sexual harassment

The End of a Six-Year Vendetta

Over the last week, I have been inundated with questions about what motivated Barbara Coloroso to behave so recklessly and to put her reputation at such risk in our dispute.

For the past six years, I chose to take the high road in my dispute with Ms. Coloroso, despite her very public campaign to discredit me.  The question was why she went to the extremes that she did: committing perjury, cyberbullying, publicly calling me a liar, a thief and a cheat, and sending a mass e-mail to everyone on my mailing list, claiming that I fabricated research and falsified statistics.

I do not believe in coincidences.  In my book From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I advise people who think they are being targeted to "tie seemingly unrelated events, comments and situations together and they will usually add up to something.” Now that the legal disputes have been resolved to my satisfaction, I am now able to give my perspective on the reasons for Ms. Coloroso’s actions.

Between February 24, 2010 and July 30, 2011, Ms. Coloroso complimented me nine times on my work on our joint manuscript.  The last compliment was received two days before the expiry of our August 1, 2011 deadline to submit the completed manuscript to HarperCollins.

On July 4, 2011, I rejected what I believe to be a sexual overture made towards me by Ms. Coloroso.  She told me that she had seduced a gay Canadian Olympic athlete, after teaching him to kayak. Then she put her hand on my leg and said "I would love to convert you."  I tried to make light of the situation by gently removing her hand and telling her that I was not a convertible.

We met the next day with my assistant to finalize the manuscript. Ms. Coloroso was a bundle of nerves and we made little progress on the work. That day, July 5, 2011, is the last time that Ms. Coloroso and I have ever spoken in person or by phone, except for her calling me “you bastard” at my examination for discovery. 

On July 7, 2011, three days after the July 4 incident, Ms. Coloroso expressed concerns about my work for the first time.  Thus started her six-year campaign to destroy my reputation.

Coincidental?  I think not.”



Understanding Why Targets of Abuse Stay Silent

There was a moment during Thursday’s hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee when U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) tweeted what was in the mind of every American woman watching: “So Comey told Jeff Sessions he didn't want to be alone with Trump. Women across the country can relate.”

As Bill Cosby stands trial for one of his many sexual assaults, and Bill O’Reilly struggles to remain relevant after being fired by Fox News following sexual harassment revelations, Donald Trump’s predatory behavior seems clearer than ever. In an op-ed in the today’s New York Times, Nicole Serratore lays out exactly how Trump’s behavior played out with former FBI director James Comey.

She wrote: “As I listened to James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, tell the Senate Intelligence Committee about his personal meetings and phone calls with President Trump, I was reminded of something: the experience of a woman being harassed by her powerful, predatory boss. There was precisely that sinister air of coercion, of an employee helpless to avoid unsavory contact with an employer who is trying to grab what he wants.”

The parallels are numerous. From whispering in Comey’s ear about how excited he was for them to work together, to the dinner where Comey was surprised to find himself alone with Trump, to pushing everyone out of the Oval Office so they would be undisturbed, all of these behaviors are quite familiar.

Members of the Intelligence Committee even questioned Comey like he was a woman who had been victim of a male predator. As Elle magazine pointed out:

Throughout the hearing, Comey was peppered with questions about why he didn't somehow stop Trump from being a creep. "You're big, you're strong," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). "Why didn't you stop and say, 'Mr. President, this is wrong–I cannot discuss that with you'?" Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) argued that "You said [to Attorney General Jeff Sessions], 'I don't want to be in the room with him alone again,' but you continued to talk to him on the phone… Why didn't you say, 'I'm not taking that call?'" Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) acknowledged that "[The] president never should have cleared the room and he never should have asked you, as you reported, to let it go, to let the investigation go. But I remain puzzled by your response… You could have said, 'Mr. President, this meeting is inappropriate.'"

Perhaps the aspect of behavior that resonates the most with women I’ve spoke with was Comey’s description of trying to keep his face entirely neutral so as to neither anger nor encourage Trump.

This is not to say that men haven’t been prey to manipulative and practiced sexual predators. After all, predatory behavior is really about abusing the balance of power and no one abuses power more than a bully. Given his stature as a white man with prestige and authority, and the lack of distracting salacious elements, perhaps Comey’s experience will help raise awareness of how harassment is always about an abuse of power and an attempt to defame and villainize the victim. And maybe, just maybe, it might help prevent the kind of situations that happened at Fox News.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

Photo credit: New York Times/Andrew Harrer


Why Being a Revolutionist is Critical Now

The image may forever be seared into the collective consciousness—Republican members of the House boarding buses to the White House to have a beer to celebrate passage of the American Health Care Act of 2017. Never mind that the AHCA has an enormous list of pre-existing conditions that unconscionably includes cesarean section and PTSD brought on by sexual assault, or that it makes it possible to charge people over 50 more than five times the rate of younger people, or that it included an exemption for Congress. And ignore that in their zeal to defeat the national healthcare safety net created by an African-American president, many Republicans admitted to never having read the thing or that they refused to wait for the cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office. Just remember this: This may be the moment when the average American becomes a revolutionist.

