Sexist behavior and misogyny have been around a long time in the workplace. For decades, it seemed that the business world had accepted such behavior as “normal,” but ask any woman on the receiving end of this condescending, harassing and illegal behavior. It is not normal to discriminate and harass a co-worker, and, from her response, you will understand just how deep the frustration, hurt and anger are.
A recent lawsuit that surfaced in Michigan, once again, brings gender discrimination to the forefront. A former employee of Michigan technology and manufacturing firm Gentex Corp. contends she was terminated within a year of being hired after complaining about gender discrimination and retaliation at her workplace.
‘Bro culture’ reigned
A former senior project engineer at Gentex, Elizabeth Helminski filed the lawsuit on April 22 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The lawsuit’s defendants include Gentex as well as Helminski’s former supervisor.
After being hired by Gentex in early 2019, Helminski found herself surrounded by an office environment that included crass and unusual behavior similar to what one may expect at a college fraternity. The lawsuit described it as “bro culture.”
For example, she found herself in a workplace that tolerated hazing and pranks directed at her. At a meeting centered on confidential information, a male colleague would not close the door, claiming religious reasons in that he could not be “alone with a woman to whom he was not married.”
Also, her supervisor who told her to feign ignorance about certain work-related projects and turn to the men for explanations as a way to build up camaraderie and a sense of community.
According to the lawsuit, Helminski was fired less than a year on the job after she made an appointment to discuss her complaints with an executive in the diversity division. This happened even though her supervisor encouraged her to schedule the meeting. When she confirmed with her supervisor that her appointment was on the calendar, the company fired Helminski.
Any worker facing discrimination and retaliation in the workplace must have the courage to report such incidents and behavior. If you find yourself in a similar position, document every questionable incident, report them to a trusted work ally and seek the guidance of an empathetic and experienced employment law attorney.