One man’s courage in the face of brutal sexual discrimination has led to a court precedent that may make it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers on the basis of sexual orientation. According to this harrowing article in Slate that describes the abuse he suffered, Matthew Christiansen won the right to sue his employer from the U.S. Court of Appeals 2nd Circuit. For resisting the horrific workplace bullying he suffered, and taking a stand as a resister, a defender, a protector and an activist, Christiansen is our Revolutionist of the Week.
According to Mark Joseph Stern on Slate, Christiansen has earned the right to sue his employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars sex stereotyping against employees who do not conform to gender norms. Chief Judge Robert Katzmann wrote that recent legal developments support a greater interpretation of “sex discrimination” and that Title VII should already protect gay employees from bullying in the workplace. There seems to be growing consensus among federal judges on this matter.
None of this would have come to light without Christiansen’s bravery in the face of relentless cruelty at work. The Chief Digital Officer at his place of employment had targeted him from the very beginning and drew obscene pictures of Christiansen that he shared with colleagues throughout the office, spread rumors about his HIV status, referred to him using homophobic slurs and made crude references to his sex life during business meetings. Christiansen couldn’t take the abuse anymore and reached out for legal advice. When lawyer after lawyer turned him down—and some even questioned if he was to blame—he persevered and finally found an attorney who wanted to empower LGBT employees facing similar prejudice.
Getting help wasn’t easy. Fighting this battle meant that Christiansen had to report to work every day and even accept assignments that were personally challenging, but sticking with it brought surprises. According to Christiansen’s attorney, Susan Chana Lask, “After his name was in the papers, he said, ‘Susan, I’m so freaked out to go to work.’ But when he did, people he didn’t even know came up to him and hugged him. They just said, ‘thank you.’”
I’ve written at great length about what to do if you find yourself the target of bullying in the workplace in my columns, as well as in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire. First, and most importantly, do not try to do it alone. It took awhile, but Christiansen found support from his lawyer, and later from his coworkers. My research has shown that organizations that make horrific bullying possible have a systemic problem and there are other victims. By banding together they can offer one another support. Other key tips to survival are:
· Build your sense of self: Don’t let the bully break you.
· Don’t become a bully: Don’t let the bully turn you into someone who targets others.
· Understand the motivation: Learn why you are targeted. It will help you fight.
· Avoid the Bully’s Trap: Don’t let the bully set you up for a confrontation or failure.
· Call the bully out: Let the bully know if front of supervisors the harassment must stop.
· Get professional help: Attorneys and therapists are equipped to help you.
· Become a revolutionist: As someone who has called out bullying, you are now in a powerful position to change things for the better. Accept this challenge to build a better workplace and a better world.
Christiansen hasn’t yet had his day in court, but we will be watching to see how it goes and cheering on this brave revolutionist.
Photo credit: Susan Chana Lask