How do I deal with inappropriate comments in the office?
March 7, 2013 6:10 PM   Subscribe

What is with my workplace? Need help dealing personally and professionally with a variety of inappropriate behavior from my coworkers and supervisor.

I am on staff at a private, secular university in the northeast US. In the year I've been there, numerous staff and faculty members have made a variety of comments that I perceive as inappropriate for work, ranging from the more-or-less innocuous to the hugely offensive. A few examples:

--A professor saying he likes to visit my department because "there are so many lovely ladies to look at."

--Another professor extending his hand as if to shake, I extended mine, and he kissed my hand! When I told him that wasn't appropriate, he said he didn't care.

--My supervisor telling the staff to "pray about" a specific work matter, and on another occasion, leading the department in prayer before we ate lunch. (Perhaps relevant: she is Christian, I am not, she has no idea what my religious beliefs are.)

--Today, a coworker making deeply offensive statements about Jewish people, the least of which being "I don't like Jews." When I told her my husband and I were of Jewish descent, and that what she was saying was wrong, she dismissed me with, "Call your rabbi."

I've worked at other universities and I've never experienced anything like this. So what's with this place? I'm not sure I have standing to go to HR because not all of this is directed specifically at me--I wasn't the only one told to pray, my coworker apparently didn't know I'm of Jewish descent, etc. Also, there haven't been any repercussions the few times I've spoken up, and I need this job. But I'm really troubled by an office atmosphere where these things happen, especially today's incident, and given her history of invoking prayer, I don't feel like I can go to my supervisor with this.

I'm documenting. I'm looking for another job. But what else can I do? Looking for advice on whether and how to speak out against this stuff when it happens, if/when to go to HR, and handling it mentally in the meantime.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (40 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Call your rabbi?? Maybe a lawyer, the EEOC and your state's department of civil rights.

Take the documentation to HR. It sounds like nothing will change, which means its a good thing you're really looking for a new job. Start burning up a paper trail to HR "in case" you need to file a lawsuit.

Mentally, do what you can to disengage these horrible people and make sure you have good supportive friends outside of work.
posted by mibo at 6:19 PM on March 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

"I'm not sure I have standing to go to HR because not all of this is directed specifically at me"

It doesn't have to be directed at you to create a hostile work environment. I'd think you have every right to complain to HR if you choose to.
posted by UncleBoomee at 6:19 PM on March 7, 2013 [41 favorites]

I was both a student and a staff member at a small, private university a few years back and I chose to fight the sexism, homophobia, and bigotry that was both targeted directly at me and then at the campus community at large. I stand by my decision because what was being said was creating a hostile learning and working environment, but the toll on my family was so great and so costly that I do ultimately regret it and wish I had done something else to feel better about what was going on. It is up to you to decide if you have the emotional, physical, and monetary means to take these blatantly shitty things on -- but tread carefully.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:22 PM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

You could always talk to your university's ombudsman/woman. These folks are generally tactful, sensitive and sympathetic, and can provide suggestions for positive strategies. Or try talking to a shop steward.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:22 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

HELL YES YOU HAVE STANDING. At our public university, we're about to roll out a mechanism to self-report hate and bias issues. This is because EVERYBODY has standing. It is EVERYBODY'S responsibility to create and maintain a community standard that does not tolerate any instance of this kind of behavior.

But every university or larger corporation should have an ombudsperson, an Office of Equity and Diversity, that sort of thing. There are, or should be, mechanisms in place to report anonymously and/or stay away from the need to confront the perpetrators of these kinds of issues face-to-face. (To some degree, that sounds like a bit of a copout, but for the most part it's built that way because who WOULDN'T worry about retaliation? That's why so many incidents go unreported.)

The most important thing you can do when you experience or witness these kinds of things is to document, document, document. Write down where you were, the date and time, the context, who else was there, what roles these people have (e.g. whether the person making rude comments or requesting a prayer time has any supervisory or approval power over those on the receiving end), all that.

