Quiet No More: KVUE Live Doc on Central Texas' sex harassment problem
Author: KVUE Staff
Published: 9:31 AM CST February 9, 2018
Updated: 9:31 AM CST February 9, 2018
LOCAL 8 Articles

It's a sensitive topic and for as long as we can remember, the conversations were hushed.

They were just rumors in the office about sexual harassment.

Then in October 2017, the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke and the conversation changed.

Whispers churned into chanting.

Social media erupted into movements such as #MeToo.

WATCH: Quiet No More: KVUE Live Doc


The elephant in ATX: Sexual harassment rampant in Austin's tech, KVUE study finds

What was simply tolerated now no longer seems okay.

"Quiet No More" is about the growing conversation surrounding sexual harassment, what's next and what this issue looks like for people right here in Central Texas.

WATCH | Are the #MeToo stories too much? Where are we now? Austinites react


Quiet No More: KVUE Live Doc on Central Texas' sex harassment problem

Chapter 1

‘A newly sworn-in House member touched me’ | Sen. Wendy Davis’ story one of many at Texas Capitol

Author: Ashley Goudeau

The #MeToo movement hit Texas politics when The Daily Beast published an article about the "Burn Book of Bad Men," a spreadsheet floating around the Texas State Capitol listing acts of sexual misconduct by lawmakers.

"We've got a real problem going on in the Texas Capitol," said former State Sen. Wendy Davis.

Davis was elected to represent Fort Worth in the Texas Senate in 2008. She went on to become the 2014 Democratic Gubernatorial candidate.

Davis said she didn’t know the book existed while she was in office, but isn’t surprised; she has dealt with misconduct personally.

"At a social function with other legislators, a newly sworn-in House member touched me in an incredibly inappropriate way. I don't believe he knew I was a senator at the time,” Davis recalled.

WATCH | FULL INTERVIEW: Sen. Wendy Davis’ sexual harassment story one of many at Texas State Capitol

Davis’ story is just one of many. Sometimes the occurrences are less audacious, but raise an eyebrow nonetheless. For instance, on May 13, 1983 a story in the Lubbock Evening Journal shows a stripper giving a lap dance to a representative right outside of the chambers during session. It was a birthday gift from his colleagues.

"I think there are sometimes subconscious ways that we communicate about women that demean them nonetheless,” Davis said.

The Texas House and Senate have processes to file complaints but since 2011, none have been filed.

“You're too fearful that you're going to suffer some consequence from that. So many of these young women that are working in the Capitol are there because they have dreams and ambitions for themselves,” Davis said.

Rather than out the representative who touched her, Davis held him accountable in her own way.

State Sen. Wendy Davis reveals her experiences with sexual harassment as a young woman and as a legislator at the Texas State Capitol in an interview with KVUE.
State Sen. Wendy Davis reveals her experiences with sexual harassment as a young woman and as a legislator at the Texas State Capitol in an interview with KVUE.

“Because I was a senator though, I had the power to make sure that, in alignment with other House members and State Senators, we could keep this individual from passing legislation, unless and until he came and apologized to me. It took him three sessions before he finally did that. And in those first two sessions he wasn't able to get a single bill passed.”

But the power she had as a senator is something she didn't have in the 1980s.

"When I was a young single mom and I was waiting tables as a second job in addition to my full time job to try and make ends meet, I had an experience one evening when a gentleman that I was waiting on put his hand up the back of my skirt and ran it up the back of my leg while his wife was literally sitting across the table from him. And I didn't feel like I could do anything about it because I knew that I was depending on the tip I was going to earn from that person to pay my babysitter that night,” Davis recalled. “There are women all over America that are in that position.”

When asked if Wendy today would tell her younger self to speak up, she paused.

"No," Davis said with a sigh. "And I'll tell you why.

“When we have the opportunity to speak on behalf of women who are in such vulnerable positions they can't speak up, we need to make sure that we take the responsibility to do that. What I don't want to do is express some judgment on a person who is in a vulnerable workplace, in a vulnerable position in terms of how precarious their financial lives are and the risk they might take coming forward. I don't ever want to come across as looking as though I'm judging a young person, or not so young person, who's experiencing that and not reporting it.”

“I get it,” Davis added. “I know why people don't report when they're in such vulnerable spaces. That's why it's up to us in the policy-making world and other wise to begin to create such a system of intolerance for that type of behavior that ultimately we do create a safe space for people who are in those vulnerable workplaces and we give them the room to feel like they can speak up. Right now I just don't feel like we've done that yet.”

For elected officials, the ultimate way to hold them accountable is in the ballot box. And the only way voters will learn of their transgressions is if lawmakers make it safe to report the bad behavior happening under the Dome.

