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Week of 2.20.09

Transcript: Is Your Daughter Safe at Work?

BRANCACCIO: Can you stretch your memory back to your very first job—perhaps a part-time job as a teenager? It's a moment with all kinds of lessons about how the world of work operates. Well, imagine if that first boss turned out to be a sexual predator. Senior Correspondent Maria Hinojosa has our report.

HINOJOSA: I'm here in San Diego to bring you a report on the sexual harassment of teenagers in the workplace...a joint investigation by NOW on PBS and the The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. Tonight, you'll hear from young women from here and around the country who are telling their shocking stories for the first time on national television. Karla Murthy produced our report, part of a new beat on women and men in the twenty-first century we call "Life Now".

Ali Tomlin never had a real job before. But in 2006, when she was 17, she wanted to find out what the world of work was really about. She was talking to a friend at school who happened to work at Jamba Juice—a national chain of stores that sells juices and smoothies.

ALI TOMLIN: I was like Yeah, you know I think I'm going to start getting a job. I kind a want my own money now. And he mentioned I'm a team lead at Jamba Juice and right now we're hiring. I'm like oh awesome!

HINOJOSA: She got the job at this Jamba Juice in the town of Puyallup—just outside of Seattle, Washington.

ALI TOMLIN: It was a very busy very kind of hectic environment. So I was like oh! Faced pace, my kind of thing.

HINOJOSA: You thought working at Jamba Juice was gonna be fun?

ALI TOMLIN: Yeah. A fun first job.

HINOJOSA: At first, Ali says, she loved her job. But then, her manager began making her feel uncomfortable.

ALI TOMLIN: It was a—like, series of steps. When he—I thought the first step was when he started making like, little joking comments and, like, putting his arm around you and things like that. And then he would make comments about, like, your boob size." And he was, like, "Oh, Ali, yeah, I've grab my arm. Come on, I'm gonna take you in the back and bend you over. I'll show you what's goin' on," Then, I was, like, "Wow, no. That's not okay."

HINOJOSA: she says—it only got worse....her manager talked about masturbation and showed Ali a photo of a woman in a red thong. Ali says—she couldn't believe a 32 year old adult man—almost twice her age was doing this at work. But she says no one else at the store seemed to think the manager was doing anything inappropriate.

ALI TOMLIN: It was always like we were reassured, "That's just his behavior. That's just how he acts. It was just a joke." And I was, like, "I don't think that's the way things are supposed to go." But, I'm not—you know, I didn't know enough about the way it works. So, it was, like, "Okay,"

HINOJOSA: So, did you come home and tell your mom?

ALI TOMLIN: No. 'Cause I knew that if I came home and I told my mom and my dad right away that they would make me quit. And it was, like, my first job and I really liked it. And I was kind of, like—in my head I was, like, "If I stay away from him and keep my distance then everything's okay."

HINOJOSA: But one day, she couldn't get away. Ali says—she was in the back of the store, counting money for the cash register.

ALI TOMLIN: And he walked up behind me, like really—like really close and then kinda, like, leaned over my shoulder and he was, like, "Hey, Ali, wanna see somethin' funny?" And you wear team t-shirts there. It's like a t-shirt was an apron. Apparently there was a little hole about the size of a dime in the back of the t-shirt. And he—stuck his hands in it and completely ripped the shirt off me.

HINOJOSA: Ali says it looked like she had nothing on but her apron, and she stood there in shock. Her manager then took his cell phone out and took a picture of her.

ALI TOMLIN: Everybody was laughing and I just kinda stood there. And I got really quiet and really withdrawn. And I was, like, fighting back tears. And I was, like, "I just wanta go home."

HINOJOSA: Ali Tomlin's story is not an isolated case.... Every year, millions of teens get jobs in stores, restaurants, movie theaters...they're often part time workers, the lowest paid, with the least amount of work experience. And all those factors make teens more vulnerable than adults to sexual harassment on the job.

GRAFF: They're completely disposable. They can be replaced tomorrow. Especially in a climate like ours right now. They're—there's ten kids to take the job if they leave. They have no power whatsoever.

HINOJOSA: EJ Graff is a senior researcher with the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. After hearing about some of these cases, she began her own investigation to find out just how prevalent teen harassment is.

Are we talking about dozens? Maybe hundreds?

GRAFF: Hundreds of thousands of teens who are being assaulted, just sexually assaulted on the job.

HINOJOSA: Based on studies that have been done on the workplace, she estimates that about 200,000 teenagers are being sexually assaulted or harassed at work every year. And Ali Tomlin is just one of them. After getting her shirt torn off by her manager, Ali decided she had enough. She quit her job and finally told her parents what was going on.

