They’re a $13B company. I’m one woman.
They have their in-house counsel and two external law firms. I have one law firm and two lawyers within it.
They hired and paid for a “third-party, independent investigator.” She used to be a shareholder in their firm and just like their external counsel, is being paid by them. She was and is a risk assessor, nothing more or less, and one whose bias hung from her like a cheap slip from an ill-fitting dress.
They said I “delayed and obstructed” my initial interview. We had requested the week of January 2nd. They replied saying their “investigator” was “out of the country” that week and offered January 11th.
They said I gave them my statement “piecemeal.” I had forty-eight hours to respond and gave them a fifty-five-page document complete with emails, texts, and commentary
They said I had changed my story. We gave them a second document of twenty-eight pages five days later. I’d had to make a decision so quickly about filing my claim that I’d needed to come to terms with sharing the more grotesque details. I changed nothing; what I did do was added detail I’m sure they found shocking and difficult to defend.
The above contradictions – or outright lies, in fact – may seem surprising or telling or expected, depending on your point of view in such matters and perhaps even your perception or opinion of lawyers in general. But in this case, they are not even the most blatant or disprovable of the ones told by LOL defense counsel. The ones I mentioned in my first post on this issue, At What Price Silence, are altogether more damning and on some days, even to me, laughable. As though they thought they were playing an elementary level game of playground kickball against kids half their size and a quarter their age instead of engaging in high stakes legal dialogue via publicly filed documents. They even, for good measure, threw in the names of the only two people they legitimately could, given the financially interested bias of others involved, thinking, I suppose, that the appearance of those two names would somehow add an air of legitimacy to their larger statement. No, it brought with it the stench of contrivance and desperation.
The field is tilted from the outset in situations such as this, and when the company of the accused is one like Land O’Lakes and the person in question is a C-level executive, the resources they will expend and the tactics they will employ immediately turn that tilted field into an otherwise empty seesaw slammed to the ground by a fat man. And what about truth? It’s a word in a dictionary at best, yet seemingly makes not even a cameo in theirs.
In addition to the three-hour interview by their investigator, the easily disprovable lies told by their counsel, and the now fourteen-week delay in anything remotely resembling action on their part, I almost daily receive phone calls or texts from former colleagues telling me that someone is snooping around in my past. Whether it is their team directly, or misguided friends of the accused who think they’re doing him a favor, what it equates to is more harassment. Whether it’s committed by an institution or an individual, the entitled heavy-handedness is the same, the amount of money and time they’re putting into this effort now openly reeking of “thou doest protest too much.”
We hold ourselves up in the West, and especially in America, as beacons of freedom and truth. When we see women in other countries deprived of their most basic of rights, we scoff and pour scorn and stand in self-righteous judgment of our undeniable superiority. But are we?
In Pakistan, they may stone a woman to death for being raped and for having the nerve to report it, the village elders claiming it was actually consensual sex out of wedlock. She will die within a few minutes or hours, while we in the West merely shame our victims into not speaking up at all, or sentence them to protracted months or year-long death by a thousand cuts at the hands of our acerbic tongues and judgemental minds. We are so quick to view others through our selective filters, yet so hesitant to turn any lens toward ourselves. So vocal in our insistence on a change in countries we’ve never visited and never will, but too afraid to question policy or challenge authority in order to protect women at home.
Perhaps they’re right, after all, to not allow women to drive or vote and insist they hide themselves under their abaya or burqa or hijab; at least there is no pretense from the outset that they can be anything other than subservient in their respective societies; at least there is no inevitable disappointment when they discover the truth. Meanwhile, we tell our children they can do and be anything they want without adding the caveat emptor of, “unless you’re a woman, in which case you need to moderate your mind, your voice, and your abilities so as not to inadvertently offend or threaten the men.”
I was warned and of course knew from the outset that once we moved into the phase of public litigation, I could expect what is referred to in the legal profession as the “nuts and sluts defense.” I’m not sure I need to spell out for anyone what that means: it’s victim blaming and victim shaming, the norm for defense attorneys since the beginning of the dawn of sexual harassment claims. The American equivalent of the village elders telling their audience that the woman is a slut; that it’s her fault. The proverbial stones, in this case, being the carelessly cast epithets against a woman and her integrity. And again, how are we so different than they?
The second letter which came from their attorneys insisting I keep to myself elicited from me the reaction of, “I give one-half of one-eighth of one-tenth of one-one-hundredth what they think,” followed by, “That’s not how anything works,” both thoughts I finally expressed via Twitter, keeping some of the more fragrant adverbs and adjectives which were floating around in my mind to myself. The unfortunate truth, though, is that this is exactly how things still work. Now, today, in America in 2018.
They are so certain of their ability to prevail that they have no expectation or even remotest understanding or belief in my right to do whatever I can to defend myself; to somehow slightly level that field, raise the seesaw if only one inch. They can spend tens of thousands on lawyers and more, delay for months and respond with abject lies, and all the while I am meant to sit in supplicant silence. That says far more about them, their mindset, and their arrogance than of me. That I have chosen to speak out, go public vs. private, speaks to the condition of society at the moment and the still too small wind of change blowing through it. That I have become again quieter as I’ve read the stories of other women who have contacted me since speaks of how far we have yet to go.
I entitled this quickly, and perhaps poorly-formed essay, “The Shame Game,” but it should or could be more appropriately named “The Shame of the Game,” because this process, like most everything else in business today, is just that – a game. And what a shame that is given the weight and seriousness of this issue, both to me and to society as a whole. And whereas I may despise both the game and the players, I have no intention of disengaging, not giving my all, pulling any punches or not speaking the truth.
And may the best woman win.
Update: We have received two separate letters from the attorneys retained by Land O’Lakes, Inc., threatening legal action for me exercising my First Amendment rights. If you would like to read more or keep up with my fight against Land O’Lakes, you can visit this page.