Chapter 2

‘Vast majority’ of sex harassment lawsuits settled in secret

Author: Tony Plohetski and Joe Ellis

When former Austin police officer Brenda Bermudez sued the City of Austin for sexual harassment, she said she wanted to hold former colleagues responsible for their behavior that left her feeling taunted and bullied.

"There were a lot of comments, sexual in nature," she said. "It was just pretty horrible."

Last fall, her lawsuit, which she said was never about reaping a substantial reward, settled for $40,000. Bermudez also retired from the Austin Police Department.

Because she sued a government entity, the resolution of the lawsuit is a matter of public record, and the city can't enact a non-disclosure agreement prohibiting her from discussing the case.

That's not the norm.

The KVUE Defenders found that sexual harassment lawsuits -- generally generated from private businesses -- are most commonly worked out through secret settlements that often are sought by both parties.

"The vast majority of of sexual harassment lawsuits are resolved with payments of money in exchange with the release of claims and mutual confidentiality, mutual agreements that we are not going to discuss our disagreements publicly," said Austin attorney Tom Nesbitt, whose practice focuses on employment law.

The KVUE Defenders found that among nearly 100 sexual harassment lawsuits filed in federal and Travis County courts in the past five years, about one-third are pending. But among the 68 that have been resolved -- 42 have settled in secret. The suits primarily include private companies, but a quarter of the total suits we reviewed are against government entities.

Nesbitt said companies almost always demand confidentiality. But plaintiffs often want it, too.

"Whereas it is understandable that a claimant wants to tell her story, it is also understandable that the employer may have a different story they want to tell. And very often, claimants don't want that side of the story to come out either," he said.

Attorney Robert Schmidt represented Bermudez and handles cases against government entities such as the City of Austin.

"I think it is important that victims of sexual harassment not have everything splayed out for the world to see. I think as a taxpayer, you may have a different concern," he said.

Bermudez said her experience in her final years at APD changed her.

She said she is speaking out to be a model for anyone -- especially in law enforcement -- who believes they are being harassed on the job.

Chapter 3

Sexual harassment uniquely difficult for immigrants

Author: Bri Perry

Recent headlines have made it a little easier for victims to come forward, but for immigrants, the issue is more complicated.

Their status in the United States may be completely dependent on their employer.

The Equal Justice Center in Austin gives legal help for low-income workers, regardless of immigration status.

A lot of its clients are undocumented, according to attorney Kalani Hawks.

Being here illegally means victims can't utilize a lot of government systems.

Even for those who are documented, getting help can be hard.

"If you are here on a work visa tied to one particular employer, it can be really scary to speak up about a problem you've had in the workplace, because while retaliation is against the law, it happens, and people know that it happens," Hawks said. "So feeling that you're scared that you economic stability or your ability to live legally in the country may be dependent on the employer who's harmed you can be really scary."

A lot of clients go to the center from the farm industry, construction or janitorial fields -- places where H.R. is defined differently -- or just doesn't exist.

If you are an illegal immigrant and need help, call the Equal Justice Center at 512-474-0007. Go here to file a harassment complaint.

Chapter 4

Yes, you can date a co-worker and give a compliment. But where’s the line?

Author: Kris Betts

We know it’s wrong to lock someone inside of an office.

We know it’s wrong to expose yourself to an unsuspecting person.

There are clear wrongs, and then there are the fine lines.

What is okay to joke about at work? Can you ask a co-worker on a date? Once? Twice? Pay a compliment to someone in the office?

These are the questions that don’t always have a clear right or wrong answer.

That’s why KVUE went to a human resources expert to figure out what is the line that shouldn’t be crossed in any healthy working environment.

"Companies are reaching out more than ever for guidance and help,” said Laurie Howell, co-founder of Austin HR. “Most of the time a comment alone is not harassment. It becomes harassment when it's pervasive and severe."

That is one of the EEOC’s definition of harassment: "The conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

Pervasive. Severe.

Yes, Howell said it’s okay to pay someone a compliment. But it’s your tone and delivery that can turn a compliment into perceived harassment.

And asking someone on a date may be okay between co-workers, but it shouldn’t happen between a manager and employee or repeatedly after an initial rejection.

"It becomes harassment when it’s an ongoing, unwanted, unsolicited type of activity,” said Howell. "Asking somebody out on a date is not harassment. Continually asking them out on a date and that person continually says 'No, thank you’ -- that starts becoming pervasive. No does mean no."

"But more importantly, it's who's saying it and when they're saying it. If it's a leader of a company, it's going to have a lot more impact than if it was a line person or an employee on the manufacturing floor in general."