At my husband's employer, a major corporation, a guy was fired for saying stuff more benign than those anti-Semitic comments. Yes, academia is very different. No, you should not tolerate it.

And if you worry about the effect that the consequences might have on someone's reputation, or if you'll be responsible for something bad happening... um, this person is digging his or her own grave. Any action you take to mitigate the situation will not be harming them; that's their own fault.

Much more importantly, however, any actions you take will make the situation, and the campus, and the world, a more welcoming place for people around you. And for you.
posted by Madamina at 6:22 PM on March 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

It's a fight worth fighting, but as was said above, if you do decide to fight it, tread carefully.
My 2 cents: Don't go it alone or rely solely on the mechanisms of law or policy. Reach out to others, make things public, and crush this vileness with broad exposure and loud condemnation by the many. More people are appalled by this today than ever before in history.
posted by LonnieK at 6:38 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Call your rabbi" "Thanks, but next time you do this, I'm going to be calling HR, the Dean and a lawyer."
posted by Jubey at 6:43 PM on March 7, 2013 [19 favorites]

It's good that you're documenting and looking for another job, but this is definitely an HR worthy situation. These people need to learn how to behave in a professional venue, and you should not have to deal with it for one more day.
posted by blurker at 6:44 PM on March 7, 2013

Asking HR about what to do does not commit you to fighting the good fight, to whistleblowing, or even to making a formal complaint. Talk to them. A central, critical job of a (competent) HR department is to keep the institution out of legal trouble, and HR professionals are all about the ounce of prevention. They will be much happier if you ask now than if you complain later. Or worst of all (from their perspective) if you quit and sue.
posted by gingerest at 6:44 PM on March 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

First two -- unless the professors in question far outrank you, I would laugh it off/mock/joke back to them about how silly their behavior is. Something like, for the first guy, "And I enjoy coming to your department for the look back at antiquated gender relations!"

The prayer thing -- I would just completely ignore/deflect/not participate. If she gets in your face about your lack of praying, I would just say, "I'm Jewish." and leave it there.

Antisemitism -- this is in a whole separate ballpark from the other stuff. I think Oberlin is currently canceling classes and having campus-wide meetings to address behavior that isn't too far off from this.
posted by Sara C. at 6:51 PM on March 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

The world is not metafilter. There will be things in it that offend you. Try not to impose your morality on others when they offend you. A more appropriate response is to laugh at them, gently.

Be wary of sabre rattlers who advise you to fight against a culture without understanding what the possible repercussions of that fight are.

Also, don't waste you life fighting ignorance with anger, it can only be defeated with love.
posted by 517 at 6:52 PM on March 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

What I like to do during these little stints into insanity is just check out. I usually imagine I am somewhere more pleasant than I really am. I don't bother with whistleblowing and all that jive, because I find it more exhausting than not. But I am a lazy person, so...
posted by amodelcitizen at 6:53 PM on March 7, 2013

Asking HR about what to do does not commit you to fighting the good fight, to whistleblowing, or even to making a formal complaint. Talk to them. A central, critical job of a (competent) HR department is to keep the institution out of legal trouble, and HR professionals are all about the ounce of prevention. They will be much happier if you ask now than if you complain later. Or worst of all (from their perspective) if you quit and sue.

Based on an experience I had when I went to seek advice from HR at my university about an instance of what I perceived to be possible sexual harassment, this is not necessarily true. If the incidents you describe to HR violate the law or university policies they are obligated to take action to protect the institution they work for, and that action may involve "outing" you.

A central, critical job of a (competent) HR department is to keep the institution out of legal trouble

That's just it. This is their job. Their job is not to protect you or your privacy.

