Hostile Work Environment at Universal Studios


Valencia, CA No one really knows how many workers are subjected to harassment because many employees are afraid of retaliation if they complain about their hostile work environment. These days it's not easy to find work elsewhere and all too often supervisors, managers and employers take advantage of their authority, even though they are violating the California labor law.

One such employee is Janet (not her real name) who worked as an accountant in a hostile environment for three years, until she had a nervous breakdown. Janet worked at Universal Studios for 11 years before taking nine months maternity leave. When she returned to work in 2007, her new supervisor started to make her life miserable.

According to Janet, her supervisor, let's call her Mary, harassed her from Day One. "She came into my office and pulled a list of names off my wall and screamed that we weren't using this billing list anymore, as if I had done something wrong," says Janet. "I had no idea why she acted this way??"I was startled. And it was strange that she didn't explain this new rule to me rather than yell. I had met Mary once; just one month before I went on maternity leave and didn't know her at all. She constantly put so much pressure on me and never missed an opportunity to criticize me. I never had a complaint before; everyone knows me as a hard worker and I did my job well."

To make matters worse, Janet's co-worker (there were only four people working in her department, including Mary) also added to the hostile environment??"and they were friends. Apparently, Allan (not his real name) has a history of drinking on the job, and Mary has a history of harassment, which Janet discovered from her former supervisor. Mary, who had worked at Universal for 30 years, even had a harassment lawsuit filed against her some years previously: Janet said Mary "came out on top."

Janet said that Allan often came into her office drunk. "I have witnesses who heard him call me a 'f**king slob' and 'f**king slut,' and they attested to that in a signed letter," Janet adds.

"By 2009 I found enough courage to talk with Mary; I told her she intimidated me and made me feel worthless and that I was also disrespected by Allan. 'You know that he drinks and you had better not report it or ever talk about his drinking on the job because it will backfire on you,' she said. I walked out of her office speechless and even more afraid.

"I went back to my office, put my head down and kept working. Then a few days later I spoke with my old supervisor and explained how I felt threatened by Mary. She told me that I needed to speak to HR. I didn't follow up on her advice because I was afraid of losing my job if I reported anything. Unfortunately my old supervisor won't speak against Mary either because she is also afraid of retaliation.

"But about five months later it became unbearable??"I went to HR shaking and crying uncontrollably; I was having a nervous breakdown. I told HR about Allan's drinking and swearing. She said an investigation would be forthcoming. It took her three months to get back to me. 'I find no evidence of him drinking,' she said. That was the end of discussion. As for my supervisor; 'Perhaps she could work on her management skills but perhaps you are oversensitive.' I didn't have the opportunity to respond??"she had another appointment.

"I was crushed. What do I do now? In an email to HR, I said if the harassment and intimidation continued, I would go higher up to seek help because I couldn't continue under this stress. She responded the next day and said we should talk further, meaning Mary, Mary's supervisor, and me. I didn't want to do that without my union's representation because this was going to mean more intimidation. I tried to contact my union but they never returned my call. So now I felt that I didn't have anyone on my side; fear gripped me even more.

"I have to say that after speaking with HR, M and my co-worker backed off but it started all over again after this 'cooling off time.' By November 2010 I knew I couldn't take anymore: it started affecting me physically...

"I found it hard to get up in the morning; I felt worthless because I couldn't get help anywhere. I went to my doctor with back spasms??"directly related to stress??"and I haven't been back to work since. He recognized right away that I couldn't return to work and wrote a note that said I needed to go on disability leave. He also referred me to a psychiatrist.

"I am currently on long term disability, seeing the psychiatrist and trying to get better so I can return to work. I requested to be moved to a different department but I was told by email from HR that I had to either go back to work with Mary or quit my job and re-apply. Technically I am supposed to go back to work June 1st but I can't go back to that hostile environment. In a perfect world, I need to work in an environment where I'm not afraid. Of course problems and issues arise, but nobody should have to work with fear."

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1 Comment

  1. Saeid Kangarlou
    May 5, 2011
    I worked at Universal Studios in 1999 and had same kind of problems. I walked off work and quit. Its true they have a hostile environment in all areas.

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