In general, Howell said managers and bosses should be extra cautious about how they speak to employees.

Additionally, Howell recommends avoiding too much interaction between employees and managers outside of the workplace, especially where alcohol is involved.

"The lines get blurred really easily because everyone's working long hours and a lot of people meet their spouses at work so that's not unusual," she said. “If it's a manager, we're advising not to be hanging out on a social level with your employees beyond what's reasonable. If you're at a bar and you've had a few drinks, it's probably time to let the employees stay and a manager should move on and leave that environment."

Austin HR helps companies outsource their human resources department. If your company is considering adding an HR department or has a question regarding training, you can contact Austin HR here.

Chapter 5

Commentary: What’s it like being a female sportscaster? Fun, but it has its downfalls.

Author: Stacy Slayden

We get asked this all the time: What's it like being a female working in sports?

Well, it's a very fun job. But it can have its downfalls too.

Sexual harassment comes in all forms, just like these comments KVUE's Stacy Slayden has received on social media.
Sexual harassment comes in all forms, just like these comments KVUE's Stacy Slayden has received on social media.

I spoke with four colleagues who agreed to speak about their experience as females working in the sports industry.

Jill Cacic, vice president of public relations and communications for the Round Rock Express, agreed that, at times, a line is crossed in our industry.

"It puts you in a tough position and it's frustrating," Cacic said.

Emily Jones has been a sportscaster for 20 years. Currently the Texas Rangers dugout reporter, Jones said harassment is something she experienced when she was starting out.

"I think in the beginning of my career it was more of an issue. Just snide comments, here or there,” Jones said. “How I looked or the clothes I was wearing, my hair, or people saying inappropriate things."

It seems to happen to young or traveling reporters the most; a fresh face trying to make a name for herself, or perhaps she’s working with a new organization.

The number one thing we as women are judged on is our appearance.

"I don't think guys realize all the decisions that we as women make to avoid getting comments about our appearance,” Cacic said. “There's such a thought process to just getting your outfit ready for the day. 'Is this too low-cut, is this too short, or too tight?'"

What we choose to wear isn't the only thing questioned.

Gina Miller, former Dallas Sports anchor and current vice president of media and communications, acknowledged the harsh judgment women receive based on looks.

But it doesn’t stop there.

"As a reporter you have to have a certain level of outgoingness to your personality. You have to be outgoing and somewhat aggressive and sometimes that can be misinterpreted," Miller said.

Julie DiCaro is a radio host for Chicago’s 670 The Score. She said in sports, there’s a lot of pressure to be the "cool girl."

“The cool girl doesn't get upset with sexists jokes. The cool girl doesn't call out her guy friends, she just plays along because she gets it, right? The minute you start asserting yourself, and saying 'You're not going to do that in front of me,' 'Don't call me that,' 'Don't touch my hair' – that sort of thing -- then all the sudden you get a reputation for being difficult."

"Also it's important to say, 'No' -- to make your feelings known," Jones said.

That’s not always easy for someone starting out in the sports industry.

"It wasn't until the last few years I got comfortable in a position where I felt deep enough in my career, and I felt solidified enough in my career that I could stand up and say, 'Hey, that's not appropriate'" Cacic said.

Sometimes it's a comment here and there on social media. It can be based off of our appearance, insulting our intelligence and doubting our credibility.

WATCH | Stacy Slayden shares shocking social media comments from viewers

Sadly these are real comments, and incredibly commonplace.

Chapter 6

‘It’s rare someone is a serial harasser without anyone knowing it’: The Bystander Effect

Author: Jason Puckett

Dr. Art Markman is a professor at the University of Texas, an author of multiple books and a constant analyst for human interactions.

"I think that in cases of harassment in the workplace, it is rare that someone is a serial harasser without anyone ever knowing about it," he said to KVUE's Jason Puckett as they discussed the #MeToo movement and the outing of popular men in the entertainment industry.

He was strongly worded when it came to Weinstein.

"No one said, 'What? I'm shocked that he would have done that,'" he said. "The stories came out over and over again of people who knew what he was doing, knew what was going on and yet nobody said something."

There's evidence for Dr. Markman's claim. Following Weinstein's accusers, some of his former friends and colleagues started making posts.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, actress Jennifer Lawrence mentioned that everyone knew Weinstein was "a dog."

Director Quentin Tarantino said that he knew of Weinstein's actions and "knew enough to do more than I did" in an interview with the New York Times.

And producer Scott Rosenberg wrote on Facebook that "Everybody ...(expletive) knew" what was going on.

So what would make people stand by when they had witnessed or were aware of accused sexual harassment or worse?

