67: It’s Not Over Until I Say It’s Over…

67: It’s Not Over Until I Say It’s Over…

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

It’s Not Over Until I Say It’s Over…

The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.

~Margaret Chase Smith

I was the last person who ever expected to have a problem with sexual harassment. I was a forty-five-year-old widow with four teenage children. I was an average-looking woman, and on a sexually attractive scale of one to ten, I’d have rated myself a two. I was thirty pounds overweight, wore bifocals and didn’t wear make-up.

I’d been a widow for ten years and had worked a variety of jobs to support my family. I didn’t have any college or special job skills, and I took whatever jobs I could get. I’d been working two jobs, cleaning houses and working as a clerk in a small gift shop. When the gift shop closed, I needed another job to keep supporting my family.

I applied for twenty-three jobs and couldn’t believe my good luck when I was hired at a jewelry store at a salary that would allow me to quit my job cleaning houses. Having only one job was almost like being on vacation.

That lasted six months, and then my boss started asking me odd questions about my personal life. Was I dating anyone, and why not? He was a sixty-five-year-old widower and had been pleasant to work with until then. Two men in their forties and three women in their twenties also worked in the store.

My boss began asking me out to dinner, and I refused. I explained I had four children at home and wanted to be home in the evenings with them.

A sexy novel and suggestive cartoons appeared in my locker at work. I couldn’t imagine anyone else at work would have put them there other than my boss. Things escalated. He hinted I might lose my job if I wasn’t nice to him. I began applying at other places for a new job. One day, he cornered me in the stockroom and tried to kiss and grope me. He said he would make me assistant manager if I’d “be friendly.”

I called a lawyer, and he took my case on a contingency. If I lost, I wouldn’t have to pay him anything. I told my children I was filing sexual-harassment charges against my boss.

My children’s first reaction was: How could any man be sexually interested in you? Then they were embarrassed I was making this public. What if their friends heard about it? And finally, if I lost my job, how would we survive?

I was crushed. I hadn’t exactly thought of myself as an innocent damsel in distress defending myself against the villain, but I had expected my kids to be sympathetic and supportive. Maybe they were right. Maybe I was making a fool of myself and humiliating my family.

Things were worse at work. The boss stopped coming into the office and appointed one of the men as temporary manager. The two men who worked at the store laughed at me and would ask me how my love life was. The women stopped talking to me at all. To say things were chilly at work was an understatement; it was like the North Pole. There was gossip about me, but what did I do to cause it? How far did I go with the boss? Had I encouraged or seduced him? Was it about the money?

I was fortunate to get a nice lawyer, but he was very young. I even wondered if I was his first case. He told me I was the perfect victim. My boss had seen that and taken advantage of me. I was middle-aged, needed the job, and was the sole support for my four children. I didn’t have any real job skills or training to make it easy to get another job. I was also quiet, shy and easily intimidated because I’d been bullied and abused as a child.

I told my lawyer that maybe it wasn’t worth it. Maybe I should just give up. But he said he was sure my boss had abused countless women before me, and if I didn’t stop him, he would abuse many after me. He said I had to be the champion who looked my boss straight in the eye and said not just “no,” but “hell no!” He said he’d fight to the end for me, and it wasn’t over until he said it was over.

My lawyer also got some good counseling for me that shed light on how I’d been timid and afraid my entire life. I’d tiptoed through life trying not to upset or offend anyone. I was feeling stronger and, in spite of the way I felt inside, I became brave on the “outside.” I’d go to work every day whether anyone spoke to me or not. I would do my job and then go home to my children. I would see this through to the end, regardless of the outcome.

The case went to court. My boss did not show up, and the judge awarded me an amount of money that would have been equal to my wages for five years at the store.

I thought it was over. I’d survived. My lawyer said “no,” it was not over, and I deserved more money. He wanted a written letter of apology and a good recommendation from my boss. It wouldn’t be over until he said it was over.

I told my lawyer I didn’t care about more money or the letter, and he said he cared. The judge contacted my boss and ordered him to produce a letter of apology and a recommendation, which he did.

The next week, my boss filed for bankruptcy — not because of my lawsuit, but because he hadn’t been paying any of his debts for the past year and owed a fortune for jewelry, rent and income taxes. The store was closed and the inventory seized. My boss moved across the country. The people I’d worked with still wouldn’t speak to me and blamed me for the store closing, even though I had nothing to do with it.

Going through the ordeal had been painful, embarrassing, exhausting and scary, but I came out of it stronger, smarter and no longer a victim. I faced the giant, and I won.

My boss died two years later, and my lawyer filed against his estate. Four years after I first filed my complaint, I got a check in the mail with the rest of the money I was originally awarded. There was also a note from my lawyer that said simply, “Now it’s over.”

~April Knight

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