Workplace bullying is all too real, victims say,0,4836008.story

Workplace bullying is all too real, victims say

Greg Dawson


10:23 PM EDT, October 30, 2012

Laura Dunavent’s voice still quavers when she recalls the darkest chapter of her life.

“I didn’t know what was happening to me. All I knew is that it made me crazy.”

It wasn’t until after Dunavent, a registered ER nurse, quit her job as a case manager for an Orlando insurance carrier — “so I wouldn’t go out of my mind” — that she discovered a name for the emotional torture she says she experienced at work.


Bullying has been around since the first schoolyard. But its fledgling cousin, workplace bullying, is a work in progress with legal and academic experts seeking to define it, even as employee complaints of “bullying” grow. Employers have been left flat-footed by the new species of worker grievance.

About 5percent of employers have recognized bullying as a unique problem and only 3percent have taken steps to address it, according to a survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Wash.

For all practical legal purposes, bullying does not exist. No state or federal laws ban it. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission definition of harassment lists race, color, sex, national origin, age and disability but makes no mention of bullying.

Yet it’s very real, said Gary Namie, a social psychologist who established the WBI in 1997 and says it’s still the only one of its kind in America. He founded it with his wife, Ruth, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, after she was bullied in the workplace. Statistics on workplace bullying are scarce.

A 2010 survey designed by the WBI and conducted by Zogby estimated that 35percent of the U.S. workforce (about 53million Americans) had been bullied at work. An additional 15percent of respondents said they had witnessed bullying at work.

But what exactly is workplace bullying, and how is it different from the yelling, cold stares, insults, arrogance, sabotage and general jerk behavior that employees have suffered silently forever?

“The difference is that bullying causes health harm. It’s psychological violence,” Namie says. “Research shows that the level of anger and depression is higher from bullying than sexual harassment. It’s much more akin to domestic violence — except the abusive partner is on the payroll.”

He could be playing Laura Dunavent’s sad song. She had spent two reprimand-free years at the Orlando insurance agency when, in 2003, a supervisor suddenly began a steady drumbeat of criticism and verbal abuse, says Dunavent, 56, recounting a three-month ordeal that ended with her resignation.

“She told me there were companies that didn’t want me on cases anymore. I asked why, and she wouldn’t say. She said she was going to put me on probation and monitor my work every day. It was all on the phone — she never put anything in writing. She refused to meet with me. She cut off all my support by making sure my colleagues wouldn’t speak to me. You become ostracized and start to go crazy.”

After a telephone browbeating in which the supervisor threatened to fire Dunavent, “I ended up in the emergency room. My heart rate went through the roof, and I couldn’t breathe. I knew it wasn’t a heart attack — I was only in my 40s. It was an anxiety attack that had been building up for weeks. The beauty of it is that it had a good outcome.”

Dunavent, divorced and mother of a son, now works as a mental-health case manager for another company and lives in Ormond Beach. She is Florida coordinator for a campaign to adopt a Healthy Workplace Bill that would make bullying subject to the same penalties as traditional forms of harassment.

Working bullying is still in the embryonic stages as a political issue. The WBI is chief advocate for the legislation drafted by David Yamada, a professor specializing in labor and employment law at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

More than a dozen states — Florida not among them — are considering the legislation, Yamada wrote in am email, adding that Dunavent has her work cut out for her. “Florida has been quiet on this.”

But others increasingly have not stayed quiet: those who say they have been victims of workplace bullying. Sigridur Ward of Orlando says one episode of what she considered bullying made her quit her job.

Last year Ward, 44, was a customer-service representative at the call center of an Orlando bank. The reps were given a short script in Spanish to read to Spanish-speaking customers who had to be put on hold. Ward, who is from Iceland and speaks good English with an accent, told her supervisor she was uneasy with the order.

“I said I don’t want to insult the Spanish customers by spewing out a sentence I don’t know how to say. And what do I do if I get a question — say, ‘No comprende’? I asked why we were even having to do this.

“He turned around and yelled at me, ‘Because I said so!’ I am 44, not a kindergarten child. ‘Because I said so’ is not an explanation. For him to yell at me in front of everyone was humiliating. He should have taken me aside. I understand that he is my boss. But I’m not his child.” or 407-420-5618


Single-Sex Schools: Vive la Différence or Oppression?