Again, this is my understanding based on my experience and on accounts I have heard from others. Others with more HR or legal expertise may wish to weigh in.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 6:53 PM on March 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

Let me qualify .. I can't say you SHOULD launch a big public fight, etc. The degree to which you want to engage is up to you and everyone's situation is different. And others are right that informing HR doesn't obligate you to sue or go public or anything else. Do as much or as little as you're comfortable doing.
It's my opinion that a big public fight is the best way to defeat this stuff, with legal action alongside. But that's not for everybody at every time. Good luck.
posted by LonnieK at 6:55 PM on March 7, 2013

Violations of your civil rights in the workplace are not something that deserves to be met with love, or with tolerance, or any other feel good happy crappy bullshit. You need to do what's right for you, whether it's a chat with HR and/or a firm statement of your boundaries and/or a formal complaint and/or looking for a new job.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:01 PM on March 7, 2013 [44 favorites]

>> Try not to impose your morality on others when they offend you.

This has nothing to do with your being oversensitive or imposing your morality. The people of this country have fought huge battles and spilled much blood to make it illegal for bosses to discriminate by calling workers 'nigger' or telling Jew jokes. These things offend society as a whole, and they are against the law.
posted by LonnieK at 7:01 PM on March 7, 2013 [66 favorites]

Does your university have an Employee Assistance Plan? They typically cover either advice/support/etc. That could be a session or two with a trained counsellor who could help you sort out what you want to do next. It could be an

These benefits are carefully designed so that the topic of what you ask is confidential (i.e. the university may get a very general summary like "X people made use of the service, Y were referred to appropriate professionals") and it might give you some space to sort it out with trained help without immediately having to deal with all the "What will the university do if I tell them?" parts.
posted by modernhypatia at 7:08 PM on March 7, 2013

Hi. I'm a manager who just had to go through harassment training. Everything you mention is completely inappropriate for the workplace. Hell yes, report it to your manager. Or, if they're an offender, go to HR. You are an employee, therefore, you have standing. And if HR won't act, lawyer up because none of that is okay and you could very well have a case that you're in a hostile work environment.
posted by smirkette at 7:10 PM on March 7, 2013

Also: if bad things happen to you after you report these issues to HR, document, lawyer up, and talk to them about retaliation. Any competent org will be very, very sensitive to these issues and do what they can to avoid them.
posted by smirkette at 7:16 PM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

So you've got definite sexual harassment (the kiss...kissing coworkers, even on their hands, is Not OK), some random dodgy religion-imposing, and one for sure case of outright antisemitism.


Sadly, and I say this as someone who worked for multiple universities, HR will likely do everything in their power to do nothing. I don't work in higher ed anymore for good reason.

Your best chance of getting a real response is lawyering up or otherwise shining an outside spotlight in. If my boss taking nude photos of an underage intern in our university studio didn't get fired, and he didn't, then that tells you how hard it is to get universities to do the right thing. I don't say this to discourage you, but to let you know that you are likely to meet stupidly, astonishingly high levels of resistance inside the academic world. So be prepared.
posted by emjaybee at 7:18 PM on March 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

The first two, I would have been pissed, but learned to deal with it. The third, the antisemitism, I would have cold cocked the motherfucker. I don't recommend that as the appropriate course of action.

I would have a chat with HR and tell them that before you went to your attorney, you thought it best to see if there was a way you and HR could address this satisfactorily together.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:26 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd report it and make sure there is a record of your reporting it so that if these people keep doing it, the university can take appropriate action. There is no possible way to defend the Jew comments and that would never be OK in any workplace.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:29 PM on March 7, 2013

HR's job is not to help you. HR's job is to help the institution. Talk to a lawyer before you talk to HR.
posted by empath at 7:37 PM on March 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

I can't say what will work best for you, only what has worked for me. It sucks, but HR or going to my superior has always been a bad decision, usually with results worse than if I had just left it alone.

What has worked is this: try to approach the person as if they were a friend who had done something offensive. Assume that they have no idea that their behavior is wrong or offensive. (Put aside for a moment the fact that they should already know this.) Assume that they generally mean well and are not stupid, but that this is an embarrassing gap in their knowledge.

