Episode 312: The EEOC Strikes Again

Talking about the EEOC and the businesses they go after has become a regular occurrence on What The Hell Just Happened?! This episode is no exception. There are several ways sexual harassment can show up within your workplace, and Monroe Auto had to learn this lesson the hard way by paying out a large settlement. Listen to Paul Edwards as he sits down with CeCe Wilson and Amanda Rishor to discuss what happened, and how it could have been stopped before it even started.

Transcript

Voice Over: You’re about to listen to another episode of What The Hell Just Happened?! Join Paul Edwards and his guests as they discuss and sometimes even solve some interesting HR problems. 

Paul: I walked up on stage one time and my zipper was down.

Amanda: Oh my god.

CeCe: [laughing] Oh, no.

Paul: And I’m up there for about, like, I don’t know, four or five minutes. And, you know, the lights are on me. There’s 300 people in front of me, and there’s a girl who’s just looking at me, and –

Amanda and CeCe: [laughing]

Amanda: Looking at you? Or looking at your pants?

Paul: Well she’s looking at me. And then she’s looking down and she’s looking at me and looking down. I’m like, well –

Amanda and CeCe: [laughing]

Amanda: Well… [laughing]

Paul: And then she’s kind of, she kind of makes this zipper thing, and I’m like, I don’t understand and I’m focused. I’m talking to the audience and she’s kind of like, insisting? You know what I mean? 

Amanda and CeCe: [laughing]

Paul: As nice as she can be. And then I realize what’s going on. And I, you know, as I do, I tried to make light of it, in front of everybody. 

[laughing]

Paul: But the problem with that is, is that now every time when I’m on stage about ten minutes in and I have this innate thing that my zippers down. 

Amanda: That’s fantastic.

Paul: And so I have to figure out how to check without everybody seeing.

[laughing]

Amanda: Like looking down…

Paul: Just like…

CeCe: You just tell the story, be like “I’m sorry, but I have to check now.” [laughing]

Paul: “I’m sorry everybody, I’m about to do something wholly inappropriate in front of the entire room.” So I just thought I’d share that.

Amanda: That’s amazing. I love that for you. 

Paul: Yeah.

CeCe: It’s almost fitting for the conversation.

Amanda: Oh god.

Paul: Is it? What’s our topic? 

[laughing]

Amanda: What the hell just happened…

Paul: OK, I’m joined now by CeCe and Amanda and Luke’s over here running sound and producing the show for us. And what is our topic going to be for this podcast? For What The Hell Just Happened in H.R.?

CeCe: Well, I’m bringing you another EEOC settlement today.

Amanda: Love the EEOC.

Paul: So we’re going to go current events on this one.

Amanda: Yeah. Yeah.

Voice Over: You’re about to listen to another episode of What The Hell Just Happened?! Join Paul Edwards and his guests as they discuss and sometimes even solve some interesting HR problems. 

Paul: And… I’m gonna go off the rails sometimes and talk about whatever I want. 

Paul: So we have a case for the EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who are charged with enforcing a set of federal laws. There’s often a state version of the EEOC.

CeCe: Yeah.

Paul: And they may have their own set of rules that kind of mirror the federal rules and yadda, yadda, yadda H.R., H.R., H.R. 

Amanda: They’re spooky. 

CeCe: [laughing]

Paul: They are spooky. They investigate, and then they issue right to sue letters. They can, they do and/or they may choose to do the enforcement themselves and they come after you on their own without the person who’s filed a complaint having to hire an attorney and be represented. Okay?

CeCe: Right.

Paul: So everybody knows what the EEOC is now and that it pretty much is, you know, something we have to worry about. What happened in H.R.?

CeCe: So this case has to do with Monroe Auto. I’m not familiar with them. I think they operate with some smaller businesses that probably have more common, household names. 

Paul: What do they do? 

CeCe: They settled a case for…to me, this is kind of a surprisingly low amount, but $200,000. 

Paul: Okay.

CeCe: When you hear the issue, I think you’ll understand why I say that seems a little bit low.

