge exactly as she did; or she can shift jurisdictions, or change jobs herself. And there is a disciplinary procedure in place for judges and lawyers. I think the judge’s conduct is worse from an ethics point of view, because he is a professional and has obligations to the justice system as well as to others in the workplace. But his conduct was not as long standing or egregious. It did include retaliation for refusing sexual advances,which is also quid pro quo. But a lawyer is not as vulnerable as a single mother. Saying she can just quit strikes me as mighty flip. It’s not like she can hang out her own shingle and manage an office as a solo practitioner.

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