In response to the offense (or as soon afterward as is reasonable), mention to them that what they did made you uncomfortable, and say what you would prefer they do next time instead. Try to frame it less as "That made me uncomfortable because it was sexist and don't kiss my hand," and more as "That made me uncomfortable, please just shake my hand next time." As another example, "I found that comment about my religion really offensive, I would appreciate it if you would try to be more respectful of other religious backgrounds in the future."

All of this of course assumes that you feel comfortable saying something to the people who are offending you. It shouldn't be your responsibility to do this, but in my experience, it works better for me than the alternatives. I'm naturally outspoken, so this comes a little easier to me, but it's still awkward. But if you can do this, I find that treating the person like a human who is making an embarrassing mistake often gets the result I was going for. And as a bonus, you learn to resolve difficult situations yourself with grace.

And if direct communication doesn't work, then I go home, bitch about it with a friend while polishing off a bottle of wine, and then start job hunting.
posted by crunchysalty at 7:43 PM on March 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I strongly disagree with people who suggest you joke back or laugh off these comments. These comments are not funny, so why would one turn it into something breezy and comical? That approach doesn't relieve tension and create love and merriment, it lets the offender off the hook. In fact, joking back or laughing it off may make you an accomplice, at least in the mind of the offender and then you may never hear the end of their BS comments. I work in a very hostile environment where middle managers do nothing but gossip and lie about anyone who threatens their "power", which means they lie and gossip about everyone. For whatever reason, a lot of people eat this stuff and join in the insanely juvenile and hateful behavior. I don't get it. I wouldn't tolerate it either. Talking to HR about these specific examples will at least give you peace of mind that you were proactive in doing something about it, and hopefully will lead to folks getting a warning. I wish more people would formally complain about stuff like this instead of blowing it off and letting the next victim deal with it. Good luck.
posted by waving at 7:44 PM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

-Today, a coworker making deeply offensive statements about Jewish people, the least of which being "I don't like Jews." When I told her my husband and I were of Jewish descent, and that what she was saying was wrong, she dismissed me with, "Call your rabbi."

THIS is totally indefensible. Even if your supervisor prays, I would go to her with this. (If she is any kind of person of faith at all she should yank the offender's chain, and hard.)

As to the unwanted handkissing, if it had been me he might have pulled back a bloody stump. (Only halfkidding, there.)

As someone who has to listen to a lot of really raunchy sexual talk at work, I feel your pain. In my case, all I do is shake my head and tell them they better never get a government job. In your case, I would start with the most egregious thing (which I think we all might agree is the "I hate Jews" remark) and go from there. Only you know what you can grit your teeth and tolerate and what is totally unacceptable, but at the very least, I would speak up for that one, chips be darned.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:51 PM on March 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm with St. Alia on the weird anti-Semite. However, I'm also with you and not sure that you'll be able to keep this job one way or the other. If you rock the boat, you may find your time very hard there. There are ways to resist that probably allow you to keep your job but which don't actively fix the problem. I'd think about what you'd like to have happen. The sad thing is that truly there's a high probability that none of these people will even get reprimanded. Academia is a place incredibly twisted by politics and personalities. I think you're going to need a new job if the benefits don't outweigh the negatives. Not that you shouldn't speak your mind (absolutely) or report (your call), but if you MUST be there, just keep the consequences in mind.

And if it's clear that this is endemic and you have other options, burn the place down. Metaphorically, of course. What dicks.
posted by amanda at 8:06 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you do decide to ultimately take your documentation to HR or a lawyer, you should make it a point going forward to always follow someone's offensive remark with an earnest, "What makes you say that?" (Or, "Why did you do that?") Document their answer as well as their initial remark. It helps show that the offender is knowingly making those remarks/performing those actions as a pattern of belief and behavior, not as one-off blabber.