The debate over single-sex schooling reminds us why bogus claims must be swiftly rebutted. In “A Right to Choose Single-Sex Education” (op-ed, Oct. 17), Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Barbara Mikulski state that “some students learn better in a single-gender environment.” So which students are these?

Single-sex school advocates cannot tell you because existing research tells us only that girls who do best in an all-girls school are the same ones who did well before they got there. For boys, research tells us that they actually learn better the higher the “dose” of girls in the classroom. So all-boys classes are clearly not the answer to closing the college gender gap. The Department of Education’s own 2005 review comparing achievement in single-sex versus coed classrooms declared the findings “equivocal,” as did large studies in the U.K., Canada and Australia.

 ….  read more






1) Directory of Connecticut-Based Anti-Bias and Anti-Bullying Programs, and 2) Guidelines for Connecticut Schools to Comply with GENDER IDENTITY AND EXPRESSION NON-DISCRIMINATION LAWS -PA 11-55

New to the Connecticut State Department of Education Bullying & Harassment website are two documents.

Directory of Connecticut-Based Anti-Bias and Anti-Bullying Programs. Produced by the CONNECTICUT SAFE SCHOOL COALITION this directory lists some of the major programs available in Connecticut.

Guidelines for Connecticut Schools to Comply with GENDER IDENTITY AND EXPRESSION NON-DISCRIMINATION LAWS –PA 11-55. Produced by the CONNECTICUT SAFE SCHOOL COALITION this guideline provides information and guidance to students, parents and school faculty and staff on the rights, responsibilities and best educational and employment practices for transgender and gender non-conforming students.

They can be found at



Model Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct Model Policy

To Commemorate the Launch of ATIXA

To commemorate the launch of ATIXA on August 15th, 2011, ATIXA is distributing freely and publicly its Model Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct Model Policy. We hope that it will help your campus or district to comply with Title IX and protect the safety of your community.

Access the Model Policy as a Download Adobe PDF Reader Here here and as a Word document here.


Title IX at 40

Overview:This 1972 law was never just about sports—it radically changed everything about education for girls and women.

Beyond the Playing Field
When Kristen Galles was a 7th grader in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she wanted to enroll in shop class. But there was a problem. At Harding Junior High School, only boys could do that. It’s just how things were in 1976.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t know a woman who was a lawyer or a doctor,” Galles says now. Seeing females in those roles “… helps you see your own future and what you can become.”

Galles recalls an era that might sound absurd to 7th graders today. It was a time when girls were discouraged from taking math and science classes, when quotas limited female college enrollment, when pregnant students weren’t allowed to stay in school, when athletic opportunities for girls were almost nonexistent.

All that’s changed thanks to Title IX, the federal statute that mandates gender equity in schools receiving federal funds. In the early 1990s, Galles became the first person to file—and successfully settle—a Title IX challenge against a high school. Today, Galles is one of the most outspoken Title IX legal advocates in the nation.

This year, Title IX turned 40. Galles recently joined more than 300 legal scholars, educators and historians in Ann Arbor, Mich., to honor the law’s milestones and to reflect on the challenges that lay ahead. As they look to the future, these experts paint a cautiously optimistic picture.

“Title IX has fundamentally changed the country,” Galles says. “So much has changed that our progress just can’t be stopped. But at the same time, there is a lot of work to do.” 

Classroom Successes
The year 1972 was marked by turbulence—the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, hotly debated issues like the death penalty and mandatory school busing. And yet, in a show of bipartisan support, Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Its first, essential phrase reads: 

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Title IX’s most visible effects—and most vocal opponents—have been in school athletics. In fact, although athletics aren’t mentioned in the original statute, “Title IX” and “sports equity” have become all but synonymous.

Most people, however, are surprised to learn the law does so much more.

“Title IX is working every bit as hard in the classroom as it is on the athletic field,” says Nancy Hogshead-Makar, law professor at Florida Coastal School of Law and 1984 Olympic gold-medalist. “The original goal was access to education for girls and women as broadly as you can imagine—as broadly as education goes.”

Among other things, Title IX requires [3] safe and accessible learning environments for both sexes, guarantees pregnant and parenting students equal educational opportunities, and requires that course offerings and career counseling not be limited by gender.

