Tuesday, March 21, 2006

 

Life Imitates Art Imitates Life

Does my calendar say 1975 or 2006? Given the recent events in Richmond, British Columbia, it is difficult to know. The National in 1975 would have certainly had Knowlton Nash and not Peter Mansbridge reading the news, but apparently every now and then news can be recycled.

The concept of sexual harassment was apparently lost on male firefighters of Richmond, British Columbia. The majority of men there are alleged to have gone out of their way to make their female colleagues feel unwelcome - to say the least. Placing shit in a woman's boots and pants. Classless. Sending a couple of women into a burning building and not turning on their hose. Criminal. This is the second case in BC in the past three years and the last didn't end well for anyone.

Has society not learned anything from the Lois E. Jensons (see Background) of the world? 30 years later and workplaces are still dealing with large scale sexual harassment. Inexcusable.

There are a couple of obvious issues that need to discussed in the Richmond case. One, why is it that in 2006 a group of men, employing mob mentality or group think, believe it is ok to hang naked women on the walls of a public (they are public servants - who are supposedly the most trusted profession in the country) workspace. Nevermind that it is offensive to women, but you can bet that it would offend many men as well.

The larger issue in this case (and many others like it) for me, however, isn't simply the workplace, but rather how ineffective the union is. The union, which is supposed to protect all members - since everyone pays dues equally - fails a chunk of their membership and doesn't even issue a statement. It is easy to see why so many Canadians have such a negative view of the union movement. The whole point of unionizing is to improve the workplace for all workers, not just the "boys" or the vocal majority.

The union is likely to be named in the complaints and, if and when it does get named, you can bet that it will be raising union dues to cover legal costs. Hypocrites. Create a mess, than cap in hand it to all- including the accusers - for a bail out. This happened in the past BC firefighter case is very likely to happen again.

Background

Lois Jenson was a trailblazer for equality rights in the workplace. She is famous - by way of a book - Class Action - and movie - North Country (which is an excellent movie and the acting was fantastic). Her case is known as Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. and it was the first class action sexual harassment lawsuit in the United States.

The suit filed in 1998 on behalf of Lois Jenson and other female workers at the EVTAC mine in Eveleth, Minnesota. Jenson first began working at the site in 1975 and, along with other women, endured a continuous stream of disgusting, callous, abusive, uncivilized and misogynist behaviour from their male colleagues. Finally, after six years - in October 1984 - she mailed a complaint to the Minnesota Human Rights Department outlining the problems she experienced (FYI - in retaliation, her car tires were slashed a week later).

The state requested that Ogelbay Norton Co., a Cleveland, Ohio -based part-owner of the mine, pay 11,000 to Jenson in damages, but the company refused.

Fast forward to 1992. A Liability trial began in front of Judge Richard Kyle, and six months later, he ruled that the company should have prevented the misconduct. The company was ordered to educate all employees about sexual harassment.

Next, Patrick McNulty was named special master a few months later to oversee a trial that would determine the amount of money owed to the women in damages. McNulty, as opposed to taking steps to heal wounds, simply ripped open new ones. The retired federal magistrate permitted mine company lawyers to obtain all the medical records for every woman for their entire lifetimes. McNulty, in his report, expressed a great deal of scepticism and went so far as to call the women "actors." After revealing various personal details about the plaintiffs, he awarded each of them an average of $10,000. However, his judgement was appealed, reversed and a new trial was ordered.

Finally, in 1998, just before the trial was set to begin, fifteen women settled with Eveleth Mines for a total of $3.5 million.

Comments:
Those men are jackasses. Who the hell would do that?
 
I understand the city of Richmond wants to put all the firefighters through sensitivity training. A better idea is to fire the assholes who did this. That will make the men sensitive.

Hopefully these women's lawsuit goes through, nail everyone; the city, the fire department, and the union. That crap doesn't even happen in construction anymore.
 
Firing the "assholes" would be great, except I am sure that the union would protect them.

You are right this is crap.
 
"Firing the "assholes" would be great, except I am sure that the union would protect them."

And that is why so few people now like unions. They will get on the wrong side of any issue to protect an employee no matter how badly that person should be let go.
 
I just finished reading Class Action and googled Magistrate McNulty (hoping to send him hate mail), which brought me to your blog. I am VERY glad that you are continuing the dialog Lois Jenson started. Rock On!
 
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