By the by, strongly disagree with the above about threatening to "take it to" HR and/or a lawyer. ("Thanks, but next time you do this, I'm going to be calling HR, the Dean and a lawyer.") The last thing you want is to alert the perpetrators that you're going to take that action. Keep your cards close to your chest whenever you are dealing with a hostile work environment.

A discussion with a lawyer about your rights shouldn't cost you anything. It could help you to get a consultation, and a lawyer will advise you of your rights specific to your situation, and help you build a solid set of documentation, plus direct you on how to follow the rules to report it, push it up the chain of command, and demand redress. Many lawyers in employment law work on contingency.
posted by juniperesque at 8:17 PM on March 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I agree that if you're actually planning on following through and taking it to HR and a lawyer, then, yes, the OPs best bet is to be quiet about it. But to be quite honest, juniperesque, my comment was made to cut the horrible behaviour off at the source. Simply because if I was the one (god forbid) making disgusting antisemitic jokes and the point was clearly made that I could lose my job over it, I would cut that shit out quick smart. I just think a strongly worded response which made it really clear the behaviour would not be tolerated, might be enough. Might.Hopefully.
posted by Jubey at 8:39 PM on March 7, 2013

You should probably get in your documentation some times when you say the magic words, "I find that offensive, and I don't want you to do/say things like that again." Not just "you're wrong," or "you shouldn't say/do that." You're on much stronger ground when you have literally requested they stop and they still haven't. This isn't friendly advice you're giving them in a "you're going to get yourself into trouble, you naughty thing, you" way, it's a fact: you have offended me. Stop.

There are some cut and dried EEO complaint things, but more often you're going to find "I didn't know it was offending anyone" to work better than you would expect as a defense.
posted by ctmf at 8:51 PM on March 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

Yeah, the number one question you need to ask yourself here is, "how badly do I need this job?" While i personally would have been mildly-to-very annoyed by your first few things, the anti-Semitism is way over the line and you are certainly well within your rights to try and put a stop to all of this bullshit.

But. You've got to realize, if you do this, when it leaks, you will instantly become That Crazy Bitch Who Is Trying To Get Us All Fired Over Some Harmless Chit Chat. You will be ostracized. There's lots of ways to make someone's life a complete misery that fall short of provable in a court of law harassment and retaliation, and by choosing to report this and make an issue of it you will place yourself and your job at considerable risk. It will be in the university's interest to paint you as an unstable nut case flying of the handle over nothing, and/or to attempt to push you out by making your job incompatible with your lifestyle, and/or to try and catch you out over the least slip up in order to fire you for cause. You may end up with a difficult to explain gap in your resume with no useable references covering the period that will act as a red flag for future job hunting.

i don't know that all of that will happen, of course. But I think they're all real risks you've got to face squarely before you decide to pursue this --- there will be a cost, and you will pay it personally, while the rewards of any change in the university's policies or atmosphere will likely accrue to people who aren't you. The cause is worthwhile --- just make sure you can afford the price.
posted by Diablevert at 9:36 PM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

At times when I find myself wrestling with a hard decision, I find it useful to think ahead five or ten years and imagine what I would feel like looking back at each of the possible decisions I could have made. In this case, do you think you are going to want to look back and say "I stoically took their crap and moved on to better things" or "At some personal cost, I stood up for what was right and socked it to those bastards". Either way is OK if it works for you, but think of the question not just in terms of now but also in terms of in the future looking back because you'll have to live with whatever decision you make.
posted by Dansaman at 11:49 PM on March 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am not an attorney, and I do not know their world. I do not know if an attorney would jump at the chance to get this or not, I'd like to hope so but really it's totally out of my realm. You'll get advice here from real, live, breathing, briefcase-carrying lawyers, and good advice, too.

What was said upthread about HR being there to protect the organization, that's got to be true, no doubt they'd paint it all up as Caring For Our Valued Employees but no doubt it's more about keeping any fire contained and then shut down fast as possible.

