Fran Gibson was placed in an awkward position when Jennifer Chung, a financial analyst in Ken Hamilton’s Department came into her office at 6:45 a.m. to complain about Ken’s ‘off-color’ comments made her when they were alone within a month after Jennifer joined Thompson. According to Jennifer, the situation worsen. Jennifer told Fran that Ken would leer her, put his arm over her shoulder when they were reviewing reports, patted her rear. Jennifer stated that every time one of these occurrences happened, she would ask him to stop it and not to do it again. However, according to Jennifer, it fell on deaf ears.
Fran had to decide how to respond to Jennifer’s complaint since sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC’s guidelines define two types of sexual harassment: “quid pro quo” and “hostile environment.”
Being the highest ranking woman at Thompson, Fran understood that unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute “quid pro quo” sexual harassment when
- submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment,
- submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual.
Fran also understood that unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute “hostile environment” sexual harassment when such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.
According to the EEOC, the central inquiry is whether the conduct “unreasonably interfered with an individual’s work performance” or created “an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” According to Chandra Calhoun, Director of Human Resources at the Jackson International Airport, the EEOC look at the following factors to determine whether an environment is hostile:
- whether the conduct was verbal or physical or both;
- how frequently it was repeated;
- whether the conduct was hostile or patently offensive;
- whether the alleged harasser was a co worker or supervisor;
- whether others joined in perpetrating the harassment;
- whether the harassment was directed at more than one individual.
No one factor controls. An assessment is made based upon the totality of the circumstances. Ms. Calhoun further stated that sexual conduct becomes unlawful only when it is unwelcome. The challenged conduct must be unwelcome in the sense that the employee did not solicit or incite it, and in the sense that the employee regarded the conduct as undesirable or offensive.
When confronted with conflicting evidence as to whether conduct was welcome, According to Ms. Calhoun, the EEOC will look at the record as a whole and at the totality of the circumstances, evaluating each situation on a case-by-case basis. The investigation should determine whether the victim’s conduct was consistent, or inconsistent, with his/her assertion that the sexual conduct was unwelcome.
The victim may be a women or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex. The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. The harasser may be a woman or a man. He or she can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, and a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
According to Ms. Calhoun, Jennifer Chung did the correct thing by informing Ken that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. Ms. Calhoun stated that it is important for the victim to communicate that the conduct is unwelcome, particularly when the alleged harasser may have some reason to believe that the advance may be welcomed. However, a victim of harassment need not always confront his/her harasser directly, so long as his/her conduct demonstrates that the harasser’s behavior is unwelcome. The victim should also use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available. If these methods are ineffective, the victim should contact the EEOC as soon as possible.
Since Jennifer may have ground(s) for legal recourse, Fran needs to carefully analyze the situation before making a decision. Possible negative consequences could mean that she could be named as a party in a lawsuit since Jennifer has informed her of the alleged sexual harassment. Also, if Fran address this issue, she may be alienated from management, since the case noted that Thompson’s management was “old fashioned.’
Fran also has a political dilemma since she recently was contacted by an executive search recruiter inquiring about her interest in the position of vice president and regional manager for a national drugstore. After a series of interviews, the recruiter informed Fran that she was one of the two finalists for the job.
The only person at Thompson who knew that Fran was looking at this other job was her good friend and colleague, Ken Hamilton, the director of finance for the grocery chain. Fran considered Ken as a friend and asked him if she could use him as a reference. Ken was the only person at Thompson who knew that Fran was considering another job because management at Thompson was old-fashioned, placing a high value on loyalty. Particularly, Fran’s was in a political dilemma because Jennifer Chung, a financial analyst in his department, is accusing the person, Ken Hamilton, whom she trusted and confided in, for sexual harassment.
Fran was also faced with an ethical dilemma: does she do what is right and moral and possible sacrifice long term personal gains or does she turn her back on Thompson and what Jennifer Chung is telling her. Being that Fran is the highest-ranking woman at Thompson, she must decide if she has an obligation to address this issue.
Ethically, I feel that Fran has a moral obligation to be loyal to Thompson, preventing possible lawsuit, since she has been there 15 years. To that end, she may want to discuss this situation with Ken. Also, Fran appears to strong commitment to being a role model and mentor to other women. If this is the case, then she should do what is right. After all, the case does not imply that Ken Hamilton is the only person that can give her a good reference.
In this case, the ethical thing to do may not necessary be the politically correct thing to do. If I were Fran, I would discuss this situation with Ken first, in order to allow him an opportunity to address this issue. If he did not want to address it, I would then encourage Jennifer to seek legal recourse. I would follow this course of action because I would feel obligated to assist Jennifer since Fran is the highest-ranking woman at Thompson.
Nahavandi, A. and Malekzadeh, A. in Organizational Behavior – The Person-Organization Fit stated that power is the ability of one person to influence another. There are five sources of power: legitimate, reward, coercive, expert and referent. The basis for legitimate, reward, and coercion power is typically the organization; the basis for expert and referent power is the individual. Reactions to power range from acceptance and commitment to compliance to resistance. The authors further stated that the more personal the source of power that is used, the more it is likely to lead to commitment rather than compliance or resistance.
The authors also stated that organizational sources of power depend on access to and control of strategic contingencies, which refer to elements that are essential to the performance and effectiveness of an organization, a department, or a team. According to the authors, individuals or groups who help others reduce or cope with uncertainty, those who are central to the resource or information networks, and those who cannot be replaced easily gain power.