Uh oh. We’ve heard this story before. Amy-Erin Blakely of Orlando, Florida, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit claiming she was fired from her job at The Devereux Foundation for complaining that managers made comments about her big breasts. Blakely also said she was told that her co-workers couldn’t concentrate in meetings because her boobs were such a distraction and that someone in management “talked about how large her breasts were and that she needed to ‘hide them,’” said her lawyer, Gloria Allred. Worst of all, she alleged that she was told by a manager she would not be promoted above her position as assistant executive director because she was “too sensual”! Blakely, who claims she always dressed in a professional manner, said she complained about the comments last spring and when she complained again this fall, she was fired after 13 years at the company. Even more fishy is that during those 13 years, she was promoted and given raises eight times. In a statement, Devereux CEO Robert Krieder called Blakely’s lawsuit “purposefully inflammatory, and either spurious or twisted in content and context.” Interestingly, he doesn’t say they are untrue. I don’t know what “twisted in content and context” means — maybe comments were made, but management just thought it was a joke and she shouldn’t be offended? — but saying that something happened but has been “twisted” is a lot different from saying it didn’t happen at all. Krieder also said in his statement that over 50 percent of the company’s senior leadership team is female.
I’ve blogged about sexual harassment lawsuits a fair amount and in particular, I’ve followed the “Is Debrahlee Lorenzana Too Sexy For Citibank?” story for a while. I realize every case is different and there’s a lot of “he said, she said” with these cases. Yet, I do generally get the sense with these incidents that the woman was sexually harassed in some form, even if it was in the context of a joke, and management doesn’t take it seriously when the woman complains. Sometimes, management even accuses her of bringing the attention upon herself. (That certainly was the case with Lorenzana, although not so much, it seems, with Blakely. Sports reporter Ines Sainz was also condemned by the media for bringing the attention upon herself.) When she complains, and they get the sense she’s not going to drop it, they fire her instead of dealing with the original problem in the first place and accuse her of having blown everything out of proportion when she files a lawsuit. It makes me wonder why companies don’t save themselves the trouble by taking an employee’s unwanted sexual attention seriously in the first place.
I also don’t get why a boss like Krieder would deny gender-related wrongdoing by saying some version of “we have a lot of women on staff” or “a woman’s the boss!” That’s the “I can’t be racist because I have a black friend” argument. Really, it doesn’t matter how many women are on staff or in senior leadership positions; it matters what the culture is like and what people’s individual characters are. Having women on staff does no good if they stay silent when sexual harassment occurs, or they are the ones doing the harassing!
I, for one, will be interested to see how the Devereux Foundation defends itself in a lawsuit claiming a busty woman wouldn’t be promoted because she’s “too sensual.” If there truly is another side to this story, I would love to hear it.