Sunday, October 14, 2012

Open Letter to Harvard's Labor Relations Dept. on HUCTW Member Johany Pilar

October 9, 2012
An Open Letter to the Community
Addressing Labor and Employee Relations at Harvard University
We are writing to raise an important issue regarding the treatment of Harvard University Clerical and Technical Workers member Ms. Johany Pilar. We understand that on 3/2/12, 4/4/12 and 4/10/12, Ms. Pilar reported unwanted advances and physical contact from a co-worker. Apparently Ms. Pilar was instructed to train the co-worker even after reporting this harrassment. During the training she experienced more unwelcome physical contact. We understand that on 5/9/12, Ms. Pilar’s supervisor Chris Tolkacz insistently pressured Ms. Johany to cancel a therapy appointment she had set up because of the sexual harassment. Mr. Tolkacz apparently made this demand repeatedly, despite knowing the reason for Ms. Pilar’s appointment. We have learned that this interaction was so upsetting that it caused Ms. Pilar to have a panic attack in the workplace, which she had to leave by ambulance.  Ms. Pilar was subsequently admitted to Mount Auburn Hospital suffering from “severe anxiety.”

We understand that on 5/31/12, Ms. Pilar was denied a reasonable accommodation to her back pain by management. Although her doctor cleared her to return to work, with the sole restriction that she not lift more than ten pounds, management refused to allow her to return to work, using the excuse that it was not possible to monitor the weights of packages in the mailroom. This seems clearly specious, as many of the packages reportedly bear labels recording their weight. Ms. Pilar lost an entire week’s wages due to management’s denying her accommodation. We are informed that on 6/5/12, Betsy Shortell, Manager of University Mail Services, confronted Ms. Pilar in the workplace, repeatedly asked her the same questions, and, despite all of Ms. Pilar’s responses being polite and appropriate, accused Ms. Pilar of ignoring her, and stated, “If in the future I am talking to you and you avoid me, you will have a big, big problem with me.”

We have learned that on 8/28/12, Ms. Pilar visited Urgent Care and was prescribed anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant medication for throat pain and inflammation. On 9/1/12, she awoke to find that her throat pain had worsened and that she was unable to talk, and could barely swallow. She reported a sick day in Harvard’s PeopleSoft system, which she had been using for months to report sick days. On 9/5/12, Ms. Pilar made a request for extra hours and was told by Betsy Shortell, “Before we discuss extra hours, we need to sit down and talk about your unexcused absence Saturday, September 1.” We are informed that Ms. Shortell telephoned Ms. Pilar and stated that if she did not meet with Shortell and HR, she would be fired. On 9/7/12, Ms. Pilar provided management with a doctor’s letter stating that she needed to stay out of work for the next three days because of the condition in her throat. Despite this, on 9/14/12, management issued a written warning which stated she had failed to follow time off request procedures and was required when reporting a sick day “to speak to a management person live.” This written warning skipped over the verbal warning step in the HUCTW disciplinary process, and made no allowances for Ms. Pilar’s abundantly documented throat pain and inflammation. We regard it as another instance of the harassment, threats and unfair treatment that Ms. Pilar has faced since reporting sexual harassment in the workplace. We understand that Ms. Pilar, who has worked at Harvard since 1998, never received any discipline before she reported the unwanted advances and physical contact on the job. Ms. Pilar has filed a lawsuit with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) due to the retaliation she has faced.

Students in support of Johany Pilar have taken notice. We are disturbed by the way Ms. Pilar has been treated in her workplace. We stand in solidarity with a woman who appears to have been denied the right to speak out without repercussions in the face of consistent harassment and discrimination.  When a worker is disciplined as a result of speaking up about sexual harassment, it is not only an injustice to that individual, but also serves to normalize harassment more broadly by silencing victims and emboldening harassers.  A system that does not take sexual harassment seriously ultimately serves to reinforce rape culture, the set of attitudes, norms and practices that allow for sexual violence that persists in our community.

We demand that the University rescind the discipline against Ms. Pilar, provide her with a new supervisor, and give departmental managers the training they need to treat workers who have reported sexual harassment appropriately in the future. We believe that these steps are necessary in maintaining a workplace consistent with the values advanced in Harvard’s Non-Discrimination Policy.

We hope that Ms. Pilar’s story will bring attention to the many ways rape culture affects our community. We pledge to support Ms. Johany Pilar in her struggle to secure fair treatment by our university and urge you to join us to show your solidarity.

Global Health and Aids Coalition
Harvard International Women’s Rights Collective
Harvard John Reed Society
Harvard Student Labor Action Movement
Harvard Socialists
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Boston General Membership Branch
Harvard College Dominican Students' Association
Association of Black Harvard Women
Harvard Queer Students and Allies
Harvard Socialists at GSAS

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