The kissing your hand, the beautiful women in this dept routine? They know they are over the line and do not care; those men haven't been slapped down in that organization, but believe me, they know where the line is and they know the are stepping over it. That jive alone would get heads rolling in some organizations, all IT shops I worked in, you'd get slapped hard and maybe chopped for that kind of crap. Anyways, these men know, for a fact.

The prayer jive, again, these people know the are way over any line, but they've not been slapped. Yet. Everybody is awake enough today to know that you don't pull this crap, you'd have to be completely tone-deaf to our social norms to not get it, and to not keep all of your religious crap on the other side of your teeth.

But the cultural slur, the "Hey, go see your rabbi" stuff. The whole denigrating Jews thing, and then not even having the decency to pretend to be sorry. That really got me, and really has me. That piece of human garbage absolutely knows she is over the line, she is not only racist but insolent about it. Goddamn, I truly do hope that you can go after this organization. Wouldn't it be great to see that scum trash thrown out on her ass? I'd pay twenty bucks for video of it, of her squawking as she's forced out the damn door.

I just can't see how it isn't harassment. Again, I think talk to an atty before your boss and/or HR, as that atty will possibly steer you around some traps that HR would lay out for you to fall into; ideally, the attorney would deal with HR, and/or be present at any time you are dealing with them.

I just wish I had more insight into what levers can be pulled -- if there are in fact any levers which can be pulled -- I think you'll have to find out from an atty what the levers are, and does he pull them or do you, or what?

Or maybe it is just time to bail out, document everything in case the fit hits the shan in some way but put all of your juice into getting out of there. I'm so ridiculous, I tend to stay in jobs that just are not fits for me, I pound myself as a round peg into a square hole, and a case could easy be made to just find a place I'd fit into.

Whatever it is you decide to do, I sure do wish you the best in it, and good luck as you step through this work
posted by dancestoblue at 1:53 AM on March 8, 2013

To the first professor:
"What decade did you come from?!?"

To the hand-kisser:
"Eww, yuck!" (while shaking spit off your hand and reaching for a tissue...)

To the praying supervisor:
"No." No need to explain you are or aren't of her religious persuasion; simply refuse to participate.

To the offensive coworker:
There's no reason to explain your own background; merely (calmly) say "That's offensive".
To her 'call your rabbi' line, the response is "No, I'll call HR and the university's EEOC hotline".

I think you're right to be documenting all of this, and yes, you most certainly DO 'have standing' to report any and all of it. Take it all to HR, and calmly, unemotionally, discuss it with them --- save upgrading to the EEOC for if HR doesn't take action.
posted by easily confused at 2:46 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

The first two sexist things, kinda gross, but I doubt that the dudes mean any harm (they're probably older than dirt and just don't know any better.) I'm 50, YMMV. I grew up with shit-tons of sexism and on my scale this rates about a 3 out of 10. Obnoxious, but can be dealt with with a sassy comment and a glare.

Prof 1: There are so many lovely ladies to look at (here)

Me: (eyeroll) Thanks Eddie Haskell, so what mind-numbing task are you here to get done?

Prof 2: (having just kissed my hand)

Me: DUDE! I don't want your lips on me, I don't know where they've been. (grab anti-bacterial gel to wash the germs off)

As for the praying supervisor, that shit just doesn't bug me. I live in the south, I've been asked to pray for all kinds of silly things. If you're bothered, it's pretty easy to address it with your supervisor in a nice way.

Me: Sally, I know you mean well by asking us to pray for things, and to offer a blessing before lunch. I wanted to let you know that it makes me uncomfortable. I was brought up to worship in my own way and privately and while I respect your right to offer your prayers, I'd rather not be asked to do so as well. Also, when we're at lunch, is it possible, rather than do a group prayer, that you simply silently offer your blessing prior to dining?

I have a co-worker who offers a quick, silent prayer before eating lunch, all I do is wait the 30 seconds or so, and then we resume lunch as normal.

As for the anti-semetic comment, that needs a formal complaint. No way around it. Imagine if she's saying these things around students. It's horrible and awful and simply not okay.