Paul: Right.

CeCe: So they had some sexual harassment issues – 

Paul: Okay.

CeCe: Happening. Amanda, what you think of when you hear sexual harassment?

Amanda: An intimidating boss saying, “Do things for me or I won’t promote you.”

CeCe: Okay, so quid pro quo.

Paul: Quid pro quo.

CeCe: Sexual harassment. That’s what Amanda thinks of.

Paul: I’m glad she didn’t say, “telling stories about his zipper…”

CeCe: [laughing]

Paul: “…On his podcast.”

Amanda: Telling stories about his zippers on stage. [laughing]

CeCe: Yeah.

Amanda: Yeah. That or like, you know, creepy people like that won’t leave you alone if they’re hitting on you and you turn them down, they, like, turn into a jerk. I guess that also is quid pro quo?

CeCe: No, no, quid pro quo is when somebody with authority asks you for sexual things in return –

Amanda: Oh! Okay.

CeCe: For a raise, a promotion, something.

Amanda: That makes sense.

Paul: Or implies without you doing that, you will not be able to advance.

Amanda: Okay. 

CeCe: Right.

Amanda: Then the other thing I said is just being a jerk. [laughing]

CeCe: Yeah, well, no, I mean, it’s still sexual harassment. 

Amanda: Well yeah.

CeCe: Totally. Inappropriate touching. 

Amanda: Yeah.

CeCe: Inappropriate – 

 Paul: Comments.

CeCe: Comments. Yeah.

Paul: Unprofessional communication.

Amanda: That’s what I think of.

CeCe: Yeah, that’s the most common. And they did have some of this…male employees being groped in their groin area.

Amanda: Oh! Male employees?

CeCe: That was part of this. Unusual, right? 

Amanda: Yeah, that is unusual.

CeCe: Right? From what we think of the typical sexual harassment issues are. What to me made this interesting, is that a large part of this issue was a female employee repeatedly being addressed as things like ‘woman’ or something other than her name that were entirely focused on her gender.

Paul: Right. 

CeCe: And in addition to that, she was required to do like personal assistant type duties for her supervisor.

Paul: Uh huh.

CeCe: And she was hired as a worker on the vehicles just like all of the men were. 

Paul: Oh wow!

CeCe: So she was not hired as a personal assistant, which would be fine- 

Paul: Yeah. 

CeCe: To make her do those duties. But she was asked to do these duties just because she was the woman on site there.

Amanda: Ew! Gross. That’s horrible.

Paul: Let me guess. No, no other worker, male –

CeCe: Correct.

Paul: Was ever asked to do any of the personal errands –

Amanda: Oh of course. [scoffs]

Paul: For any of the other supervisors in any of the locations? 

CeCe: Correct. Yeah.

Paul: Yeah. So we’ve got a… wow!

Amanda: Oh my God, have you seen Legally Blonde?

Paul: I think?

CeCe: [laughing] Not in a lot of years.

Paul: It’s been a long time.

Amanda: Legally Blonde: Red, White and Blonde, the sequel –

Paul: Uh huh.

Amanda: Does have… Or is it the first one? I don’t remember. It’s one of the Legally Blondes, where It’s like one of the female lawyers gets asked to join the big time male lawyers group or whatever as like an intern and he just, like, makes her go get coffee all the time.

Paul: Yeah.

CeCe: Oh, yeah. 

Amanda: She’s like, yeah, I just had to get his coffee, his dry cleaning, you know, working my way up. But all the male lawyers are like at the table. All the other male interns are at the table, like, working on the case. And she’s like, getting coffee.

Paul: Yeah, that is, yeah. Not appropriate.

CeCe: And I don’t think it’s something that people think of as sexual harassment typically.

Paul: Right.

CeCe: I think? Yeah, most people would be like, “That sucks”, right? 

Amanda: Yeah.

CeCe: Or they don’t like it, but I don’t think a lot of people’s minds go to that being sexual harassment and something that the EEOC might say –

Paul: Right.

CeCe: This is a big problem.

