Thursday, June 26, 2008

Why do employees keep quiet? They don't know what else to do

I'm not an attorney or a judge, so I'm not qualified to interpret statutes regarding workplace violence issues. But I did find a interesting case that was tried in the state of California.

One would think that the Washington State House of Representatives would report episodes of physical assault and death threats to appropriate law enforcement agencies.But they did not. At least, not when it happened to me.

What do I mean when I refer to episodes of physical assault? Here's an example. Shortly after I returned to the office from a meeting with House Human Resources staff, (they called the meeting) Rep. Dunn took me into his office, sat me down in a chair, and after pinning my hands to the desk, slapped me.

The slap, he said, was a warning. Do not speak with Sharon Hayward or Jamie Daniels again.(I reported the assault to the Sexual Harassment Liaison, who, in turn, reported it to Human Resources). The Liaison's office was next to mine. I was instructed by Ms. Ward not to report the assault to the Olympia police, that the incident would be handled in house. (We have State Patrol on campus).

The Sexual Harassment Liaison told me during the interview that I was not the first woman that Dunn had hit on campus during regular working hours.

Why am I going public now? I certainly have nothing to gain from this. I never filed a lawsuit or any other action. At the time, all I wanted to do is put a stop to the threats and the abuse. That's why I left Olympia.

But I do hope the Washington State Legislature stops covering up episodes of Workplace Violence and credible threats against legislative employees.

Legislative employees should not be sacrificed to "keep secrets" about bad behavior from members of the public. Not only did I lose a job I loved. I lost the job that was listed in my high school annual as my dream job. The job that I went to college to obtain. I also lost nine years of wages and retirement.

Private employers can not "opt out" from harassment and assault laws, so why should the legislature or any other government agency be allowed to do so?

The legislature is one of the most exciting places to work in Washington, that is, unless you are assigned to work for an individual who has violent tendencies.

For the record, I was assigned to two other House members while I worked in Olympia and thoroughly enjoyed working for both men. The majority of elected officials do not behave the way Rep. Dunn behaves.

I left the legislature in the fall of 1999. It's been nine years since I was forced to leave my job; and, - I'm still receiving death threats related to my former employment with Rep. Jim Dunn?

It has become clear to me that if I want to have a normal life, I need to speak out about what happened to me publicly.

So, here it goes.

A short time line - this is hardly a full report:

Early in 1999, Rep. Dunn sent me pornographic videos by e-mail from the Floor of the House while the House was in Session. I reported receiving the videos to Human Resources. The e-mail may still be available through a public disclosure request. Despite claims to the contary, members of the media and public have access to legislative e-mail and coummunications. Electronic communications can be viewed by the public.

I began receiving controlling telephone calls and e-mail from Dunn, informing me that: "I have people watching you, I know when you leave your desk - I don't want you talking to anyone except me."

During 1999, my work computer was repeatedly hacked into. Dunn couldn't find anything personal on it. House Computer staff locked him out a number of times, so he attempted to hack in to my e-mail system on my home computer located in Bellingham. He crashed the entire House e-mail system while writing rules to re-direct e-mail from my home computer to his legislative computer. My IP service, Bossig, out of the Tri-Cities, crashed too.

I met with Human Resources staff at their request. They met with Rep. Dunn shortly afterwards. When Dunn returned to the office after the meeting, he threatened to have two Clark County Deputies drown me if I ever spoke with Jamie Daniels or Sharon Hayward again. The Sexual Harassment Liaison told me, he's only bluffing...I guess I was the only one who wasn't laughing.

After another meeting with leadership, he returned to the office and told me he had informed leadership that he would switch parties if they attempted to discipline him again. The House was split 50/50. A large number of employees would lose their jobs if he switched parties.

Rep. Dunn tried to force me to move into a rental that he had a key to. He didn't like my landlord (she was one of the House Sexual Harassment Liaisons) I refused and he showered me with verbal abuse in front of a group of college students. He threatened to fire me if I did not move into the rental.

Human Resources removed me from his office (for the second time) and placed me in another department. I was assigned a new e-mail address and given a new telephone number. I was told not to leave the office for coffee breaks or lunch because Rep. Dunn was roaming the halls in search of me.

Eventually, Rep. Dunn found me. He copied me on all of his e-mails and ordered me to prepare responses. He sent other e-mails ordering me to do legislative research and prepare documents for him. He ordered me back to the office. (Human Resources had taken me away from him).

Once again, Human Resources had a computer technican change all of my contact information to stop Rep. Dunn from harassing me.

Finally, on my "last" day in Olympia, as I was leaving work, Rep. Dunn stopped me. More threats. I was frightened half to death. I tried to report the incident, but Human Resources staff was already gone for the day.

I arrived home in Bellingham on a Friday night at 8 pm and collapsed from fatigue, stress and high blood pressure. My M.D. sent a letter to Human Resources placing me on medical leave.

Sharon Hayward called in September of 1999 and we discussed my return to Olympia. She told me that there were no other positions for me, except with Rep. Jim Dunn.

My husband and I talked at length about these events during my medical leave and decided that we needed to seek expert help. (my husband was a supervisor at Georgia Pacific). I met with a counselor who was knowledgeable about workplace violence and harassment. He recommended that I not return to Olympia. Not even to get my clothes and belongings.

Ultimately, after weighing all of the facts, we decided, as a couple, that it was no longer safe for me to work in Olympia, even if I went to work for a different agency.

Do I have evidence? Yes. It's stored in a safe place out of state just in case I get hit with a SLAPP suit.

Here is the California case I referred to earlier. Maybe it can be of some assistance to other employees who are going through this.

A California Court of Appeal recently ruled in Franklin v. The Monadnock Company that an employee fired for complaining to the company's human resources department and the police department about threats of workplace violence has a valid claim against the employer for wrongful termination.

Why? Because public policy requires employers to provide a safe and secure workplace and encourage employees to report credible threats of violence in the workplace.

Even an at-will employee - one who may be terminated without cause - may have a legal claim if fired for complaining to his employer or the police that he feels threatened in the workplace. This right stems from the well-recognized concept that an employee can bring a lawsuit against his employer if he is discharged for performing an act in line with public policy.

As the Court of Appeal held, the difficulty lies in determining where and how to distinguish between claims that genuinely involve matters of public policy, and those that concern merely ordinary disputes between an employer and its employee.

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