Nervously, she applies for a job. Excitedly, she accepts the position. Walking into the office on the first day, she really wants to make a good impression.
Day one turns into week one. Week one turns into month one. Month one turns into year one, but her excitement has faded into dread. What happened? She has become the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Meet Sandra Bundy, an African-American woman who filed a lawsuit in August of 1977 against the Washington, D.C. Department of Corrections in which she alleged that her promotions had been delayed and denied specifically because she refused sexual advances by her supervisors and co-workers.
At that time, she worked as a vocational rehabilitation specialist at the department. Due to her maltreatment, Bundy loss her appetite, had trouble sleeping, cried a lot and considered suicide. Eventually, she sought medical help and was prescribed medication for depression and anxiety.
Not surprisingly, after her initial complaint, Bundy’s job performance was routinely criticized. Furthermore, no action was taken regarding her complaint and her work environment continued to worsen. A female colleague advised her to keep detailed notes of her experiences.
After receiving no recourse from her supervisors and discouragement from the agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity Officer, Bundy sought the assistance of private legal counsel.
Bundy’s lawsuit eventually became a landmark case and resulted in a 1981 court ruling, which established that it is, in fact, possible to bring a sexual harassment claim under Title VII even in cases that do not result in job loss. It was not an easy road, however. Bundy loss her initial lawsuit. As punishment, she was demoted.
Searching deep within herself, Bundy rose to the challenge. She filed an appeal. Although it took five years to go through the judicial process, the Supreme Court finally agreed with Bundy and ruled that workplace sexual harassment is considered employment discrimination and therefore violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Now, think about the women before Bundy who had similar experiences. There are many after her who can relate as well. Maybe you? Maybe me? Now, think about the little girls who will one day enter the workforce.
Bundy’s courage to remain steadfast when declaring that she was not hired for that, even in the face of opposition, led to a history-making moment which not only benefited her but also continues to be beneficial to generations of women (and men) today.
That little girl who watches your every move — who will sooner or later enter the workforce — needs to know that she was not hired for that. She can say, “No!” and win. Bundy did.