Wednesday, October 20, 2010
My wife's comment on the David Jones sexual harassment case sums it up nicely: "She's stupid. He's stupid." In too much of the commentary we've seen a knee-jerk tendency to assume that everything and anything said and done by a woman accusing a harassing male employer must be right-on and striking a blow for women's rights, regardless of its wisdom.
I agree publicist Kristy Fraser-Kirk was right to complain about DJ's boss Mark McInnes's harassment in the first place and good on for sticking to her guns. She achieved a remarkable David vs Goliath victory - forcing his resignation and being offered a princely settlement reported to be in the region of $850,000 into the bargain. Game set and match to Fraser-Kirk - until she decided it wasn't.
Quickly losing her credibility was her decision to then follow-up with an outlandish $34 million law suit that made her look fixated on a revenge that she'd already had. Or maybe she was just manipulated by her lawyers. Or both.
The outcome? Having exacted justice - the DJ's share price had already plummeted and DJs lost the CEO who had successfully turned the company around - Fraser-Kirk then launches her legal action via a press conference and then hypocritically complains that media coverage has affected her psychologically (probably true but how naive/ stupid not to forsee this as a very real possibility).
At the weekend it emerged she had wound up getting exactly what DJ's had offered to settle for the first time around. Then having previously announced she will donate the money to charity, she decided to keep it after all.
A woman who began with lots of sympathy has made many people question her actions as OTT and instead of advancing the cause of anti-sexual harassment has discredited it in the eyes of many folks. women included, who should be naturally sympathetic. Well done!
In the meantime a lawyer specialising in sexual harassment told SBS's Insight program recently that the case has led to an "over-reaction" in the corporate world with many people accused of "minor" breaches now losing their jobs (a minor breach being, what, asking out? Flirting? Compliments about a dress?). That doesn't look much like justice either.
Sexual harassment - ie, sustained, repeated behaviour that the recipient makes clear is unwelcome - is a form of bullying. It's no better nor worse than any other non-sexual bullying and if it extends to physical assault then that's a matter for the police. Bullying (which includes shouting at or swearing at an employee) should not be tolerated in any workplace.
While following this case I was intrigued by accusations made by two or three former DJs employees commenting on websites to the effect that a deplorable culture of bullying had existed at the department store. If true - and having not worked there I'm in no position to make that judgment - then it puts the behaviour that led to McInnes losing his job into a broader context.
These serious accusations about the DJ's work culture were conveniently overlooked in all the commentary surrounding the case. I'm assuming this is because they didn't fit into the pious narrative adopted by Fraser-Kirk's most dedicated supporters - the one that had men automatically besmirched as oppressors and women as their victims.
While there may be elements of truth in some cases (and some industries may be worse than others) the real world is a complex place. I've observed and been subjected to bullying in the workplace from both men and women - sad to say, I suspect so has at least half the population. All workplace harassment - sexual and otherwise - needs to be taken seriously, regardless of gender.