As someone who has been a revolutionist for psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces for almost a decade, it gives me hope to see Americans fired up. It’s this energy that I hope to direct to employment issues, which differ from your rights as a citizen in an important way—the freedom of expression that you are guaranteed under the Constitution does NOT apply to the workplace.  This is why keeping an eye on workplace issues is extremely important—the man currently in the White House wants to run the government like one of his workplaces.

Examples of how employees lack rights abound. Donald Trump’s friends at Fox News continue to be in the headlines with new lawsuits and federal investigations due to sexual harassment and gender discrimination allegations. Most of the women who were harassed had no recourse at work. One of the most pernicious aspects of the culture at Fox News is the practice of human resource departments to encourage employees to come forward then use that information to facilitate retaliation. As I discuss in From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, this is far from unusual. I would even argue it’s the norm; in toxic workplaces human resource departments are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Far too often they suffer from what I call “Sean Spicer Syndrome”—zero credibility, zero courage.

One of the most egregious examples of employees lacking rights at work come from Wells Fargo. I’ve written a lot about the bank’s improprieties and I’m not fooled by the assurance of its new CEO, Timothy J. Sloan, that retaliation against whistleblowers won’t be tolerated. Or, according to a recent New York Times article, that it’s “critically important” that all employees feel safe at Wells Fargo. It does nothing for the employees who were fired for reporting the bank’s abuses and then show up only as a footnote in a 110-page report by an outside law firm. In order for there to have been abuse at the levels that took place and the whistleblowers silenced, the exploitation by Wells Fargo had to be deep and systemic.

That is why I take being a revolutionist so seriously and you should, too. Fighting on against depressing odds is difficult, but we don’t have the luxury of sitting back. Trump has tried to silence the press, boost religious extremists and roll back protections for the LGBT community, in addition to that outrageous bill that masquerades as health-care reform. But it’s not over. Not only does the AHCA still need to pass in the Senate, but 2018 midterm elections are coming up quickly. Use your anger to fuel your resolve to resist. Record donations yesterday poured into sites that will fund Democratic candidates in 2018. There are marches planned, including the June 11 Equality March for Unity and Pride in Washington, DC. I predict we will see record crowds for Pride around the world this year. As my 98-year-old mother, a veteran of the Dutch underground during World War II told me, “you don’t want to feel as you grow older that you should have done more.” Take action now.

Photo credit: CSPAN






Why Do the Big Tech Companies Drive Away Women and Minorities?

There are toxic workplaces and then there are toxic workplaces in the tech industry. Up until now the evidence was heavily anecdotal. There was the female employee who revealed sexual harassment at Uber, followed by the heart-wrenching tragedy of the African-American engineer at Uber who took his own life as the stress became unmanageable. There is the gay employee taking on the Omnicom Group for horrific abuse and the well-known story of Ellen Pao, whose gender discrimination suit made national news.

At last we have some data to support the chorus of diverse voices begging us to pay attention to the working conditions they’ve been forced to endure. The Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll just conducted a study to explore the reasons why people leave tech companies. What they discovered was that the outpouring of first-person stories of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, bullying and racial bias is borne out by the numbers: eight in 10 employees who left tech said they did so due to unfair behavior or treatment.  Eighty-five percent observed such behavior and 37 percent left their jobs because of it.

Women experience and observed far more toxic behavior than men, with women of color being most likely to be passed over for promotion. In addition, LGBT employees endured the most bullying and public humiliation leading to the decision by 64 percent to leave their company.

Given that employee retention problems due to toxic workplaces are costing $16 billion a year, one would think that the tech companies would use their brain power to work harder at a solution. However, Facebook, whom we recently praised for its new policy about gender-diverse legal teams, has been cited in the Wall Street Journal for its hidden biases against female engineers. Perhaps Cheryl Sandberg might want to figure out how to help her company lean in. Right now it’s not getting the job done.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

Illustration credit: Womena/

Why So Few People Report Abuse

When asked about the sexual harassment controversy at Fox News, one of the frequent refrains the company made was that no one had ever made a complaint. Perhaps the story by Chad Bray in today’s New York Times might shed some light on why people are so reluctant to come forward. The CEO of Barclays, James E. Staley, is under investigation for trying to learn the identity of a whistleblower.

