Wed | Sep 19, 2018

Gay stalker! - Worker’s contract not renewed after he reported being sexually harassed by male manager

Published:Sunday | March 11, 2018 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris

Landing a lucrative job at a resort on the north coast was like a dream come true for Kingston resident David Harper*, but it wasn't long before his workplace started to feel like a battlefield due to the constant sexual harassment he experienced from a male senior director and then a manager at the hotel.

In retrospect, Harper feels he was handpicked for the post at the job fair which the hotel hosted to recruit prospective employees, because the senior director had a sexual interest in him.

"From the get-go, he did have an unusual interest, but I just really thought it was a case where he thought I had a lot more potential and he was really trying to push me," Harper told The Sunday Gleaner.

He said the director had asked him, during the job fair, whether he was gay or bisexual, or if he had children or was married, but the 30-odd-year-old recruit assumed he was asking because he wanted to gauge his level of tolerance.

"I assumed that it was really because you are going to be dealing with hotel guests and usually they want you to have an open mind or be tolerant, as guests can be from different persuasions. So I gave them the politically correct answer that yes, I am tolerant and I understand that people have different likes," said Harper.

He eventually learnt that the director was openly gay, and within the first week of his employment, the senior hotel worker started making comments which made him very uncomfortable. On occasions he would message Harper to tell him he was handsome, and there were regular invitations for him to join the director for a drink.

"I just tried to be polite and respectable," said Harper who was hired on a contractual basis and did not want to do, or say, anything to jeopardise his chances of having his contract renewed.

"I pretty much tried to brush it aside because I was travelling back to Kingston most weekends. I was like, bwoy you know I am busy this weekend, I won't be here, so that would usually be my excuse," he said.

As if trying to deflect the interest of his senior manager wasn't already difficult, Harper said another manager at the hotel started making sexually suggestive statements to him. But as he did with the first, he tried to be tactful.

Reviews showed that Harper was doing a good job, and so when the senior director told him of an opening for a management position, he was hopeful. But then the senior manager's attitude changed when he again refused to go out with him after they had discussed the prospective position.

Instead of being considered for the post, Harper was transferred to another hotel where the senior director still wielded a lot of influence.

"My job was made much more difficult in terms of being assigned longer shifts. Usually, it would be a case where you would work either morning or evening shift and you would be paired with another person, but in my case, I wasn't, so for nearly two to three months, it was not the case," said Harper.

STILL KEPT CONTACT

Although he was now at a different location, the senior manager still contacted him.

"He messaged me quite often. There was one time when I made it clear that I was not of that persuasion, but again I tried to do so tactfully.

"It was always tricky because he just wielded so much power in terms of my professional life. I was really just trying to stay on his good side, which is why I didn't act even more firmly," said Harper.

He said the situation became so unbearable that he went to the hotel's human resource manager. He also confided in another manager who was a mutual friend, hoping that she would talk to the director.

"Apparently, everybody just accepted that he was of that persuasion and if you really wanted to keep your job, you should just avoid him," said Harper.

He went back to the human resource manager after recording the first manager making some sexually explicit comments to him. That manager was fired after the recording was shared.

But Harper said no one wanted to listen to him when he made reference to the other senior manager.

He eventually went to the general manager armed with a sexually explicit WhatsApp messages the senior manager had sent him. But the general manager became irate and called security to escort him off the property.

"Because of the fact that it was a contract, I had pretty much no legal claim from a labour standpoint because they could not have renewed my contract arbitrarily for whatever reason, and then based on the fact that there is no sexual harassment law, I also have very little claim legal-wise," he said.

Harper feels it is unfortunate that some employees are being made to endure sexual harassment because some bosses have no qualms about using their positions to their advantage.

"They can wield so much power because of the absence of a law that is pretty common-place now," he said.

The proposed Sexual Harassment legislation has still not been passed despite numerous deliberations and consultations dating back to 2015.

Minister with responsibility for gender affairs, Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, last Thursday announced that after months of consultations, she has finalised proposals for legislation to deal with sexual harassment.

Grange said she signed off on the outstanding issues on International Women's Day 2018 and will be taking her proposals to the next meeting of the Cabinet tomorrow.

In the meantime, head of the Jamaica Employers Federation (JEF) David Wan believes the legislation is long overdue as sexual harassment is an issue which both men and women are grappling with.

"It should be here. We are disappointed that it is not passed at well," he said.

He said the JEF has not received many reports of sexual harassment, but even if it did, there is not much they can do without the legislation.

"Even if we get the reports, it is difficult to act because it is not a law as yet," he said.

"Right now, there is nothing to penalise them (employers) for ignoring it, until the laws comes in, then we will have more teeth to persuade employers to investigate these things," Wan said.

*Name changed on request

Nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com