Paul: Yeah, definitely gender based, a direct impact. I mean, it’s, you’ve been hired to be a mechanic and next thing you know, you’re being asked to run personal errands. So the EEOC investigated?

CeCe: They investigated, they agreed with the complaints that the employees had submitted and…

Paul: So I’m curious. So I get the thing, but who is grabbing who in the…?

Amanda: Yeah I was gonna say “didn’t you say male groping”?

CeCe: Yeah. They were not explaining… I would presume it was supervisors. It sounds like a very male dominated environment. It was not the woman because the woman was one of the plaintiffs as well. 

Paul: Uh huh.

CeCe: So I would presume it was supervisors. They didn’t name people. 

Amanda: Yeah.

CeCe: There’s not you know…

Paul: So we don’t know who was grabbing who or how?

Amanda: Like which gender…?

CeCe: No, I mean, they could have been grabbing each other. I don’t know. 

Amanda: Okay.

CeCe: They just said male employees… referenced male employees.

Paul: Wow!

Amanda: Interesting.

Paul: Okay, so I’m going to bring up a male thing.

CeCe: [laughing]

Amanda: Oh, gosh, here we go.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah, here we go.

CeCe: Sports locker room stuff?

Paul: Yeah, yeah.

Amanda: [laughing] What is this going to be?

Paul: Yeah, yeah. Well, or yeah, it’s got some… at some point immature, a group of immature males can show up in a circumstance where they’re hitting each other. It’s a joke. 

CeCe: Yeah. 

Paul: It’s like a funny thing where you just kind of whack the other guy- 

CeCe: [sarcasm] Hilarious. 

Paul: It’s all… 

CeCe: [laughing]

Paul: Well, I mean, Luke immediately…

CeCe: [laughing] I’m just saying I don’t get it. I don’t.

Paul: Luke just made a motion, and he actually did it properly. So. So, my point that I’m trying to make here is that we call it nut whacking.

Amanda: I’m sorry, what?!

CeCe: Oh, wow! [laughing]

Paul: Yeah. Tapping? Oh, Luke was like, “No, it’s called tapping”. Okay, so both of you were –

CeCe: So it that a generational gap there?

[laughing]

Paul: Yeah, but still, we both passed it down. 

CeCe: Yeah. Yeah.

Paul: Luke is what, 23? 21! 

CeCe: [laughing]

Paul: And so even Luke knows about it. So we’re 40 years apart. 

CeCe: Yeah. 

Paul: And so it’s kind of a joke, a locker room thing, but Luke did it in the proper way. You do it with the back of your hand. If you do it with the front of your hand…

CeCe: [laughing]

Paul: It’s a completely different…It’s a completely different gesture.

CeCe: So I’m gonna guess – 

Amanda: So I’m sorry…

CeCe: That the EEOC does not… 

[laughing]

Paul: Did not care!

[laughing]

Paul: That’s where I was going! I don’t think…

CeCe: [laughing] No…

Paul: You know, when they did that, was it the back of the hand or the front of the hand?

Amanda: Okay, so wait, hold on. I’m still hung up on the fact that…

Paul: You said hung up.

Amanda: What do boys learn in school? Do you ever wonder that? Like do they say, “okay, so remember when you go to your jobs, you’re allowed to hit, hit dudes”?

Paul: Yeah.

CeCe: [laughing]

Paul: It’s fun.

Amanda: “It’s for locker room thing”, like, is that what boys learn in school?

Paul: Yes, it is. 

Amanda: I don’t understand. [laughing]

Paul: It’s a little bit, it’s a little bit what we learned in school. Yeah.

Amanda: [laughing] What? I’ve never heard that before.

CeCe: I don’t know. I don’t have a boy.

Paul: It happens in a locker room. I don’t know who teaches it to you when, but you pretty much learn whether or not, if you’re in that kind of climate. I mean, if you go on to TikTok or any of that-

Amanda: Oh I’m sure now it’s going to come up all over my feed because my phone’s right here so thanks for that. [laughing]

Paul: Yeah. So it can hear it and you’re going to start getting videos. I mean, it’s a thing and –

Amanda: Is it like one of those understood things where you told me when you have a motorcycle and you pass another motorcycle, you do like the –

Paul: Oh yeah, you do your ‘hand out’. 

