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Effective Protection Of Employee Rights

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Is sexual misconduct to be expected in male-dominated workplaces?

"This job was everything I'd ever wanted," Jennifer G. told the New York Times. It was a physical job, but Jennifer was a bodybuilder. The job involved guarding a highly classified Energy Department site where scientists perform top-secret nuclear tests and work on our nation's responses to nuclear, chemical and biological emergencies.

The position was with a group called the Proforce, which is managed by government contractors. It involved 12-hour shifts, sometimes longer, of armed patrol. It sometimes involved simulated attacks on the facility, with Proforce members working both sides.

Jennifer, who had once been a gun range safety officer and owned an armory, was among a dozen women among 150 guards. The atmosphere on the job was hyper-masculine. Moreover, there is a longstanding culture of sex discrimination, according to current and former guards interviewed by the Times.

Harassment began during training

The sexual harassment against Jennifer began during training, when senior guards found a Facebook photo of her in a bathing suit and passed it around. Men catcalled her from passing cars on her first work day. In the car pool, a colleague exposed his genitals. False rumors began to fly that she was sleeping with co-workers. Complaints to management went nowhere.

She tried to shake it off. She tried to laugh it off. She changed her schedule to avoid her harassers. She made official complaints. Everything she tried seemed merely to make her a bigger target.

The assault happened during a simulated attack on the site. As Jennifer worked, a monitor in her helmet indicated that she had been hit so she fell to the ground. She expected to be "arrested."

Instead, she was hit in the mouth with a rifle. As she lay stunned, a man -- a coworker -- ran his hands over her legs and then squeezed her buttocks and groin. Another man put his hands inside her shirt, squeezed her breasts and removed her nipple piercing.

Attackers couldn't be identified

The assault happened amid chaos -- loud noises and fog from a machine. Jennifer couldn't identify her attackers.

Jennifer complained, but that put a target on her back. A manager told her directly that this sort of thing happens when women do male-dominated work.

An investigation of the harassment led to two male guards being disciplined for spreading malicious rumors. But Jennifer was interviewed about her dating habits and given two psychological evaluations.

Ultimately, Jennifer was fired in apparent retaliation for complaining. The official reason was for scheduling violations, "hostility and aggression."

Are women doomed to suffer sexual harassment and misconduct simply because they're in a male-dominated job? Are they destined to face retaliation if they complain? Abuse and harassment break the law, and lawbreaking cannot be excused by a hyper-masculine culture.

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