When she told you about harassment, the touching—by her supervisor, what were you thinking at that point?

SHELLY TOMLIN: I was pissed, to be blunt. You know a mom wants to protect their kids from things like that. So —really upset.

HINOJOSA: A complaint was filed with Jamba Juice. But to Ali and her parents' surprise—the manager was not fired.

ALI TOMLIN: I felt like I had done something wrong. I was let go, and they see nothing wrong with his actions.

HINOJOSA: EJ Graff says that not enough is being done to protect our teenaged children on the job. Not only are some employers not taking this issue seriously, but she says, the law also doesn't go far enough to keep kids safe at work.

HINOJOSA: Graff says one reason teen sexual harassment continues to go on is that these cases are seldom reported... and so the issue remains buried.

GRAFF: Have you heard about it? Nobody. Nobody is looking at sexual harassment of teens in the work force.

HINOJOSA: She says teenagers in general are reluctant to come forward and complain about their boss' behavior ... they might be embarrassed or afraid. Or they may not understand what's acceptable in a work environment.

Why is it that teenagers don't know what's right or wrong about sexual inappropriateness in the work place.

EJ GRAFF: This is their first moment in the workforce. They don't know how people behave out in the adult world. And if the other people around them are not reacting to the fact that Chuck keeps pawing them, then they think, "Well, maybe I just have to get used to it or maybe I have to wear a baggier sweatshirt. They think something's wrong with them. They don't have the experience that we have.

JESSICA POLLASTRINI: You know it's not right. Like, there's this, like, gut feeling that there's something wrong there, but, I mean, we had no idea how we could stop it.

LINDSAY MARCISZ: Or really what our rights were in our very first job.

HINOJOSA: Blair Pollastrini and her twin sister Jessica ... Maureen Hora and her best friend Lindsay Marcisz are in their 20's now. But when they were 16 and 17 years old... they each got their first real job at this UltraStar movie theater near San Diego California. But it was not what they expected.

DALTON: This particular theater, was a—a little shop of horrors.

HINOJOSA: John Dalton is the attorney representing the young women.

DALTON: They were there to take tickets, to sell popcorn—and to usher people to their seats. That's what they were there for. They weren't there to be sexual playthings.

HINOJOSA: The girls had no idea when they first began working at the theater that they would all eventually wind up in court. They would end up testifying to a pattern of sexual harassment that started slowly. They say—their managers—32 year old Dan Wooten and 22 year old Adam Gustafson—constantly used sexual and vulgar language .... Words we can't even say on public television.

MAUREEN HORA: Dan would say the "F" word a lot, and use the "C" word, and refer to his girlfriend as a dumb "B".

HINOJOSA: But it wasn't just the constant barrage of foul language... they say assistant manager, Adam Gustafson, also got physical.

JESSICA POLLASTRINI: Adam said something to me, and I turned to look at him, and he took a money bag—that was empty and hit me in the face repeatedly with it, I screamed, "Stop!" And I remember just bursting into tears at that moment. And Dan was sitting maybe, like, a few feet away from me and didn't do anything.

HINOJOSA: You're on the job. And this is an assistant manager, and he's hurting you?

MAUREEN HORA: Well, Adam was in police training at the time. And so he was practicing his—his arm restraints. But he would do it in, like, these vulgar sexual manners.

HINOJOSA: The girls say that Adam Gustafson would pin their arms from behind their backs until they screamed, forcing them to bend over while he pressed up against them. But that's not all. The girls say the managers also threatened them with knives. One night, Maureen Hora says she was working alone in the box office. Adam Gustafson came up from behind and put a knife to her throat...he said, he could kill her. She was terrified.

MAUREEN HORA: It was—it was one of the scariest moments of my life, definitely. I—I didn't know what to do though. I—I didn't know what to do. I couldn't see anyone around. I didn't know.

HINOJOSA: She says, he finally stopped and walked away like nothing had happened. According to the lawsuit, Adam Gustafson threatened other employees with knives on at least three other occasions.. And the manager, Dan Wooten often watched and did nothing,

Why didn't you guys just quit?

BLAIR POLLASTRINI: Because all my friends worked there. And so it was kind of like my little support group, I guess, in a way. And I didn't know, like, if that would happen again at another work place.

MAUREEN HORA: There were a few male managers who made it really obvious that you were an expendable employee. And so it just seemed like—when they would start talking about these things, it was just something you kind of had to put up with and, like, smile and nod, deal with it. But—when they'd look—look you in the eye and, like, say that they had a preference for smaller women, it's—it's weird.

HINOJOSA: This happened a long time ago. And it still is incredibly upsetting for you.

LINDSAY MARCISZ: It's upsetting for all of us. To rehash these memories about what we've gone through is very difficult, especially seeing it happen to my best friends.