The bank had been reeling from employee misconduct and determined to restructure and resolve litigation. Staley’s predecessor, Antony Jenkins, had done a lot to reshape the corporate culture but was driven out by the directors who no longer believed he could improve returns to shareholders. Instead they brought in Staley. Now it’s been revealed that Staley tried to ascertain the identity of the anonymous whistleblower whose letters seemed to implicate Staley in some sort of cover up. When the bank discovered Staley’s actions, which included seeking the assistance of a U.S. law enforcement team, no action was taken but Staley apologized. Today it was announced that Staley would be formally reprimanded and that he would be subjected to a “very significant compensation adjustment.”

No wonder no one wants to risk their career and safety to report misconduct. Staley received little more than a slap on the wrist and some short-term embarrassment. Whistleblowers on the other hand are often subjected to ongoing harassment and stalled, or even destroyed, careers.

In her excellent column, “The Upshot,” Claire Cain Miller makes the same point when she discusses why women just don’t report sexual harassment:

“Many victims, who are most often women, fear they will face disbelief, inaction, blame or societal and professional retaliation. That could be hostility from supervisors, a bad reference to future employers or the loss of job opportunities. Their fears are grounded in reality, researchers have concluded. In one study of public-sector employees, two-thirds of workers who had complained about mistreatment described some form of retaliation in a follow-up survey.”

If you feared a witch hunt and retaliation, would you report your supervisor? How about if his supervisor is known as an even worse offender? Miller’s research showed that official harassment policies often wind up hurting women because they’re used to prove to the courts that they did what they could, rather than protect female employees.

So what can be done? Perhaps the host of the HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver has the right idea. His team created an edgy public service announcement to help a certain resident of Pennsylvania Avenue understand why it’s not a good idea to endorse the behavior of Bill O’Reilly. They tried to buy advertising airtime during The O’Reilly Factor, but oddly enough there were no takers in spite of a lack of advertising. Like bullies everywhere, they’re good at dishing out abuse, but not so strong when it comes to handling the resulting ridicule.

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK

Bully or News Host? Bill O’Reilly Can’t be Both

Bill O’Reilly makes being a bully look glamorous. No matter how many women bring lawsuits against him for sexual harassment, lewd behavior, unwanted advances or abusive language, Fox News puts up with his conduct. Sure, the public relations people at Fox News generate the correct human resources babble, insisting that they won’t tolerate behavior that “disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment”—according to an article in the New York Times—but frankly, that’s BS. As long as O’Reilly stays atop his throne as the network’s number one news anchor, nothing changes.

O’Reilly is no different than disgraced former network chairman Roger Ailes when it come to this sort of behavior. According to the New York Times, a total of five women have received settlements in exchange for their silence about O’Reilly for a whopping sum of $13 million.  And two of these cases arose after the departure of Ailes. This is quite a lot of cash for accusations that O’Reilly repeatedly insists are without merit.

Fox News’ parent company tried to back him up by alleging in a written statement to the New York Times that “no current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously, we have looked into these matters over the last few months and discussed them with Mr. O’Reilly. While he denies the merits of these claims, Mr. O’Reilly has resolved those he regarded as his personal responsibility. Mr. O’Reilly is fully committed to supporting our efforts to improve the environment for all our employees at Fox News.” How can anyone be expected to report wrongdoing when the former boss was the chief predator?

The victims of O’Reilly tell a different story. Former guest commentator and adjunct professor of psychology Wendy Walsh is calling for an independent investigation into the culture at Fox News. Walsh was promised O’Reilly’s help in becoming a paid contributor but when she rebuffed his advances he turned angry and dropped her from his show. The allegations seem to have had little effect. Walsh’s attorney told Variety that Fox News’ renewal of O’Reilly’s contract made it clear that “apparently Fox News does not think that anti-discrimination laws apply to them.”

So O’Reilly will go on broadcasting his particular brand of bigoted ideology, which frighteningly does a lot to normalize the abnormal. The irony is that he is supposed to be some sort of newsman. How can he possibly criticize the wrongdoing of others when he clearly won’t take responsibility for his own actions?

Photo credit: Fox News

How NOT to Fix Workplace Culture

In February I wrote about the reports of sexual harassment at Uber and how CEO Travis Kalanick had created a culture that promoted this sort of behavior. However, I was enthused to hear that high-profile board member Arianna Huffington was stepping in and vowed to make sure that Uber would no longer be at the mercy of “brilliant jerks.”

Sadly, my rejoicing was premature. Huffington told CNN today that she and the head of human resources at Uber had spoken to hundreds of women at the company and they had found only “a few bad apples” but “this is not a systemic problem,” she said.