Well, it turns out there may be a psychological explanation.

"The bystander effect is the phenomenon that says the greater number of people that witness an emergency, the less the chance that someone will actually step into to help," Texas State senior lecturer and psychologist Dr. Sarah Angulo said. "A lot of times people will say, 'Someone else will take care of it.'"

Dr. Angulo, like Dr. Markman, has spent lots of time researching human behavior and what makes people tick. She said the Bystander Effect is often an unconscious process.

"People might say to themselves, 'Well certainly someone else has more knowledge or influence or power than I do. Why should I get involved?'"

"People aren't really going through all the options in their head," Dr. Markman echoed. "What happens when they reflect on it, they may realize 'Oh, I thought someone else was going to do this,' or 'Oh, I was concerned that if I said something, I would now have immersed myself in this.'"

When it comes to workplaces and office sexual harassment, the Bystander Effect can be pointed to as a reason for ongoing issues.

"People are drawn to conform and do what other people do," Dr. Angulo said. "People learn to do that because they find out if they don't conform and obey, very often they're ostracized or pushed out."

Dr. Angulo said that employees in a workplace often immediately look at coworkers when something unexpected happens. They see how fellow employees react and base their reactions off of them. In a workplace that hasn't defined clear steps for reporting sexual harassment, that leaves many unsure what to do, Dr. Markman said.

"If you don't have any evidence your workplace has ever stepped forward and taken the side of someone who's claimed sexual harassment, then it becomes difficult for you to trust the system that says, 'Please come report,'" he said.

Both Dr. Markman and Angulo agreed that workplaces have a responsibility to combat the Bystander Effect through hands on training.

"We should have a sense of what we would do," Dr. Markman said. "But it's not enough to have just given me a training where I got a phone number."

He explained that employers could benefit from hands-on applications of these skills. He suggested that businesses could train employees with demonstrations rather than just videos and texts.

"I should be asking myself, 'If I actually witness something or experience something, what would I actually do and walk myself through those steps,'" he said. "In advance, I should say to myself, 'These are the things that if I saw them, I would do something.'"

Another element both educators agreed on was that employees need to know actions will be taken.

"There needs to be a change in the climate from the leaders of the organization," Dr. Angulo said. "One really important component of that change is swift and meaningful punishment for anyone accused of sexual misconduct."

Dr. Angulo said that while one in four women report being sexually harassed at work, three-fourths of them never spoke up to a supervisor, manager or official.

"Certain workplaces are going to be moving forward by establishing policies from the top leadership all the way through the organization," she said. "They will say, 'This is what sexual harassment is. This is how you report it. And if you come to us telling us there is a problem, we will support you, we will help you and we will protect you.'"

The good news for employers and employees alike is that the same innate tendencies that lead to the Bystander Effect and allow negative workplace climates to fester, can also be used to make them better.

"Not only is there diffusion of responsibility in bad ways at time," Dr. Markman said, "But sometimes you can create diffusion of responsibility in good ways ... by being the first one to engage in something, one of the things that can often do is open the floodgates to other people doing that ... I think the #MeToo movement is a powerful example of that."

Dr. Angulo agreed.

"One common thread that weaves through these studies is that anytime someone stands up and says, 'I don't think this is right. I'm not going to conform, I'm not going to obey.' People around them suddenly feel empowered," she said. "They say, 'Me too ... I wasn't sure what to do, but now that you've spoken up, I'm going to as well.' So, you see these people who are acting as inspirations for others and then it becomes a group movement."

They said empowering and training employees to act and showing an organizational track record of support are steps toward ending workplace sexual harassment and creating better offices.

Chapter 7

Texas man: Following sex harassment claim, I was fired for violating company policy

Author: Mike Rush

John Dunklin has a lot of experience working in oil fields. He's done it for nearly 15 years.

But now, Dunklin drives a truck and said he makes far less money than he could working in the oil industry.

"So, do you think you've been blacklisted in your industry?" asked KVUE's Mike Rush.

"There's no doubt about it," Dunklin said.

Just about a year ago, Dunklin landed a great gig down in Carrizo Springs. He was hired by a company called Crescent Services to be an oil field manager. The pay and hours were good and Dunklin said he managed as many as 50 people.

Working a Texas oil field, Dunklin will tell you, is not your normal 9-to-5 job.

"We work long hours. They live wherever the job sites are," he said.

But it's an atmosphere the marine veteran said he thrived in.

Then, Dunklin said sexual harassment brought him down.

"It's just feeling like I'm a failure, feeling like I did something wrong," he said, fighting back tears.

