On a daily basis there was harassment, but there were a few key incidents that I remember. The worst one was when my co-worker grabbed me from behind, lifted me up, and then swung me around. I was so shocked. I had never seen anyone do something like this at any workplace ever. I felt cheap. After that I tried to avoid him constantly or at least tried to avoid being alone with him. They said he was just trying to be friends with me.
Eventually, I decided to take a grievance to human resources and the union that represented us, and we had a meeting. I asked for protection and refused to work with him. But what happened was worse than the sexual harassment itself. After two hours, HR didn’t offer any temporary work arrangements. Instead, the team lead, my boss, ordered me to work with the sexual harasser one-on-one.
When they transferred him to my site, I collapsed shortly after. I went to the psychiatric emergency treatment centre a few days later, and I stayed there for two whole weeks. I was hospitalized again within three months.
During this time, the union director was sending me emails with crude jokes. One featured a scantily dressed older woman and a sexy young naked man pictured down to his groin. The message said she “turned into the first Holiday Inn” she could find, because “she’s old, not dead!!!” I was humiliated and intimidated, but I wasn’t strong enough to question him. He then sent me another email on the first day of Chinese New Year. It had two jokes. One was: “Designers have invented a new bra for middle-aged women. They’ve called it ‘the Sheepdog,’ as it rounds them up and points them in the right direction.”
At first, he denied that he sent these emails. Later, he admitted to sending them, saying he was trying to lift my spirits.
In February 2014, I submitted a complaint about sexual harassment to the Human Rights Tribunal.
I developed a heart condition from the psychiatric medication. My doctor told me that, because of my heart condition, I had to be careful. There are no more medication options available to me, so he advised that I avoid the topic as much as possible to avoid stress. So, I left dealing with the human rights complaint until I felt comfortable, then I went back to the tribunal and said I wanted to continue with my application. But I didn’t realize until then I had missed the deadline.
I was suicidal, but everyone was telling me I was exaggerating.
What our government says and everything we do, it’s against workplace sexual harassment, but nobody cares. This is a problem we have to fix systemically. The tech industry is not often mentioned in discussions of sexual harassment. Woman are not treated well and it doesn’t matter if you are capable or anything; they don’t take you seriously, that’s for sure.
For the first 10 years, I was on long-term disability leave. However, I was placed on unpaid medical leave in 2019. I still need to live, I have living expenses, and I have to pay legal fees now on top of that.
I never went back to work. I have no income. But, worst of all, no one heard my case.