Amanda: The little hand dance.

Paul: And then it makes me really angry if the other thing is a scooter as it goes by…

[laughing]

Paul: Like it’s not a motorcycle it’s a scooter and then I’m like cussing to God because I just gave him the motorcycle hand wave, and that’s not cool. 

CeCe: [laughing] Yeah.

Paul: And I used to, and I’ll tell you how the world’s evolved, used to if it was a woman on the motorcycle and I do the hand thing and she’d do the hand thing, and she’d go by and “Whoa, that was a chick on a motorcycle.”

CeCe: [laughing] I just watched an episode of… is it 911? I don’t know.

Amanda: Reno 911?

CeCe: No, no, no. Texas…I don’t know.

Amanda: Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

CeCe: No, absolutely not. [laughing] It’s one of those, like –

[laughing]

Paul: Don’t mess with Texas?

CeCe: First responder, firefighter shows –

Paul: Oh! Uh huh.

CeCe: That’s popular right now. It’s the Texas version. 

Paul: Like Texas 911! Probably.

CeCe: Yeah. So yeah, but he, one of the main characters, gets a motorcycle and there’s like a whole thing about he joins a motorcycle gang and they give him, like, bells to put on the back of a motorcycle.

Paul: Uh huh.

CeCe: To scare away, like, the demons on the road or something. [laughing]

Amanda: Oh my god, that’s hilarious.

Paul: So but now two years later and I’m in Tucson and there’s motorcyclists everywhere. 

CeCe: Yeah.

Paul: I don’t know, I don’t care what your gender is [laughing] but I’m just saying, there was a time when it was unusual to see a woman on the, you know right, driving the motorcycle and I would notice and now there isn’t. I don’t know why I told that story…

[laughing]

Paul: But I want to go back to what I was joking about, which is the whole guys whacking each other.

Amanda: I can’t… you can’t say it like that, Paul.

CeCe: [laughing]

Paul I..I don’t..

Amanda: [exasperated] You can’t! That’s not…

[laughing]

Paul: Tapping…tapping doesn’t work either.

Amanda: You can’t say “guys whacking each other”.

[laughing]

Amanda: That’s just not…you can’t say that…

[laughing]

Paul: I live in the real world. Everybody is in here sweating…

CeCe: I hope the EEOC’s not listening to this episode. [laughing]

Paul: CeCe, head of H.R., is like, she’s like “I’m getting…yeah”

Amanda: I’m trying to teach you.

CeCe: I will schedule a meeting for the three of us after this.

[laughing]

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. So I’m going to bring this back around full circle: What you may deem as something that’s kind of joking around and harmless, the EEOC will not agree with. 

CeCe: Right. 

Paul: So, you know…

Amanda: Yeah, they’re spooky. 

Paul: Well, they’re…

Amanda and CeCe: [laughing]

Paul: They’re not going to put up with shenanigans.

Amanda: Of course and they shouldn’t!

Paul: And it’s not okay for male or female or anybody to be touching each other inappropriately in any way, shape or form. And so there’s a difference between the locker room, and you and your buddies, or you and your friends, and work. 

CeCe: Yeah. 

Paul: And there’s a line that’s drawn. And I think it’s easy, especially in smaller businesses to blur that line and kind of be making the jokes and the double entendres and the things get going around. And the next thing you know, as they say someone gets an eye put out and you’ve got an EEOC complaint.

Amanda: Well, yeah. And it’s not okay to hire someone and then have them do a completely different job just because of your perceived notions on their gender.

Paul: Yeah, yeah.

Amanda: “Oh, no, we hired you for this, but since you be a woman…”

Paul: Yeah.

Amanda: “Go get me my coffee.”

Paul: And I’m, you know, because we don’t have all the details…

Amanda: Right.

