No more secrets: Stephenville woman shares her experience with sexual harassment in the workplace.


By SARA VANDEN BERGE

Shanna Moody says she will never forget the first time she experienced gender discrimination in the workplace.

She was 23 at the time and running a gym in a central Texas municipality.

As a fitness professional, Shanna has dedicated herself to helping others reach their fitness goals. She always believed that hard work was the only path to success.

But she was in for a rude awakening when she became distinctly aware that she was treated differently than her male counterpart.

“Everyone assumed he was my boss because he was a man. He always got more respect,” Shanna said. “That’s when I learned that women had to play by different rules. I had to prove myself differently and work to show my intelligence and authority, whereas it was automatically given to the men.”

That revelation led Shanna to return to school to pursue a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Administration.

After earning her doctorate in 2019, she went back to work for one of Stephenville’s largest employers, settling into a job she loved with the hope of one day earning a promotion.

But her plans for advancement were dashed on July 9, when, during the pandemic, her employer announced it was making budget cuts.

Shanna became one of 30 employees who was either laid off or reassigned.

“I had no idea it was coming,” she said. “I was given an excellent performance review in June. In fact, my boss still had it sitting on his desk on the day they let me go.”

Stunned and confused, Shanna packed her belongings and was asked to leave the office through a basement door. If she needed to return, she was told to schedule an appointment after hours.

When the dust settled, Shanna began to replay a string of unsettling incidents involving male leaders at her place of employment. She wondered if the secret she had been keeping might have played a role in her termination.

“In my division alone, there were eight of us let go, and we were all female,” she said. “Some of the men who kept their jobs had poor performance reviews, served in a duplicate role and spent much of their day at work playing Pokemon, and I was receiving accolades for my performance. It was surreal.”

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS? NO THANKS

Shanna had been documenting what she says was a pattern of sexual harassment and sexual assault by two male mentors that had started weeks before her termination.

In regards to one specific incident, she wrote: “On June 25, 2020 we had a meeting in my office at approximately 11:30 a.m. He arrived at my office and asked if it was ok if he closed the door so that we wouldn’t be interrupted. He posed the meeting as a discussion about collaboration on an article publication over Workplace Wellness. As we discussed the project, he pointed out that I don’t have any publications on my vitae (resume) yet. And how important that would be to getting a promotion or a higher-ranking position...and that if we worked together, he could help me.

“During the meeting, (he) started out sitting across the desk from me, and then got up and acted like he was looking over my shoulder at my computer monitor. His new position essentially trapped me between him and my computer desk. When I tried to get up, he began to grope me, tried to touch my butt and attempted to kiss me. I told him that (physical contact) could not happen and attempted to physically remove his hands from my body. He still kept trying to grope me.”

In her notes, Shanna writes that after he left, he sent a string of messages apologizing for his behavior. (Shanna saved the text conversation.)

The first one read, “great chatting with you my hottest colleague,” followed by “please forgive & ignore the fact that I can be a great human and a horrible dude in a matter of minutes.”

Shanna said there were continuous texts and three more incidents of a physical nature involving the same man.

But that wasn’t all.

She claims that another male colleague said she might not be getting ahead at work because she was “catering to the wrong crowd” and suggested that he could help if she would sleep with him.

In another string of text messages, he referenced a previous attempt to “hook up” and when she didn’t respond, stated that he “hates being ignored.”

After multiple questions about her marriage and personal life, he asked if she could “keep secrets.”

He went on to say he wished she believed in being “friends with benefits,” and when she didn’t respond, he said, “You just have that it factor and I am sorry I should have learned from the first time with you… I make an ass of myself every time I try to hook up with you and get TOTALLY rejected.”

After she was terminated, she said both men offered to help her find a new job.

“I believe they were worried that I was going to say something,” she said.

One of the men even had the audacity to suggest that she consider swimsuit modeling.

‘THE BEST KEPT SECRET IN TEXAS’

After documenting her experience, Shanna consulted a lawyer. Despite having a compelling case, she decided the legal rewards were not what she was after.

Instead, she filed a civil rights complaint with her former employer’s Human Resources Department.

In her complaint, she writes, “The timing of these events and the proximity of them to my termination, despite my exemplary performance and the immense need for wellness programming at a time with so much focus on personal health and well-being indicates that other factors were at play in my termination.”

She said the decision to speak out is not an attempt to get her job back.

“I just want to be heard so that others can be heard too. What happened is wrong. It is illegal. I want people to know what’s going on,” she said. “The best kept secret in Texas is that this is happening in the workplace and no one is talking about it.”

She said she regrets not speaking up sooner.

“I am a strong, confident woman. I had the degrees and the training. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I worked hard for this job, and this is what I get?” she said.

“It’s such a boys club, and as a female, you either have to be one of the boys or sleep with one of the boys to advance.”

FIVE MILLION AND COUNTING

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have helped empower women in the workplace; giving them strength in ways they never had before to stand up against sexual harassment.

But there are still far too many women suffering in silence; frightened that speaking up will derail their career, or worse, cost them their livelihood.

They often try to manage the situation on their own rather than drawing more unwanted attention to themselves.

Shanna says that’s exactly she did, and it was a mistake.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimates that 5,117,835 women are sexually harassed in the workplace every year, with the majority of those cases going unreported.

“I would tell women going through similar situations to speak up and be confident to know that they don’t have to tolerate this behavior,” she said. “Be comfortable enough in your sexuality to know that it isn’t your pathway to success. And nothing you do gives them the right to have this power over you.

“I hope my story helps other women see that they are not alone. We can’t combat the problem if we don’t confront it. It’s time to stop keeping secrets.”