TIME TO GROW THICKER SKINS
by Todd Hartley
I know I shouldn’t be writing this, and you’ll understand why in a second, but my problem is and has always been that I can’t keep my big mouth shut. So I’m not going to keep it shut this time. My conscience is 100 percent clear in this matter and there’s not much else I can do about it, so damn the consequences.
However, since I know nothing about libel laws, I won’t call out my former employer by name. And I won’t name the two people who I think broke the law, but they know who they are, and if there’s any justice, they’ll get fired for something soon.
Here’s the scenario, and I’ll keep as strictly to the facts as I can so you can decide for yourself what happened: On Friday, July 8, a column I wrote called “Rest in P, Wizard of Woo” ran in The Aspen Times and the Huffington Post. In that column, I mentioned that I was directing a kids’ camp. I didn’t specify where, but it was at the unidentified place referenced in this column.
In the intro to the column, I joked about my battle with the kids and 19-year-old counselors over what to listen to in the van. To make myself seem like an old curmudgeon, I called the kids and counselors “tasteless know-nothings” and “trend-chasing troglodytes.” It wasn’t very nice of me, but I didn’t think it was a big deal.
That afternoon, July 8, I got a text from the club’s operations manager asking me if I could meet with him at 8 a.m. on Monday, July 11. To that point, I had heard nothing but good things from my bosses, coworkers, kids and parents, so I honestly couldn’t imagine what the meeting was going to be about.
I arrived at the meeting to find the operations manager and a human resources woman waiting for me. They asked me what my relationship was with one of the two 19-year-old female counselors. I told them the truth: I had no relationship with her. I’d never seen her or contacted her outside of work.
Then they said it “had come to their attention” that two weeks earlier, on a field trip to Ruedi Reservoir, I had said something to that counselor that could be construed as sexual harassment. I was shocked, but I actually knew what they were talking about. The girl was saying how guys thought she was ugly, and I said, “Take it from a 45-year-old, you’re hot.”
I meant it strictly as a compliment, but I realized as I said it that it wasn’t a great thing to say. That’s why I remembered it. I think we can all agree, though, that it hardly constitutes sexual harassment.
I told the operations manager and the HR woman about what I’d said and they thanked me for my honesty and, without providing any other examples of so-called harassment, closed the meeting by telling me I was to take a paid day off while they investigated the matter.
On my way out the door, the operations manager told me he’d read my column and it made him very angry that I said those things about my co-workers. And believe me, he was seething over it. He looked like he wanted to fire me for it, but firing someone for legal activity outside of work violates Colorado employment law.
I went home unconcerned about any sexual-harassment charges, fully expecting to be exonerated by my next workday, but just two hours later, the HR woman called me up and told me my contract was terminated starting immediately. I was being fired for sexual harassment. When I pressed her for examples other than the one I gave her, she didn’t have any and said only that “the column didn’t help.”
I spent a sleepless week thinking what else I might have done or said, and I drew a blank. Aside from one questionable comment, in no way, shape or form did I sexually harass anyone. So I sent an email to the new general manager expressing my concern that I’d been fired under false pretenses for my words.
I asked him in the email: (1) If a sexual-harassment claim was ever actually filed against me, since I don’t think one was; (2) When it was filed, as the day my column ran seems a little coincidental for an incident two weeks old; and (3) Would the person who filed that claim be willing to swear they weren’t coerced into doing it. I also wanted to know what further allegations of sexual harassment the HR woman uncovered during her “investigation.”
The GM emailed me back immediately and said he would “get the facts.” Two weeks later, he finally got back to me and didn’t provide any more examples or answer a single question. Not one. Instead, he just told me I was “well-liked” and everyone holds me “in high regard” and considers “the entire episode to be quite unfortunate.” Then he dismissed my concerns with a curt “I consider this matter closed.”
So I’ll let you decide what really happened, but I know what I think. I think the operations manager and HR woman wanted me gone because of the column, so they lied to me and then they lied to the GM. But that’s just me.
In the event I’m wrong, and they’re being honest, that means that if you’re a middle-aged white guy, calling a girl who was down on her looks “hot” one time can get you fired without any prior warning or reprimand. That really worries me.
I don’t know. Maybe a Donald Trump presidency wouldn’t be so bad. At least it would force us all to grow thicker skins and stop being such a bunch of hypersensitive wussies.
Todd Hartley still doesn’t consider this matter closed and has contacted the ACLU.