I have a story to share, about being accused of sexual harassment. Before I tell that story I’m going to do something I never do and spoil the ending. It was a false claim. What makes me so sure? The young woman who supposedly accused me of the act, told me after I quit (and she was let go) that she knew it wasn’t true.
How do you feel about that?
Here’s the story:
I was working at a coffee shop, near me, loved the vibe. The people, customers…for the most part, everything about it spoke to me and helped me become a better person. I don’t know if I’d be half as open as I am now without it.
This was in 2010. I started with no experience and jumped into my barista job. I moved a little more than five miles away where I live now, and felt things finally being opened up to me (or me finally opening up to the world).
After six months I asked to start training as a lead; eight months after that I became the assistant manager. So it’s 2011, for those following along. People were coming and going, in terms of staff, and lots of changes were happening. We lost the manager of our branch after she got a job and we had multiple different managers come in from multiple stores to help us out. (It was like, living the live final season of The Office [U.S.]).
Eventually the old assistant manager came back on as the for sure manager, she and I never clashed but we weren’t close either. Never thought there was a problem. So we’re now in January of 2012. The store was flowing and all of the staff were working at the same pace, regardless of the shift time.
One day, after work I think, or maybe when I got home, I get a call saying that the manager needs to meet with me, the district manager and another employee about something.
I figure, “Okay, maybe the employee wants to be a lead and we’re gonna talk about trying. Cool.” Nope.
The meeting was held during business hours, in the lobby of the store, with customers all around. (This was my first major issue with it). Turns out, the employee, who I’d worked with and had no previous issues with, was accusing me of sexual harassment.
I was speechless. Immediately going through my mind of any time anything I did or said could’ve been taken in such a disrespectful way. Even if I hadn’t interpreted it that way or meant it that way, it could’ve still been taken as such. In which case I’d take full responsibility and sympathize with the situation and endure any necessary actions.
“Now, Gustavo. She told the manager that something happened. We’re not going to go into detail, so we don’t embarrass you…” (Another point that ticked that red flag signal in me). “We don’t want to cause a scene, but we all needed to meet. We love the work you do and you’re great with everyone here so this is just about coming up with the best possible solution for everyone here…”
I sat there, in silence. Still unsure of what I did wrong. Watching three people talk about me, in front of me, while ignoring me. Eventually asking, “I’m sorry. But what is it I did? I mean, if I did or said anything that made you uncomfortable it was not at all intentional. And I can’t recall anything that could’ve been interpreted as sexual harassment.”
The manager spoke up, “It doesn’t matter if you know what it is or not. She’s accusing you of it, that’s what matters.” Again, the employee said nothing. She stared off, not making eye contact with me…looking over at the manager for clues of what to do or say next. (Another red flag…).
“The decision has already been made. Do you (the employee) thinks it’s possible to still work with Gustavo?” She didn’t answer, but the manager shook her head no and only after seeing this did the employee also shake her head no. (Guess what? Another flag).
“Gustavo, we love having you here and you’re great for the store. Would you consider stepping down from your position as assistant manager in order to keep working here?”
“…Umm…I dunno…can I think about it?..”
“Yeah, we’ll give you a few days. (He asks the manager) How long, four five days?”
“Yeah, five is good.”
The three of them walked away, all smiles. I sat there for a few minutes before heading home.
The five days past, and I went back to hand in my letter of resignation. I also mailed a letter explaining the poorly handled event to the bosses at corporate. See, I’d been there long enough and made such an impression that many of them knew me. (I’d gotten good at making all of the high-up’s drinks. They liked that kind of thing).
I didn’t want to use “connections” to make the matter disappear, hell no. I wanted to get a good understanding and explanation of everything that did happen and have the truth of the matter revealed. Obviously that wasn’t going to happen with the people now running the store. I never heard anything about my letter, but I know that no kind of paper work on my “misconduct” was filed.
A little over a month later I was in the area. Skating at one of my favorite skate spots. I run into the young woman who’d accused me. I was respectful and polite. Asked how she was, how her son was and how things at the coffee shop were going. “…I’m not there anymore. Yeah…the manager forced me out a little bit after you left…
“…I’m sure you hated me for it…”
“No, I didn’t hate you. I just didn’t understand the whole thing.”
“She said, said…if I went along with her she’d give me your job…obviously it wasn’t true.”
“Yeah. I’m sorry. But you’re working right?”