Can Sexual Harassment in Broome County be Swept Away?
Broome County – Binghamton. Three-hours and fifteen-minute drive north from Manhattan. The great Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, was born in Syracuse, New York, to a Jewish family, but spent most of his youth 70 miles south in the city of Binghamton after his family moved there in 1926. In 1975, the Canadian rock band Rush dedicated its third studio album, Caress of Steel, to Serling. Their fourth album, 2112, includes a song entitled "The Twilight Zone", in which the two verses are each based on an episode of the series. But unlike The Twilight Zone TV show, this week’s episode of Cup of Joe is a story about an employee’s workplace that became a nightmare – and it is real. The employee worked as a developmental aid for Broome Developmental Center, a residential facility overseen by the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.
Submitted for your approval: The case of one Dorothy Reynolds who sued her former boss, Steve Bezek, a man who amused himself on the job with unrelenting amorous advances aimed at Dorothy with salacious words and lascivious acts. We are in an office in Central New York, like any other office where people come to work every day to do a job, make some money and come home to their loved ones. Steve Bezek would not allow Dorothy to have that life. She went to her supervisors and the proper departments, but no one would help her. So Dorothy sued Bezek and her company. This is her trial:
TESTIMONY OF DOROTHY:
Q: Bezek was your supervisor?
A: Yes. He was my boss. He was very nice to me when I started, but then he started getting weird.
Q: What do you mean by weird?
A: Well, his behavior started out with making inappropriate comments, and then it got worse. He started putting his hands on me.
Q: What do you mean by inappropriate comments?
A: Asking me outright to have sex with him and expose my breasts to him.
Q: And you said “putting his hands on you?”
A: Bezek grabbed my backside on several different occasions. He tried to lift up my shirt. A couple of times he would not stop rubbing my shoulders, and smelling my hair, and pushing himself up against me.
Q: Did you tell Bezek on any of those occasions that it was okay to touch you?
A: Oh, no! He was disgusting. Anytime he touched me, even from the beginning, I told him to stop. But he just got worse. You know, more bold. And more weird.
Q: More bold and more weird?
A: Yes. One day….I’m sorry. One day, at work, Bezek came over to my desk. There was no one else around. He came over and he obviously was sexually aroused. He had this angry look and he…he grabbed his erection and told me that I had caused his arousal.
Q: You reported Bezek’s behavior to HR?
A: I did. It was ridiculous. After I reported it the other supervisors did not believe me. And people in the office started calling me names. I had reported the retaliation to a total of four supervisors, including the HR supervisor, and nothing was done.
Q: I notice that there was no indication that you mentioned the incidents to the supervisors about Bezek’s arousal or lifting up the shirt until today.
A: The incidents were embarrassing and very upsetting and traumatic. None of the people I spoke to seemed interested in what I had to say. I was never asked to give details about Bezek’s words or actions or the derogatory names I was called. I did submit 10 pages of handwritten notes describing Bezek's harassing behavior and the hostility I endured from coworkers.
Q: How did your working conditions change after you filed the complaint against Bezek?
A: I was called names and subjected to unfavorable work assignments and other retaliatory behavior.
Q: Were you and Bezek separated?
A: Yes. I was eventually moved to a different unit, but was still "pulled" on a few occasions back to Bezek's unit. They did nothing to Bezek.
TESTIMONY OF THE HUMAN RESOURCES SUPERVISOR:
Q: You do recall that Dorothy complained about Bezek?
A: Yes. I met with Dorothy and Bezek during the investigation.
Q: What was the result of your investigation?
A: Inconclusive, based upon unresolved credibility determinations as to what had taken place.
Q: I have here your report. There are no questions asked of Dorothy regarding the specifics of her allegations during the investigation.
A: That is correct. I had concluded that there were no witnesses to Bezek's conduct toward Dorothy.
Q: But, sir, you took no investigative steps to determine if there were witnesses?
Q: And your report contains no indication that you contacted other supervisors or coworkers to see if Dorothy had reported Bezek's sexual harassment to them?
A: I did not do that.
Q: And Dorothy had reported that she had faced hostility and anger from her coworkers when she was transferred to different units ahead of more senior people.
A: That is accurate.
Q: And Bezek was not transferred or put on Administrative leave?
A: He was not.
Q: And, in fact, Bezek is still a supervisor at the office?
A: Yes. Look, this was a “He said-She Said” situation.
Q: Really? Okay. Thank you.
TESTIMONY OF DOROTHY’S HUSBAND:
Q: Did you observe any changes in Dorothy’s personality during the time that she complained to her job about Bezek’s behavior?
A: Oh, yeah. She was a mess. She suffered from panic attacks, became very anxious, sought mental health treatment and became a "zombie" on the medication that was prescribed to alleviate those symptoms.
CROSS-EXAMINATION OF THE HUSBAND:
Q: Sir, you care very much for your wife, don’t you?
A: Yes, very much.
Q: And you would do anything to help her win this case?
A: Not lie.
Q: And you would do anything because you will get to share any money if she is awarded any in this case.
A: Of course I will share. Just like I had to share the ruined life of a person who was ignored when she was being tortured by her boss.
Q: And…. Nothing further.
DEFENDANTS’ CLOSING ARGUMENTS:
Members of the jury, this is nothing more than a “She-said, He-said” situation. Everyone wants to hop on the #MeToo bandwagon and have their payday. Not one witness was presented by Dorothy to tell us about all of these terrible things that happened to her over a 2-month period. Really? Is that all it takes? We have no photos, no recordings, no corroboration of any kind. I know it is not easy to send home someone who sues with no money. But it is just as bad to hold someone responsible for something, I submit to you, that never happened. Please allow my client to go on with his life.
PLAINTIFF’S CLOSING ARGUMENTS:
Allowing something like this to happen in this day and age…is just mind boggling. Dorothy did everything she was supposed to do. She complained to all the people she was supposed to complain to. No one would listen. No one would investigate. No one would help. Every day that Dorothy passed through the doors of her office building she entered a twilight zone just waiting to see how much further Bezek would go. What disgusting words would be uttered today? What part of Dorothy’s body would be violated today? I am alone. People of the jury, Dorothy is not alone. Dorothy has you. And you have the power to hold the Defendants accountable for allowing this shameful behavior from taking place.
THE JURY’S VERDICT:
We the Jury, find the Defendants liable for sexual harassment and retaliation. Dorothy is awarded $250,000. (Upheld on appeal).
Dorothy is one of us: a human being determined to prevail in the world that was, and the world that is, or the world that could be, in the Twilight Zone.
See you next week.
Here is the case: http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2020/2020_00897.htm