Discuss it with your supervisor, and let her know that you intend to go to HR and the EEOC because it's eggregious.

I find that most garbage is more easilly and effectvely addressed with wit, charm and sarcasm than with anger. I save the anger for the big battles.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:21 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Witnessed firsthand: when an employee who made a dumb error made a crack to a large group of other employees with something like "Well, I should buy a ticket on the first flight to Poland," another employee looked her straight in the eye and said fiercely and loudly "I'M POLISH." Meaning STFU.

The looks of terror/horror/embarassment on the faces in the group told me that we'd hear no more ethnic slurs.... and we haven't. Maybe, just maybe, your group may be reminded that there are serious legal consequences to their lowbrow behaviors and they may self-police. I'd give that a shot as suggested above before a visit to HR.
posted by Lornalulu at 7:29 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Our ancestors didn't survive 12,000 years wandering through the Gobi Desert by refusing to file complaints with HR. While the rest of it can maybe be disposed of with a quiet conversation in a corner amounting to "Fuck off lest ye be mightily fucked," this is something that no one should have to tolerate.
Note: my Jewish history may not be 100% accurate
posted by 1adam12 at 7:31 AM on March 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

Does your school have any published literature telling what an enlightened, encompassing place it is to attend/work? Does it have any kind of policies in the handbook that address these things? Does it promote a culture of inclusiveness and diversity? If so, find those documents, cut out the relative paragraphs, and start posting them on bulletin boards. Bring it up in staff meetings that maybe we all need a refresher session on how to live our culture. Do you have gatherings where you can brush up against the dean or the board members? Ask them how the published culture meshes with your experiences.

(As an aside, I wonder what the response would be if some of these comments ended up in the public, like in the US News rankings of schools.)

I'm asking these questions because all the companies that I have worked with have published statements of ethics and culture; we are required to sign the ethics pledge every year; we have annual meetings where anyone can ask questions to the executives and can submit them anonymously if desired. We had sensitivity/harassment training that used the phrase "Not here, not ever" so that became a sort of joking way to stop anything that happened in the workplace. It was an active policy for HR to present this kind of training every year.

So I am wondering if, instead of you personally trying to fight this as individual incidents in a battle, would it make sense to get some folks together and appeal to HR and/or the higher-ups about implementing this type of policy/training across the board for everyone, to promote a culture that won't let this happen in the future.
posted by CathyG at 8:31 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Almost every major university will have a harassment policy of some sort. (I think it's a federal requirement for a university getting grants from the government... Title IX, perhaps? I also think it's a violation to retaliate in any way. This is off the top of my head, so don't rely upon this info without checking it for yourself.)

My institution's policy is here:

I suggest you look at your university's policy, figure out which of the actions you describe would fall under the university's definition of harassment/hostile work environment, and then go from there.

Any no-retaliation policy is only as good as the powers that enforce it. So if and when you move forward, be sure that the case is clear and well documented, and understand that there can be consequences to you. This should in no way dissuade you from taking any action you feel appropriate -- nobody should be subject to harassment in her workplace -- but just a reminder that this can be serious stuff for everybody involved, so it shouldn't be taken lightly.
posted by cgs06 at 9:28 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you've got a mix of stuff here.

Sexist attitudes disguised as chivalry from gross old professors who mean no harm: meh. Ignore. You won't win this one and you won't really teach them anything anyway.

Supervisor suggesting you pray: inappropriate, but probably you can take care of this by letting her know your religion is a private matter and asking her to respect that. (This one is borderline though; I'd probably mention it to HR when you're in that office, which you are about to be, because:)

Jew-baiting from a staff member: Nooooo. You do not need "standing" to complain about this, you need to take it straight to HR. It is their responsibility to ensure you are not in a hostile work environment; they are legally liable if they allow this to continue, and she will almost certainly be disciplined (any of the orgs I've worked in would have fired her for a lot less than this.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:37 PM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

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