Paul:  But I would guess that there’s some component in there where she had to say when asked, “Why didn’t you say something?” She said, “I felt like I would lose my job if I did.” 

CeCe: Sure.

Amanda: Oh I guarantee it.

Paul: It’s almost always tied back and it doesn’t matter if that’s true or not. It’s what the perception of the employee is. Right, CeCe?

CeCe: Exactly. Yeah.

Paul: That’s the first thing that –

Amanda: Wait, what do you mean by that? So like, you know, because I assist as someone that’s not educated in all this stuff – [laughing]

Paul: Uh huh.

Amanda: I’m not an adviser here or anything. You say, “It’s what the employee perceives.” So like, I mean, obviously there has to be like, evidence? Or just…?

Paul: Based off the facts, would a reasonable person be able to draw the conclusion that they might lose their job if they were to say something to the person who they feel is harassing them, who’s the only person who can stop.

Amanda: Hmm.

Paul: So the only person who could stop misusing her and keep her in a role is her manager.

Cece: Right.

Amanda: I see.

Paul: And it’s the manager who’s breaking the rules. So she has a reasonable belief that if she goes to the manager and confronts the manager, says “what are you doing? You’re not making any other guys go get your laundry. You don’t do any of this”, that the manager could then fire her, at will, without giving her any reason and so the court looks at that. 

Amanda: Oh, okay.

Paul: That’s a very, very important thing. What is the perception of the employee? It’s the same thing about no-gossiping policies and why you can’t have that kind of thing, is that is it broad enough that an employee could reasonably believe that they cannot discuss their benefits, wages and working conditions? Because it could be, it could fall underneath the word ‘gossip’. 

Amanda: Interesting.

Paul: And just as it makes that policy illegal because it’s so broad on the other side.

Amanda: Yeah.

CeCe: Right. And similarly, they may, this may have been going on, it may be exactly what you’re saying they were with the groping part. They, “it was in fun” for maybe many, many years. 

Paul: Yeah.

CeCe: One person was hired who did not find that fun.

Paul: Did not think it was funny.

CeCe: And it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter that everybody else is fine with it at that point. I mean, it didn’t necessarily matter before, but now that person is offended. It’s reasonable that they’re offended –

Amanda: Yeah.

CeCe: And they can complain to the EEOC and you know, the standard isn’t that these other people were fine with it, so that one person is wrong.

Paul: That’s exactly right. Yeah. Yeah, that’s exactly correct.

Amanda: That’s interesting. I don’t know why this makes me think of this, but when you were talking, when you talk a lot about hiring and how you need to make sure someone fits your culture, but it isn’t, you’re not hiring someone that you “like”. Like it’s someone that actually fits the job. 

Paul: Uh huh.

Amanda: That’s kind of that same thing. Like you’re not really looking for someone that’s going to be okay with you hitting them. [laughing]

Paul: Or touching you inappropriately, or miss, or miss – 

Amanda: Because that’s like “the usual” at your office. 

Paul: Yeah.

Amanda: That’s not…

CeCe: That’s often what those types of environments look for –

Amanda: Yeah.

CeCe: Is trying to parse out, “Is this person going to be okay with that?” Because we don’t want to change that type of behavior. 

Paul: Oh, good point. 

CeCe: That’s obviously not what we would recommend. [laughing]

Amanda: I was gonna say, ‘that’s not the best thing to do’. [laughing]

CeCe: Don’t make your skills test, like… whatever the term was. [laughing]

Paul: Well….

Amanda: Don’t use that term on this podcast anymore. [laughing]

CeCe: Yeah. [laughing]

Paul: It’s killing me. I need to say it again. 

Amanda and CeCe: [laughing]

Paul: I’ve already said it. So what happens when you hire from within CeCe? That perpetuates this kind of thing, right? 

CeCe: Correct

Paul: So you’re always hiring the buddy of the guy or the friends of the friends and you can end up kind of perpetuating something like this because it’s just… it’s part of the culture.

Amanda: Gross. Not a culture I want to be a part of.