As outlined in a lawsuit he filed against his former employer, Crescent Services, Dunklin claims the harassment started when a couple of guys -- Dunklin's manager and a supervisor -- made inappropriate comments about Dunklin's then fiancee.

"Wanting to know if she was in the travel trailer," he said. "'Would like to just skip the meeting and run over there and hop in my travel trailer with her.'"

Dunklin reported it but said the next day his manager suggested the supervisor perform a sex act on Dunklin.

"And they're not laughing. You know, that's the deal, they're not playing anymore. I'm thinking the guy was serious," he said.

As the lawsuit states, Dunklin once again filed a report, but, he said, the abuse got physical soon after when the supervisor sneaked up behind him.

"My testicles were grabbed. Both hands just full on (and) he said, 'I know you've got some big balls and I want to see them and you need to use them,'" he said.

Dunklin said he was enraged, but also embarrassed and confused.

"I didn't know what to do. For the first time in a long time, I was pretty scared," he said.

He reported the behavior to the higher-ups, management, human resources and even filed a report with the Dimmit County Sheriff's Office. The company put him on leave, he said, while it investigated.

"A short time later, I was terminated," Dunklin said.

"And for what reason?" Rush asked.

"I found out later on it was violation of company policy," he said.

"And what policy did you violate?" Rush said.

"I requested that information and never got it," he said.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, last year, men made up less than 17 percent of sexual harassment claims filed with the agency.

But Austin Kaplan, an employment and civil rights lawyer who represents Dunklin, believes it's underreported.

"I think there's a social stigma against men raising this issue," he said.

In his practice, male clients are rare.

"It's not seen as being manly or being tough or what have you, but I completely disagree with that," said Kaplan.

There's also the fear, he said, of losing their jobs.

Dunklin said not only did he lose his, but he's having trouble getting back in the business.

That's why he took the truck driving job. But, he said, it hurts.

"I didn't create this. I didn't cause this," Dunklin said. "I know my family could have a better life."

Dunklin also filed a report with the EEOC before filing his lawsuit.

The EEOC preliminarily dismissed the accusation, but Dunklin's attorney said that doesn't prevent them from suing.

The Dimmit County Sheriff's Office said the investigation is ongoing.

KVUE's Rush reached out to Crescent Services, which is based in Oklahoma City. A spokesman said the company has no comment.

Chapter 8

‘It was never a big major topic that we talked about’: Roundtable with the next generation

Author: Terri Gruca

We can't predict if the changes ahead will have a lasting impact, but there's one generation that hopes so.

Teenagers are finding how all of this is changing the way they see the world.

Question: Was sexual harassment ever part of the conversation at school before all the news coverage of Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer?

"It was never a big major topic that we talked about," said 16-year-old Jordan Crupper, a junior at Round Rock Christian Academy.

"Prior to Harvey Weinstein, I don't think I've ever had a conversation with a student about it," said 17-year-old Ashley Chen, a senior at Cedar Park High School.

Has the line between joking and harassment been blurred?

“I think it's definitely been blurred. It depends on the people like Matt Lauer. He kind of playfully harassed his co-workers and they were like, 'Maybe it was just a joke,' so I can see that's how the lines get blurred,” said Chen.

"Because it started coming up more often I feel it's harder to believe every single case because now it feels like a big game of 'he said, she said,'” said Nikki Warren.

“I think it's kind of lost its punch,” said Chen.

Does it make you fearful about speaking up?

“Kind of when we were driving here I was lik, 'I'm afraid I'm going to say the wrong thing when we get there and so many people are going to over-blow it a little bit,'” said Patrick Hunt, a 14-year-old Round Rock high school freshman.

“If you have power and money you can just sweep some of the junk you've done in the past under the rug. That's what I think is making people a little more fearful of coming out and saying what happened to them,” said 18-year-old Matthew Juarez, a Cedar Park High School senior.

Do you think about how this is going to affect you all when you start working?

“I think that's the good thing about all this coming out is to make people say, 'Okay this happened and so be aware of your surroundings.' Be aware of the people you are associating with because I think some people think this can never happen to me and don't realize how common it is,” said Chen.

“There's this whole fear of judgment because a lot of times people will -- even if it's not your fault -- people will blame it on you,” said Warren.

“I feel like when you put yourself in those situations you can't be all that clueless because that's when it's really easy to be taken advantage of as a girl,” said Chen.

“It's also tough to be a guy because you are less likely to be trusted,” said Juarez.

What's your advice to younger kids?

“The most important thing is to treat everybody with respect,” said Crupper.

“Don't put yourself in situations where you feel uncomfortable,” said Chen.

“Before you say or do something you have to take a step back and think, 'How would I feel if someone did this to me?'” said Warren