Friday, October 23, 2009

Courage to be Different

I am back to writing about clients.  I want to write by a young woman who was, in her own way, a maverick.  Diane (not her real name) was a young widow with two small children she needed to support.  Diane had never finished high school and her job prospects were poor.  She knew it was incumbent upon her to put food in the mouths of her children.   She could not type and she had no high school education.  Diane decided to do something different, to get a job in a typically male field, because those fields paid more money.

Diane applied for, and got, a job in a warehouse driving a forklift.  Few women worked in the warehouse and no other women in that warehouse were young and beautiful besides Diane.  Diane thought she had the protection of a union that protected the men, but she was wrong.  There was no one in that warehouse to protect Diane.

When Diane started working in the warehouse, she was a novelty and most of the men did not like that she worked there.  The men made crude comments about her body, asked her for sex, tried to touch her and generally made her life hell.  When Diane complained to her supervisor, her complaints fell on deaf ears.  The men brought a blow-up doll into the office and wrote things about Diane on the doll.  One day Diane was unloading a truck when she found a sketch of a naked woman with her legs spread eagle, with Diane's name written about the sketch.  Diane was humiliated.  When she complained, one of the older workers pretended as if he was going to run Diane down with his forklift.  Her life at work was a living hell and she had to quit.

When we prepared for trial, the defense attempted to present a witness, a former boyfriend of Diane's, who wanted to claim that Diane and he had had sex in the aisles at work.  The judge would not let the defendant offer that evidence.  It was not true.  Diane had broken up with this guy when she caught him hitting her child.

During the defense of the case, the opposing cancel tried to claim Diane was a money grubber because she had received a wrongful death settlement for the death of her husband.  The judge kept it out.  The defense also told the jury that, hey, this wasn't a law office, this was a warehouse, what did she expect?  Apparently,
that did not set well with the jury and they rendered a verdict for Diane.

Diane's case reminded me of how hard it is for someone to bring a case like this.  The employer wants to tear the plaintiff's reputation and character down.  It can take it's toll.  Diane appeared to lose weight during the week of trial.  She appeared tired, with dark circles under her eyes.  The trial was hard on her.  I hope she felt vindicated, she should.  But, no one deserves the denigration and disrespect that plaintiff's are subjected to in sexual harassment cases.

This case was in 1996.  We generally no longer see sexual harassment cases with as egregious conduct as was used in Diane's case.  Perhaps Diane had something to do with that, in a small way, by bring this case.  I hope so.  She did win and recover a decent money judgment, but money is a poor substitute for dignity and respect.  I hope Diane knows she made a difference.

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