Paul: Well, it’s hard.

Amanda: EEOC! Get ‘em!

[laughter]

Paul: I, I feel for the –

Amanda: Oh yeah.

Paul: I feel for the business in some ways because oftentimes it’s this kind of rogue office or this rogue location, and it’s not part of the culture of the business. And they just didn’t know it was going on. That can happen. It really can. That’s the double edged sword to creating multiple locations for your practice. 

CeCe: Uh huh.

Paul: If you’re listening, you can’t know once you go to two locations, it completely changes the dynamic of what you know and what you can have control over. So it becomes super important that managers have training and that you, you know, that you don’t let this type of thing get out of control.

Amanda: Yeah.

CeCe: It sure is a theme for, I think every podcast that I’ve been on so far is the –

Amanda: It really is! [laughing]

CeCe: Yeah, but that training piece is so important…

Paul: Yeah.

CeCe: And filtering the knowledge down, filtering all of that to the individual places where there are leaders making decisions every single day.

Paul: Yeah. And the bigger you get, the more employees you have, the more paths you need to be able to provide to them so that if the person who’s harassing them is their, it can’t be their only path back to you to let you know that there’s a problem. 

CeCe: Right. 

Paul: And I think, you know, again, we’re just guessing because we don’t have all the details, that that employee probably didn’t feel she had another way to get around that supervisor to say “This is what he’s requiring of me. Or she’s requiring of me.”

CeCe: Yeah, I think that’s a reasonable assumption.

Amanda: Well I’m glad they have to pay. I’m glad the EEOC got ‘em. [laughing]

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. That’s not any way to treat somebody.

Amanda: That’s unfortunate. Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

CeCe: I don’t know. I never feel that like sense of joy from these things –

Paul: I don’t.

CeCe: Because I feel like people are still suffering.

Amanda: Oh no! Now that makes me sound like a jerk! [laughing]

CeCe: No, no, no. Not at all. I just, I always have concern that it’s, you know, a fine is a fine is a fine. But is it really fundamentally changing anything?

Amanda: That’s true.

CeCe: Because the EEOC is not going in and doing training or you know?

Paul: Right.

CeCe: So is it really changing?

Amanda: Is anything gonna change?

CeCe: Anything at that level? 

Amanda: Or are they just gonna be like…yeah.

CeCe: Or are they even more mad now? 

Amanda: Or are they now gonna be like, “We’re only going to hire men going forward.” [laughing]

CeCe: [laughing] Yeah. Yeah.

Paul: Well no…There can always be unintended consequences.

CeCe: There can. Yeah. 

Amanda: Uh huh.

CeCe: Or maybe now there’s more intimidation, like, you know, there might be comments made, “Oh, are you one of those people who is going to go report to HR?”

Paul: Yeah.

CeCe: You know so…

Amanda: Hate that. Don’t be that guy.

CeCe: [laughing]

Paul: I think the…

Amanda: Don’t be a jerk.

Paul: No, don’t monkey… Monkeying around at work leads to this. I’m just using that as a generalization.

Amanda: Yeah.

CeCe: Yeah.

Paul: You know, to keep it professional, you’ve got to keep it work related while still… you got to be able to joke around and have some fun.

Amanda: Of course!

Paul: And not have people freak out about it. So it’s a, I don’t know if it’s such a fine line, but it is one more thing as a leader and as a manager that you’re faced with getting right, and especially when you’re a manager of managers. 

CeCe: Yeah. 

Paul: This is a next level step that you kind of have to take to be able to train people to do the right thing.

CeCe: Yeah, getting the boundaries right can be complicated.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah, it can be.

Voice Over: Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode of What The Hell Just Happened? do Paul a favor; share this with your network. If you have an HR issue or a question, and you’d like us to discuss it on this show, send it to podcast@WTHjusthappened.com. For more HR advice and insights from Paul and his team of experts, you can also join the private Facebook group, HR Base Camp, or visit HRbasecamp.com. Make sure you tune in next week. And remember: better workplaces make better lives. 

Apr 11, 2023

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