At 28 years old and as a woman in the tech industry, my career was thriving. That changed overnight.
I was raped in my hotel room by an older male colleague while traveling on a business trip.
Almost a year after I reported being sexually assaulted by an older male colleague to my boss and to the police, the scheduled date of mediation had finally arrived.
The months leading up to the mediation were agonizingly slow and painfully uneventful. My world had been standing still while the legal battle crawled according to my former employers’ lawyer’s timeline. The date of our scheduled mediation was all I had to look forward to as I was under the impression that resolution would follow and I could be set free from the legal fight that I got thrown into. I was told that the willingness of my former employer to participate in such a third-party mediation was very positive and that meant they were wanting to “get this taken care of” so that everyone could move on.
For seven hours, I sat in what was the most offensive, eye-opening, backwards meeting I have ever been a part of. I watched silently as my legal team presented facts and evidence to the mediator as she listened and took notes. She would leave and come back to share the opposing views. Despite claims being totally erroneous, I was not allowed to push back. I was not allowed to defend myself or get answers to my very questions. I was not given explanations other than “this is their position” even when their position was inaccurate and provably false. This wasn’t a day of getting answers, I was reminded of that often throughout the day. It was just a day of negotiating my value vs my rapists’ value thru my former employer’s eyes and how they could get this over with and stay out of court.
Mentally and emotionally, mediation broke me in new ways. I felt helplessness, disbelief, and overwhelming rage all at once. I had to hear lawyers say how fortunate I was that my company was even humoring a settlement offer, because “most women in my position get nothing”. Or comments like… “you should take what you can get because legally this would be a hard battle in court. The laws aren’t designed to protect women in your position, and you could end up with nothing but more emotional and mental damage.”
Once the negotiations started, it was just a numbers game mixed with legal talk. The numbers made no sense to me and my situation. My legal team reminded me to not take offence, that these negotiations are essentially based off an actuary’s spreadsheet. I had gone into mediation telling myself that I would not agree to be silent unless I felt that any settlement offer was enough to repay the debt this situation had put me in and to just buy me some time to heal before needing to start my career over and secure an income. But the process of mediation… seeing the legal system peeled back, my former company staunchly defending my rapist, and the negotiation itself broke me to the point where, for my health, I felt I had no choice but to make it stop. I did step outside to call my best friend towards the end of the day. I remember telling her to remind me not to hate myself for this decision. The conversation was brief because I felt rushed, we had to get everything done that day. The “best and final” offer I was about to agree to was nowhere near what I initially said was my lowest acceptable. I remember being in disbelief that I was going to have to give up and sign an NDA because no part of what I went thru was right or logical in any way. I could tell you that that day I had no idea what I was signing. The words were just a complete blur on paper. I had no idea that I was agreeing to things like:
- I was not allowed to pursue and other lawsuits against him or the company.
- I would forever discharge him and the company of any additional claims, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or for something like emotional distress
- I could not claim that I was wrongly treated in any way by him or the company.
- I could not claim that I was injured by him or the company, in any way.
- I could not aid, assist, or encourage any one else making a claim against him or the company in any way
- If asked about what happened to me, I have to say I can’t discuss it or I would prefer not to discuss it.
If I break the agreement at any time, I will be fined $20,000 per occurrence. If I want a reference from them for a new job, the only information they will provide are the years I was there & my job title. And I am also not allowed to criticize him or the company, in any way.
To this day, the agreement makes little to no sense to me. Sections are so vague and almost intentionally confusing, even in a good mental state I find it difficult to understand. And parts are almost laughable, the sections that read like an alternate reality attempting to redefine and/or silence someone’s truth.
My whole life changed, in every single possible way. There is no positive because there was no justice, no accountability, not even an apology. Having to sit and listen to the legal back and forth while not having the ability to defend my credibility, my lack of consent, even my sexuality broke me in ways I would have never imagined. That process will break anyone, all over again. At that time, I hadn’t even been able to start healing from the severe trauma that I went thru. There was no joy from agreeing to a settlement and agreeing to not say a word about the horrible assault and the way things were handled by a company that preaches about being a best workplace for women. I was put significantly in debt due to the years long battle with my company and then the insurance companies who denied my disability claims. I lost a whole network of friends and colleagues from my former employer. I signed a paper and that specific battle ended, but the fight was nowhere near over. I was forced to start everything over with my head still underwater, alone & silenced. I was so fearful for every woman and friend that I worked with and I wanted nothing more than to tell them what I went thru because I knew that they would be in the same position I was at some point. I was helpless but I had no other option. My life changed drastically but no one else’s did and I didn’t even do anything wrong. I just wanted help for something really bad that happened to me, something that I wish I could have blamed myself for but it was just so wrong that I couldn’t. I saw the onion peeled back that day at mediation and it changed my outlook on people and corporations, the legal system, life in general. Any ounce of warm and bubbly that was once my personality froze over to a bitter, angry cold.
When I look back on that day, anger and disbelief are the strongest emotions that still linger. It was not about right or wrong, it was about money and that was it. Justice and accountability should never be anticipated from a mediation. They are secret meetings between legal teams, hashing out one’s perceived value and instilling fear for speaking out. The future complications and complexities this presents for my career are undeniable as they would be for anyone in this position. We are not set up to succeed in moving forward but those companies get to walk away as if nothing happened and just move on.
That version of who I was is long gone, she no longer exists. But, as I rebuild shamelessly and fiercely, my career will be focused on ensuring that I do whatever it takes to be a disruption and to make that disruption impactful for people like me.