This is an amazingly shortsighted. Employees who work for bullies are highly unlikely to confide anything in the HR department, which is generally seen as being on the side of management. Nor are they likely to confide in a celebrity whose chief goal is damage control. An independent investigative team should have been called in that could guarantee anonymity for the people with whom they spoke. It’s already been shown that HR failed the young woman who reported her experiences on her personal blog, which went viral.

The fact that Huffington reported all of this on national television brings home how self-serving this report was. Even if, as Huffington indicated, Kalanick has “evolved,” and Uber does hire a chief operating officer to help Kalanick run the company, it is naïve to assume that this would do anything to change behavior is ingrained in the workplace culture.

It is perhaps ironic that this report dropped the day after the sitting president of the United States was proven to be a liar. I would imagine that the employees of Uber are like the rest of America—they have no idea who in power they can trust.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Hundreds of Former Employees Expose Jewelry Chain’s Open Secrets

Another employer has been accused of promoting a culture that condoned, and even encouraged, sexual harassment. Sterling Jewelers, the parent company of such well-known shopping mall jewelry stores as Kay Jewelers and Jared the Galleria of Jewelry has been accused of rampant harassment and discrimination by hundreds of former employees.

Sadly, this is an all too pervasive problem in toxic workplaces, as I recently wrote in regards to the Uber allegations. The Sterling accusations are not isolated incidents. More than 250 women, and some men, filed a private class-action arbitration case in 2008 alleging incidents of groping, demeaning behavior and demand for sexual favors that happened in the late 1990s and 2000s. This is on the heels of an even larger case of some 69,000 employees alleging widespread gender discrimination. According to testimonies just released, top male managers of this company bullied women with ridicule, “scouting parties” to find attractive sex partners, and demands for sexual favors in exchange for raises, promotions or protection from reprisal.

Because many employees waive their right to bring suits in public court as a condition of their employment, it’s difficult to get transparency in cases like these. The system is set up to protect the company at the cost of the employees instead of creating a psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplace.

As I discuss in my new book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, workplaces of this sort are often an open secret. That was certainly true at FOX News and Uber. Until companies create an ironclad rule to punish any violators regardless of their position or contribution to the company, this behavior will continue. Throwing billions of dollars at harassment awareness workshops and diversity seminars have not, and will not ever make a dent. Only accountability will do that. Let’s hope as the Women’s March empowers women to speak out against injustice accountability becomes the new normal.


How ‘Brilliant Jerks’ Can Ruin a Workplace

Yesterday I discussed the revelation by a former Uber employee that reporting incidents of sexual harassment to the human resources department was useless. This really hit a nerve with readers, who left many comments about how futile that still is. It’s no surprise that this behavior continues. In his article in the New York Times, Mike Isaac reveals how the “focus on pushing for the best result has also fueled what current and former Uber employees describe as a Hobbesian environment at the company, in which workers are sometimes pitted against one another and where a blind eye is turned to infractions from top performers.” 

In my work for psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces I am often challenged by executives who claim my findings and assertions are too extreme and do not reflect the real world. Clearly, they reflect what is going on at Uber, and Uber is not alone. In 2015, Amazon was exposed for their brutal culture. I discuss these sorts of toxic workplace cultures, how to recognize them, and how to change them, in my new book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

Change may be coming at Uber. The exposé by the brave former employee captured the attention of CEO Travis Kalanick, top management and the board. Perhaps with solid leadership a healthier culture could be implemented. I applaud board member Ariana Huffington's vow that company will no longer hire “brilliant jerks.”

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Why Reporting Sexual Harassment to HR is Ineffective

Stop me if you heard this one—a female employee gets sexually harassed by her supervisor and reports it to Human Resources. HR tells her that she can transfer to another department to get away from him, but because it’s his first offense and he’s a star performer, there’s little they can do. The employee transfers and learns from other female employees that the former supervisor has harassed many of them. They go back to HR, which does nothing. The latest example of this happened at Uber, according to the New York Times, which picked up the story from the employee’s own blog.

This sort of ineffectiveness is all too frequent from HR departments. They often seem more interested in protecting the bullies than dealing with abuse. In fact, when I talk with employees at speaking events around the country, the most common response to the question “Did HR help you?” is that the department is in management’s pocket and the visit was a waste of time.

We’ve seen this play out over and over again—Fox News, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and so on. This is why I devoted a chapter in my book From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire to sexual bullying. Until we recognize the right of every employee to enjoy a psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplace and make that a priority for Human Resources, sexual harassment will continue to harm victims as well as the company.