If You See Something, Say Something

This is more than just the slogan used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to encourage people to report suspicious terrorist activity.   It should also be the mantra of every workplace to encourage the reporting of discrimination and sexual harassment.   Simply stated, without witnesses who are willing to get involved and “say something,” discrimination and sexual harassment cannot be investigated and addressed, allowing it to spread throughout the workforce like a cancer.     A recent high profile lawsuit shows how witnesses were not only able to corroborate some of the plaintiff’s claims and stop an orchestrated attack on the plaintiff’s character by her former employer, but also contribute to the exit of a very powerful person who had a long history of sexual harassment.

The former Fox New co-anchor, Gretchen Carlson, filed suit against Fox News CEO Rogers Ailes on July 6, 2016.    The lawsuit alleged Ailes made sexual advances against Carlson, and then later retaliated against her by terminating her employment when she refused the advances and complained about sexual harassment.    Ailes issued a statement in response to the lawsuit calling the allegations false and offensive, and claimed that Carlson was retaliating against him for not renewing her contract.  The parent company for Fox News also issued a statement declaring it had “full confidence” in Ailes, but would conduct an internal review of the matter.    Soon thereafter, Fox News personalities such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren commented publicly, disparaging Carlson, her claims and her motives.    Fox News was succeeding in its attack of the victim, until…

Reports were leaked that several female employees confirmed during the internal investigation that they too were sexually harassed by Ailes, including Fox News star Megyn Kelly, who also took on presidential candidate Donald Trump and his offensive and sexist comments.    All of a sudden, the case turned 180 degrees.   The heralded CEO whom 21st Century Fox had “full confidence” in was resigning.  Gretchen Carlson was no longer a liar, or a vindictive ex-employee making false allegations.   This however, would have never occurred had Megyn Kelly and other brave employees had not been willing to get involved and speak the truth.

Both federal and state anti-discrimination laws prohibit an employer from retaliating against employees who report or oppose discrimination or sexual harassment, including those who testify, assist or participate in any manner in an investigation.    The spirit of the law and the realities of the workplace are, however, a world apart.     Unfortunately, there are still some employers who use intimidation and threats to prevent workers from speaking the truth or fully cooperating in co-worker complaints.    It is not an easy decision for workers to get involved and speak up, but the consequences of remaining silent are much worse.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

—Edmund Burke (attributed)

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John and his staff take the time to listen to his clients’ concerns, answer their questions, and work hard to achieve the best results.
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John Wenke is an Employment Law Attorney practicing in the area of employment discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation, and sexual harassment. Mr. Wenke represents employees in Texas and New Mexico, including but not limited to El Paso,  Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Pecos, Marfa, Alpine, Presidio, and Del Rio.