Thursday, February 12, 2009

Who Do You Believe?

Quite a few years ago, I worked in a big hardware store.

As the Security Cashier, it was my job to hole up in a locked room and count all the money that had been handled the previous day. Normally I was done by lunchtime, and if my boss wasn't willing to let me go home early, I would go downstairs and wander around the departments, talking to customers and co-workers.

One day, while I was still upstairs, I overheard some DIRT. It was a busy day, and the head of Customer Service was swamped with lines of customers at the checkout stations. He called for backup; it was his job to do so.

At such a call, anyone who could run a cash register was to get to the front of the store and facilitate the customers getting their merchandise paid for. On this particular day, however, several Department Managers were having a chatfest, and completely ignored his call. Frustrated, he called the boss and complained. The boss came downstairs and instructed the Department Managers that it was their responsibility to help at the cash registers. (Re-instructed, that is, as they all knew what they were supposed to have done.)

The DIRT I overheard was that the Department Managers were furious that the fellow had complained about them. It was then that I decided to go downstairs and watch the drama. (Yes, that's low entertainment, but it was better than sitting in the vault room reading a magazine.)

Mabel (not her real name, of course) was a Big Dog at the store. She was a good worker and was well-respected, and indeed she was an Alpha personality and she expected respect. She had also been my trainer when I first joined the organization, and I suspected that she would tell me what had happened, me being one of her star pupils who made good.

I was right, Mabel TOLD ALL, not only because she was incensed about being reprimanded, but also because she hated the Customer Service dude personally. Then she did something I never forgot: she picked up the phone at her desk and began to punch numbers. "That's it. I'm going to get that little son of a bitch."

Her statement put me into a frame of mind that said, "Too Much Information," so I left, not wishing to know what kind of revenge she was planning.

In a matter of days it was obvious: she had placed a call to the corporate office and accused the Customer Service dude of sexual harassment. In addition, she called as an additional witness one of the cashiers (let's call her "Mitzi") to say that Customer Service Dude upset her by making sexual advances, and when she declined to go out with him on a date, began to pick on her, criticizing her work.

Mabel's plan worked like a dream. Mitzi came to the meeting between Human Resources and the Customer Service Dude dressed modestly, her makeup tasteful, her hair so perfect that Mary Poppins would have beamed upon her. Somehow, her sloppy and inaccurate paperwork and cash totals were not considered a reason for him to "pick on her." And he was removed from his position, a position he didn't particularly like, but was necessary for him to advance into management. He was shattered. He went home, went out and got drunk, got pulled over and taken to jail, had no way to post bail, missed three days of work, and was fired.

What a dumb ass.

What he should have done was call the big boss downstairs and have Mitzi written up for coming on to him and rubbing her tits on his arm the first time she did it -- sexual harassment isn't always about men bothering women. But he didn't; Mitzi was by far the prettiest employee that store had -- and has -- ever seen. She was gorgeous, outrageously vulgar, hotter than habanero peppers, and flirted with anything that appeared to have a dick as part of its operating system. He should have known better than to let her put her hands on him and hang onto his arm in mock arguments, but he didn't. And maybe he should have seen that she was one of Mabel's pets, and maybe he should have known better than to mess with Mabel at all -- I knew those things and I didn't even work downstairs at the time.

Ah, well. Eventually Mabel and another one of her pets took jobs at a warehouse west of here, and I never heard about them again. Mitzi charmed someone in management and was transferred out of cashiering into a department, then another department, and whether it was the hard work or her drug and alcohol abuse, she just was one day ... no longer an employee.

When it comes to sexual harrassment, everyone loses. If you're jolly about flirting, you're sexually harrassing. If you're not, and won't stand for flirting or dirty talk, you're a puritanical old bore.

For the record, when I found out Customer Service Dude lost his battle, I did tell the big Boss what I'd heard and seen, including Mabel coaching Mitzi on what to say. He just looked at his shoes and said nothing; he knew, too.

1 comment:

Lydia Manx said...

The scary thing is how easy it is to slander someone and there isn't a lot of recourse.