A Seminole, Okla., police officer slid into the front seat of her squad car one day to find a snake coiled beside her. The snake was dead, but the shock of seeing it there was as great as if it had been alive.
Worse yet, it had been placed there as part of a series of events perpetrated by her colleagues that led the woman to file a lawsuit in federal court against her employer, the Seminole Police Department. The court determined she was being sexually harassed by her supervisors and peers, and she was awarded $150,000.According to Lynn J. Lund, inspector general for the Utah Department of Corrections, who has developed a curriculum for businessmen to prevent sexual harassment in the work place, sexual harassment lawsuits are becoming more prevalent as the victims choose to "stand up and be counted" rather than quit their jobs.
Because most sexual harassment complaints are filed by women, Lund said the problem undoubtedly will get worse as more women join the work force. Recent court rulings have changed the definition of sexual harassment from the traditional "pat, touch and pinch" to anything that is demeaning, such as telling a woman "you should stay home and raise children."
Lund outlined the Oklahoma police officer's case in material he presented during a recent sexual harassment seminar sponsored by the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.
The woman became the first female officer hired in Seminole and realized there would be some teasing and kidding, but the actions by her supervisors and fellow officers went beyond horseplay.
The court found 16 violations. Fellow officers posted pornographic cartoons with her name on them; her lieutenant refused to talk to her and displayed open hostility toward her; officers used obscenities in her presence; lockers were installed for the male officers, but she had to carry her locker to the second floor; her police mailbox was stuffed with insulting materials; cars were parked so close to her patrol vehicle she couldn't enter the driver's side; and the barrel of her shotgun was often plugged.
(Some of the other objectionable actions enumerated by the court won't be printed in this family newspaper.)
She took her complaint to several officials, who threatened to fire her and her husband, a city firefighter, if she filed a lawsuit. In addition to the court awarding the $150,000 for emotional distress, the city was ordered to conduct extensive anti-sexual harassment training for supervisors and employees.
Sexual harassment doesn't occur only in places like Oklahoma. Here in Utah, Shauna Clark recently won a $68,000 settlement in a lawsuit against her former employer, former Salt Lake County Attorney Ted Cannon. At the seminar, Clark expressed the trauma she had felt since she made a complaint.
"Courts are committed to eliminating sexual harassment in the work place. Things have been happening quickly," said Lund, referring to the court decisions that in each instance have been providing broader definitions of what constitutes sexual harassment.
Lund said many employers have no idea how to prevent sexual harassment or how to handle complaints once they are made. He said the courts have ruled that an employer's lack of knowledge about sexual harassment in the company isn't a defense in this type of case.
"The bottom line is that employers had better get their act together and teach their employees what constitutes sexual harassment and put an end to it or they may be facing some pretty hefty judgments against them," said Lund.
In addition to avoiding the costly judgments and bad publicity, the company can also avoid absenteeism, the training required for new employees to replace the sexually harassed one who quit, and lost productivity from someone who has been traumatized by the sexual harassment.
A survey by Working Woman Magazine showed the typical Fortune 500 company loses $6.7 million annually because of sexual harassment, according to Dr. Freada Klein, a consultant who analyzed the survey.
That figure includes the cost of litigations, settlements and jury awards in addition to the absenteeism, low productivity and training for new people.
"Sexual harassment is no longer a so-called women's problem," said Working Woman editor-in-chief Anne Mollegen Smith. "It's a financial time bomb for American businesses."
Of the sexual harassment complaints included in the study, 42 percent were classified as teasing or joking; 26 percent, unwanted touches or encroachment; 17 percent, pressure for sexual favors; 12 percent, pressure for dates; 11 percent, looks or gestures; and 9 percent, unsolicited letters or telephone calls.
Klein said the most-used defense in sexual harassment cases is, "I was only joking."
The situation is no joking matter to Lund, who has interviewed 200 sexual harassment victims. He has been involved in more than 50 cases in his department in the past 18 months alone, with three of them resulting in the victims hiring attorneys.
Lund's seminar materials, which he developed mostly on his own time, say the first step toward preventing sexual harassment in the work place is changing people's behavior, a difficult task sometimes because many people have been exhibiting the same type of behavior for many years.
Behavior changes must come from the top, Lund said, so that each employee knows "the boss" is behind the program to prevent sexual harassment.
To successfully manage sexual harassment complaints, Lund suggests company executives become familiar with recent court cases; establish policies and procedures prohibiting sexual harassment; hold training sessions for employees; establish a grievance procedure; supervise and enforce policies and procedures; and keep documents on each complaint.
After Jan. 1, someone else will be handling the department's sexual harassment complaints because Lund sent a letter to Gov. Norm Bangerter in accordance with a request that all state non-merit employees resign.
Lund will become the chief counsel for the Utah Local Government Trust, which insures 150 local governments. One-half of his time will be spent establishing a preventive law clinic to handle sexual harassment complaints for companies.
A native of Fountain Green, Sanpete County, Lund grew up in Murray and served as a Salt Lake City police officer from 1960 to 1965. Then he became a Salt Lake County deputy sheriff and after four years became director of the police science program at Weber State College.
Then he spent five years in the Utah Department of Public Safety's Peace Officer Standards and Training program and was in charge of training for sheriffs and police chiefs.
After serving for two years as executive director of the Utah Peace Officers Association, Lund was self-employed as a legal consultant in civil rights and personnel law and traveled in 47 of the 50 states.
In 1983 he was asked by then-Gov. Scott M. Matheson to serve on a task force whose members were directed to see that Utah Department of Corrections policies were followed. Matheson later chose him to be department inspector general.
Lund has a bachelor's degree in sociology and psychology education and in 1972 received a master's degree in criminal justice administration from Brigham Young University. He received his law degree from the University of Utah in 1976.