Today, thanks to Title IX, more female students are not only playing sports, they’re also enrolling in math and science classes in record numbers, going to college and entering nontraditional careers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1999 and 2009, female college enrollment rose 40 percent; graduate enrollment rose 63 percent. Today, more than half of all medical and law students are women.

In recent years, the law itself has expanded. In two separate cases in the late 1990s, the Supreme Court ruled that teacher-on-student and student-on-student sexual harassment violated Title IX. “Prior to that, many courts were dismissing these cases,” says Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel for the National Women’s Law Center.

Ellen Staurowsky, a Title IX legal scholar at Drexel University, co-chaired the Title IX at 35 Conference five years ago.

“So many myths arose in the ’70s about what would happen to boys and men as a result of Title IX—but those things never panned out,” Staurowsky says. “In reality, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in the way we envision opportunity for girls and women, and the destruction of men has not happened as a result.”

Future Challenges
Title IX, which is enforced by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), has faced a perpetual backlash—mostly from men’s athletic teams that have been reduced in scope by schools that claim they are trying to comply with the law. The arguments used against Title IX today echo those from 40 years ago: it sets up quotas, it harms men, it’s reverse discrimination.

“There is this idea that Title IX was passed 40 years ago and—ta-da! Here we are!” says Hogshead-Makar, who in 2007 co-authored Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change. In truth, she says, it has been a slog to reach today’s improved atmosphere, and the efforts to weaken the law—or blame it for unpopular moves—have never stopped.

For example, in 2011, the University of Delaware men’s track team filed a discrimination complaint with the OCR after the school, claiming Title IX compliance, reduced the track program to club status. Critics have accused the university of simply cutting minor sports like men’s track in the name of Title IX to focus on more popular sports, such as football and basketball.

And in 2006, Title IX regulations were relaxed to allow greater latitude for single-sex educational institutions. According to Susan Klein, education equity director for the Feminist Majority Foundation, the move was a “step backward” that merely serves to “reinforce stereotypes of what boys and girls supposedly are used to.”

The threat of court challenges and legislative setbacks isn’t likely to go away any time soon. But the biggest challenge facing Title IX’s future is something far more fundamental: the lack of proper oversight and enforcement necessary to make sure schools follow the rules.

The law requires every school in the country to name a Title IX coordinator. Yet the job is frequently given to staff members who lack either the training or the authority to adequately enforce the regulations.

Students can face huge hurdles when proving Title IX complaints. For example, a child who is sexually harassed by a teacher must meet a higher standard of proof than an adult making a similar claim against an employer.

When complaints are filed, advocates worry OCR investigators too often complete “desk audits” and don’t visit schools in person before determining compliance. Schools can lose federal funding for violating Title IX but, in reality, that has never happened.

And there is little financial incentive to comply with the law. Monetary damages are not awarded in successful Title IX challenges, so it can be cost-effective for schools not to comply.

“We see schools that still don’t have non-discrimination policies, still don’t have grievance procedures—or if they do, no one knows how to do it,” says Galles. “We’re not going to get there until there are consequences for schools that don’t take the law seriously.”

Importance of Education
In 2052, when Title IX turns 80, Galles thinks the headlines might read, “Have We Made It? Are We Finally At Equity?”

Today, she says, “we’re somewhere in between.”

During the next 40 years, Title IX’s two greatest allies may turn out to be educators who care and an engaged electorate.

Teachers are well-positioned to ensure their schools uphold the promise of Title IX—not only are they better equipped than students to compare school procedures against the law’s requirements, but the law also protects teachers from retaliation if they speak up.

“Teachers have to be willing to stand up and help these kids,” says Galles. “You can make sure your school is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, and you can make sure your students understand their rights.”

It’s important that the public recognizes those rights, too. “It’s just a statute,” reminds Hogshead-Makar. “We get one crazy Congress in there, and it’s gone. Unless the public understands what Title IX has done for us, it could be over.”

Hogshead-Makar likes to think that in 40 years the challenges to Title IX may seem as quaint as a boys-only shop class.

“It would be great if, as a society, it was taken as a given that of course we would treat boys and girls, men and women, equitably,” she says. “And that the law would be somewhat irrelevant.”

Illustrations by Celyn Brazier

>> Check out the toolkit [4] that accompanies this story

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