Chapter 28


She said nothing.
"And you could never have proved it."
Fernandez raised her eyebrows and said nothing.
"Who said that?" Garvin said. "I want to know."
"Look, Bob," she said. "The fact is, there's a category of behavior that no one condones anymore. The supervisor who grabs genitals, who squeezes breasts in the elevator, who invites an assistant on a business trip but books only one hotel room. All that is ancient history. If you have an employee behaving like that, whether that employee is male or female, gay or straight, you are obliged to stop it."
"Okay, fine, but sometimes it's hard to know-"
"Yes," Fernandez said. "And there's the opposite extreme. An employee doesn't like a tasteless remark and files a complaint. Somebody has to tell her it's not harassment. By then, her boss has been accused, and everybody in the company knows. He won't work with her anymore; there's suspicion, and bad feelings, and it's all a big mess at the company. I see that a lot. That's unfortunate, too. You know, my husband works in the same firm I do."
"After we first met, he asked me out five times. At first I said no, but finally I said yes. We're happily married now. And the other day he said to me that, given the climate now, if we met today, he probably wouldn't ask me out five times. He'd just drop it."
"See? That's what I'm talking about."
"I know. But those situations will settle out eventually. In a year or two, everybody will know what the new rules are."
"Yes, but-"
"But the problem is that there's that third category, somewhere in the middle, between the two extremes," Fernandez said. "Where the behavior is gray. It's not clear what happened. It's not clear who did what to whom. That's the largest category of complaints we see. So far, society's tended to focus on the problems of the victim, not the problems of the accused. But the accused has problems, too. A harassment claim is a weapon, Bob, and there are no good defenses against it. Anybody can use the weapon-and lots of people have. It's going to continue for a while, I think."
Garvin sighed.
"It's like that virtual reality thing you have," Fernandez said. "Those environments that seem real but aren't really there. We all live every day in virtual environments, defined by our ideas. Those environments are changing. It's changed with regard to women, and it's going to start changing with regard to men. The men didn't like it when it changed before, and the women aren't going to like it changing now. And some people will take advantage. But in the final analysis, it'll all work out."
"When? When will it all end?" Garvin said, shaking his head.
"When women have fifty percent of the executive positions," she said. "That's when it will end."
"You know I favor that."
"Yes," Fernandez said, "and I gather you have just appointed an outstanding woman. Congratulations, Bob."
Mary Anne Hunter was assigned to drive Meredith Johnson to the airport, to take a plane back to Cupertino. The two women sat in silence for fifteen minutes, Meredith Johnson hunched down in her trench coat, staring out the window.
Finally, when they were driving past the Boeing plant, Johnson said, "I didn't like it here, anyway."
Choosing her words carefully, Hunter said, "It has its good and bad points."
There was another silence. Then Johnson asked, "Are you a friend of Sanders?"
"He's a nice guy," Johnson said. "Always was. You know, we used to have a relationship."
"I heard that," Hunter said.
"Tom didn't do anything wrong, really," Johnson said. "He just didn't know how to handle a passing remark."
"Uh-huh," Hunter said.
"Women in business have to be perfect all the time, or they just get murdered. One little slip and they're dead."
"You know what I'm talking about."
"Yes," Hunter said. "I know."
There was another long silence. Johnson shifted in her seat.
She stared out the window.
"The system," Johnson said. "That's the problem. I was raped by the fucking system."
Sanders was leaving the building, on his way to the airport to pick up Susan and the kids, when he ran into Stephanie Kaplan. He congratulated her on the appointment. She shook his hand and said without smiling, "Thank you for your support."
He said, "Thank you for yours. It's nice to have a friend."
"Yes," she said. "Friendships are nice. So is competence. I'm not going to keep this job very long, Tom. Nichols is out as CFO of Conley, and their number-
two man is a modest talent at best. They'll be looking for someone in a year or so. And when I go over there, someone will have to take over the new company here. I imagine it should be you."
Sanders bowed slightly.
"But that's in the future," Kaplan said crisply. "In the meantime, we have to get the work here back on track. This division is a mess. Everyone's been distracted by this merger, and the product lines have been compromised by Cupertino's ineptitude. We've got a lot to do to turn this around. I've set the first production meeting with all the division heads for seven a.m. tomorrow morning. I'll see you then, Tom."
