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Following Suit : Restoring Harmony in Wake of Harassment Case

November 12, 1996

When allegations of sexual harassment surfaced at Electrolizing Inc., an industrial chrome-plating firm in South-Central Los Angeles, owner Susan Grant was hit with lawsuits from both sides. After the news spread throughout the company, Grant met with employees to shore up their morale and focused her energy on the business. Grant was interviewed by Karen Kaplan.

Nearly two years ago, a female secretary in my company told me she had been sexually harassed by the office manager. Both of these people had worked for me for many years, and the allegation made my hair stand up.

When we confronted the office manager, he acted as if he had been betrayed and said, "I'll see you in court." I put the secretary in counseling for four months, but she sued me too.

If I had gone to court and lost, I would have been responsible for everyone's attorneys' fees. The law is set up that way to protect workers because otherwise they could never afford to file a lawsuit. But bearing the cost of a trial threatened to put me out of business, so my lawyers advised me to settle, with the condition that they not bring any further claims against me.

This lawsuit affected every person here. The employees were taking sides. Some didn't believe the office manager had done anything wrong, and some were afraid to say what they thought because they didn't want to get dragged into court. When people heard through the grapevine how much money they were suing for, there was fear the company would go out of business.

I started a series of pep talks to reassure everyone that the place wasn't falling apart. We had meetings with employees about sexual harassment and treating people with respect. I told them that if anyone ever does anything harmful to please come to me immediately.

Other than that, I didn't bring it up too much. I didn't want to make it into a bigger deal than it was. I just wanted to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

My business almost went down the tubes because of all this. I started seeing a therapist. I started going to an acupuncturist because all the pressure was making me tense. I made sure I focused on eating right and exercising. I knew I'd have to be on top of this, and I'd have to put on a strong front so my employees wouldn't think I was falling apart.

It took about a year for morale to really improve. Once I started to calm down, things calmed down for everyone.

The most important thing to help you stay focused is to find an attorney you trust so you can turn it all over to [him or her]. You need to focus your energy on your other employees, on their morale, and be as honest with them as you can.

Now that it's over, I think this whole ordeal has brought the company a heck of a lot closer. The harmony that exists now wasn't here before. We've been working together so much better now. That's the good that's come out of all of this.



Company name: Electrolizing Inc.

Owner and president: Susan Grant

Nature of business: Industrial chrome plating

Location: South-Central Los Angeles

Owner since: 1983

Number of employees: 29

Annual sales: Just under $2 million

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