New York Mets Fire General Manager for Lewd Pictures He Sent Reporter. Why Should You Care?
By John C. Cook
If you were sitting at your desk today and said to yourself, “I think I’ll send a picture of a naked, erect penis to a female reporter,” you may want to think again. Jared Porter is wishing he had “thought again” today after the New York Mets fired their general manager for doing just that five years ago when we was working for the Chicago Cubs. But several questions are still unanswered. First, in a world full of stale pick-up lines, did he really think this tactic was going to work? And second, what does “work” mean? What was he trying to accomplish? Third, a reporter? I mean, if you are trying to do something secretive, would that be your first choice?
But seriously, the real story is much deeper. Unfortunately, this unsavory tale did not surface three years ago, when ESPN obtained the picture and 61 other “explicit” pictures, because the reporter was concerned the story may ruin her career. And that is the real crime here. Yeah, Porter did something stupid. That is on him. But victims of this type of behavior are all too often afraid to report the conduct because they fear the backlash. And that is on us.
Employment lawyers know that retaliation for the filing of sexual harassment complaints is more rampant than sexual harassment itself. Many harassers, and their employers, do retaliate when complaints are made. And people about whom non-meritorious complaints of sexual harassment are made retaliate as well. Why is that? Because too many people only pay lip service to the law. When asked they will say, “yes, that’s wrong.” They will sign off on handbooks prohibiting the conduct. They will tolerate anti-harassment training. They may even tell a perpetrator, “C’mon man, you know we can’t do that stuff anymore.” But when a formal complaint gets filed, bringing in HR and/or the lawyers, then too many people view the complainant as a troublemaker. And that is just wrong. Keep sex out of the workplace. Period. Not debatable. Not “okay sometimes.” Not shake your finger and say, “do not do that again”, and then go out for drinks and laugh about it. Managers especially, but all employees, need to understand that sex and work are a toxic mix. Keep them apart. Ultimately, it is about respect. If you respect someone you work with, you would not intentionally do something to make them feel bad or uncomfortable. Our society needs more respect (that sounds like a broken record nowadays.)
Another potential part of this story never occurred. An employer is responsible for sexual harassment even if the harasser is not employed by the employer. So, for example, had the reporter reported this incident to her newspaper, the newspaper would have had the legal responsibility to stop the behavior from continuing. Could it do that by reassigning the reporter? No! You do not punish the victim. You stop the bad guy. The general counsel of the paper would need to call the general counsel for the team, report the incident, and tell the team in no certain terms that the team needs to stop its official from harassing the reporter. If you say “how?” well, come on, it is a newspaper, and they are a baseball team.
Workplace harassment is a serious issue. It is an outgrowth of a society lacking socially enforced rules of behavior. It is a symptom of power relationships where those on the “in” still use power to denigrate those who are “out.” And, it’s illegal. So, knock it off, unless you prefer unemployment and national embarrassment to holding a job that many of us would have considered a dream job.