And she turned away.
Sanders stood at the arrivals gate at Sea-Tac and watched the passengers come off the Phoenix plane. Eliza came running up to him, shouting "Daddy!" as she leapt into his arms. She had a suntan.
"Did you have a nice time in Phoenix?"
"It was great, Dad! We rode horses and ate tacos, and guess what?" "What?"
"I saw a snake."
"A real snake?"
"Uh-huh. A green one. It was this big," she said, stretching her hands. "That's pretty big, Eliza."
"But you know what? Green snakes don't hurt you."
Susan came up, carrying Matthew. She had a suntan, too. He kissed her, and Eliza said, "I told Daddy about the snake."
"How are you?" Susan said, looking at his face.
"I'm fine. Tired."
"Is it finished?"
"Yes. It's finished."
They walked on. Susan slipped her arm around his waist. "I've been thinking. Maybe I'm traveling too much. We ought to spend more time together."
"That'd be nice," he said.
They walked toward the baggage claim. Carrying his daughter, feeling her small hands on his shoulder, he glanced over and saw Meredith Johnson standing at the check-in counter of one of the departure gates. She was wearing a trench coat. Her hair was pulled back. She didn't turn and see him.
Susan said, "Somebody you know?"
"No," he said. "It's nobody."
Constance Walsh was fired by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and sued the paper for wrongful termination and sexual discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The paper settled out of court.
Philip Blackburn was named chief counsel at Silicon Holographics of Mountain View, California, a company twice as large as DigiCom. He was later elected Chairman of the Ethics Panel of the San Francisco Bar Association.
Edward Nichols took early retirement from Conley-White Communications and moved with his wife to Nassau, Bahamas, where he worked part-time as a consultant to offshore firms.
Elizabeth "Betsy" Ross was hired by Conrad Computers in Sunnyvale, California, and soon after joined Alcoholics Anonymous.
John Conley was named Vice President for Planning at Conley-White Communications. He died in an automobile accident in Patchogue, New York, six months later.
Mark Lewyn was charged with sexual harassment under Title VII by an employee of the Design Group. Although Lewyn was cleared of the charge, his wife filed for divorce not long after the investigation was concluded.
Arthur Kahn joined Bull Data Systems in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Richard Jackson of Aldus was charged with sexual harassment under Title VII by an employee of American DataHouse, a wholesale distributor for Aldus. After an investigation, Aldus fired Jackson.
Gary Bosak developed a data encryption algorithm, which he licensed to IBM, Microsoft, and Hitachi. He became a multi- millionaire.
Louise Fernandez was appointed to the federal bench. She delivered a lecture to the Seattle Bar Association in which she argued that sexual harassment suits had become increasingly used as a weapon to resolve corporate disputes. She suggested that in the future there might be a need to revise laws or to limit the involvement of attorneys in such matters. Her speech was received coolly.
Meredith Johnson was named Vice President for Operations and Planning at IBM's Paris office. She subsequently married the United States Ambassador to France, Edward Harmon, following his divorce. She has since retired from business.
The episode related here is based on a true story. Its appearance in a novel is not intended to deny the fact that the great majority of harassment claims are brought by women against men. On the contrary: the advantage of a role-reversal story is that it may enable us to examine aspects concealed by traditional responses and conventional rhetoric. However readers respond to this story, it is important to recognize that the behavior of the two antagonists mirrors each other, like a Rorschach inkblot. The value of a Rorschach test lies in what it tells us about ourselves.
It is also important to emphasize that the story in its present form is fiction. Because allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace involve multiple, conflicting legal rights, and because such claims now create substantial risk not only for the individuals but for corporations, it has been necessary to disguise the real event with care. All the principals in this case agreed to be interviewed with the understanding that their identities would be concealed. I am grateful to them for their willingness to help clarify the difficult issues inherent in investigations of sexual harassment.
In addition, I am indebted to a number of attorneys, human relations officers, individual employees, and corporate officials who provided valuable perspectives on this evolving issue. It is characteristic of the extreme sensitivity surrounding any discussion of sexual harassment that everyone I talked to asked to remain anonymous.