JESSICA POLLASTRINI: You kind of have the put yourself back in that mindset of being a 16 year-old, you know, kid again. To this day, I still feel like—I mean, I—I still have regrets that maybe I didn't say something or so something, you know, right. And I could have maybe stopped it. But I mean—I don't know. It still hurts.

HINOJOSA: Why is it that these teens remain so impacted by what happened to them?

GRAFF: That's post-traumatic stress. Every day they're being treated in a really dehumanizing way. They're really still children. You forget how young they are because their bodies are adults. They haven't had somebody reduce them to breasts and—and bottoms before. That really is like working in a war zone.

HINOJOSA: The girls worked at the theater for months. During that time they did not complain to anyone, not even their parents, about what their managers were doing to do them.

Did you understand that what was happening in your work place, what was going on, was actually illegal?

LINDSAY MARCISZ: Absolutely not. I had—as employees, I didn't realize we had the rights. And to say that it was illegal, I don't think that ever crossed my mind.

HINOJOSA: Eventually, the girls did come forward. But it wasn't until Lindsay Marcisz got seriously injured that they went to see attorney John Dalton and file a lawsuit.

DALTON: Mr. Gustafson—approached Lindsey Marcisz. And he placed her in a—restraint hold. He had done it, you know, a number of times before. And this time he took it a little too far,

LINDSAY MARCISZ: I fell off the stool, instant pain. I had to go to the hospital, and I eventually had to have my shoulder surgically fixed.

JOHN DALTON: He twisted too hard and pulled it up too far, and it dislocated her shoulder.

HINOJOSA: And they didn't fire Mrs. Gustafson?

JOHN DALTON: No.

HINOJOSA: We asked Damon Rubio, a representative of UltraStar—why Gustafson was not fired.

RUBIO: The investigation that came up found that, you know, her and him both share the same story, which is, "Look, we did this, it wasn't smart. We shouldn't have done it. But it happened." It was a fr—you know, some friendly horseplay. But when you have younger adults working, those are the kind of things that, you know, come up.

HINOJOSA: So, just to be clear, you believe that when there's an assistant manager who is in his mid-20s and he is physical taking a young teenager, and bending her arm around her back to the point where she dislocates her shoulder that that's just horseplay in the office?

RUBIO: I believe, in this situation, it was found that the two, you know, it—it was a little bit more closer to a consensual horseplay, and there was never any—red flags raised by the plaintiff that it wasn't consensual.

HINOJOSA: Rubio does not believe any sexual harassment took place at the theater. Furthermore, he says—the company has policies in place so employees can report any harassment going on. But Rubio says, the girls did not make any complaints.

RUBIO: They never used any of the channels to report anything to their manager or to an assistant manager or to a manager at another location—or to the corporate office—to myself, to the human resource department. They had plenty of avenues to do this. I think it would have been much better served had—had they come forward and, you know, used what I think a lot of people would consider common sense, so that we could have properly investigated this and taken care of this. Because, it's not a situation that our company would have taken lightly.

HINOJOSA: Rubio says, he first heard about sexual harassment problems when he found out his company was getting sued. At that time, he says, he conducted an internal investigation, and found nothing wrong.

Do you think these—four teenagers have a legitimate case against your company?

RUBIO: The fact is this, that, no. As far as I can tell, that the girls don't have a real strong case here to—to take against our company.

HINOJOSA: A jury disagreed. In April 2005—after 8 weeks in court and hours of testimony from all four plaintiffs and company officials. The jury came to a unanimous decision and ruled in favor of the four girls. UltraStar was ordered to pay a total of $850,000 for emotional distress to the group, and 1.5 million each in punitive damages. The size of the award has been appealed.

DALTON: I mean, they are fighting tooth and nail—to the very end, goin' to the mat. It—it's going to be fight—until the very end.

HINOJOSA: But unlike the UltraStar case, the vast majority of sexual harassment cases never make it in front of a judge and jury... some legal experts say that's because the laws don't go far enough to protect teens on the job. We went to see Jennifer Drobac, a professor at the Indiana University School of Law—to understand how the law works when it comes to teens.

DROBAC: They may be strict enough for adults. But if we're talking about our teenagers, our sons and daughters, I disagree that our laws are protecting them sufficiently.

HINOJOSA: One problem she sees is in the sexual harassment policies and procedures many employers have in place. Drobac says if employers are hiring teenagers these policies must be written with teenagers in mind.

DROBAC: My law students don't know these rules. And so, how is a teenager supposed to know these rules upon entering the work force? So we need to emphasize for teenagers that if you—even if you're not sure, if you think there's a problem, you need to come forward.

HINOJOSA: Once a teenager does come forward, Drobac says, the laws isn't always fair to them. In all sexual harassment cases, you must prove that the behavior was quote "unwelcome" and not consensual. Drobac worries that some teens might consent out of fear or inexperience.

DROBAC: They don't want to seem uncool. They don't want to—acknowledge that they're inexperienced. They may not know that this is not a normal, acceptable—behavior in the workplace. And the problem then becomes is that they can't prove, in a sexual harassment case, that the behavior was unwelcome. .

HINOJOSA: But Drobac says there are other types of cases where it doesn't matter if the behavior was unwelcome in cases of statutory rape, teens under a certain age are considered too young to consent. She points to a case where a 16 year old girl had sex with her boss. Even though she had consented to sex, her boss was convicted for statutory rape and sent to prison. However, her sexual harassment case was thrown out.

DROBAC: So you get completely opposing results for exactly the same behavior. It's absolutely insane. It doesn't make any sense. And you don't have to be a lawyer to figure that out.

HINOJOSA: Drobac says one of the reasons that these discrepancies exist in the law is that most cases are settled quickly and quietly out of court—and so parents, employers, and lawmakers never hear about them.

DROBAC: And so you get a complete silencing on what's going on. And so that means that the law doesn't evolve as quickly, because these cases never see the light of day.

HINOJOSA: But, there's one federal agency that's made fighting teen sexual harassment a priority. The equal employment opportunity commission or EEOC began a program in the high schools called "Youth at Work." To teach kids about their rights on the job. The EEOC also tries to hold employers accountable. By taking on a handful of high profile cases every year. And that's how we found out about a sexual harassment case at this McDonalds in Durango, Colorado. Lynn Sholler is private lawyer who worked with the EEOC on the case.

SHOLLER: It's their brand name that's out there. Ronald McDonald and family fun. The manager at the McDonalds was accused of harassing four teenaged girls—groping them, and even biting them on their breasts. The local McDonalds franchise fought the charges for four years. Last spring, they finally settled. Agreeing to pay out a half a million dollars. But more importantly, the EEOC also got the local franchise to change the way they do business.

SHOLLER: In addition to compensating the victims for the harm they suffered, we really wanted to have some teeth in the settlement to make sure that this didn't happen again.

HINOJOSA: Now, the local franchise is required to train all its employees with strict oversight by the EECC for three years. Plus, the franchise must report to the EECO every 6 months about how any sexual harassment complaints have been handled.

SHOLLER: I mean, this case and others like it really should be a wake up call for employers, especially those that employ teens, that they've got to take action to protect their staff, and to protect themselves from this kind of liability.

HINOJOSA: But, we spoke to lawyers who represent employers who argue that these big dollar settlements can trigger a flood of sexual harassment claims—based on just about anything... like telling a crude joke in the office. Jennifer Drobac says companies shouldn't worry.

DROBAC: The law is maybe a blunt instrument, but it's not stupid. And people are not gonna be able to enter the courthouse door over a rudeness or an insult. This is not a joyride. It's very difficult and expensive to bring these cases.

HINOJOSA: Even so, Ali Tomlin and her mom made that difficult choice to file a lawsuit against Jamba Juice. They contacted a private lawyer and the EEOC for help.

You had to make a decision to allow your daughter to get into a lawsuit—against a big company

SHELLY TOMLIN: Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do because it's the right thing to do."

HINOJOSA: Like UltraStar Cinemas and the McDonalds franchise, at first Jamba Juice maintained it did nothing wrong.

ALI TOMLIN: About their sexual harassment, they have said repeatedly, we have zero tolerance, we have zero tolerance. Well, obviously not.

HINOJOSA: Eventually, Jamba Juice settled and agreed to pay $85,000. But Jamba Juice did not admit any guilt though and made no changes to their sexual harassment policy. But Ali's manager was finally fired.

SHELLY TOMLIN: I think about where he is now. He could be out of state working at a smoothie shop, doing the same thing.

HINOJOSA: In the end, Jamba Juice never had to admit that there was any wrong doing on their part. What does that say to you?

ALI TOMLIN: It says we have a really, really, messed up system, that needs a lot of work. Maybe I cost them like a frickin' hundred grand in attorneys fees. Big deal, they're a multi million dollar corporation. They're huge. They're all over the United States. But, it's—I feel betrayed. I feel like, yes, we have a system, and the ideas are there, but they're not working. So something needs to change.

BRANCACCIO: As parents and grandparents, you might just have teenagers in your lives. Learn the best way to talk to them about recognizing signs of sexual harassment and how to report it. Its all on our website...

And that's it for NOW. from New York, I'm David Brancaccio. we'll see you next week.

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