Notes From City Hall 2: Harassment Seminar


1:00 There are two people leading this seminar. I will call them Seminar Guy and Seminar Lady.

1:01 There are three time slots for these seminars. This is the post-lunch seminar, and apparently that makes it “dreaded.”

1:02 The first slide of the powerpoint presentation says “I think the mistake a lot of us make is thinking the state-appointed shrink is our friend…” I assume this is a quote? They don’t seem to be mentioning it. It’s just… there.

1:05 According to the Seminar Guy, the big topic with harassment these days isn’t sexual orientation, but transgender people. Seminar Guy just held up a copy of Time with a picture of Laverne Cox on the cover, I guess to show us a picture of a transgender person? He doesn’t seem to be elaborating.

1:10 Oooh, a clip from “The Office”! In which the boss guy is being totally inappropriate!

1:15 This slide says “legal ‘stuff,'” with “stuff” in quotes. Why is “stuff” in quotes?

1:20 “In the beginning was sexual harassment.” <<== that was a direct quote from Seminar Lady.

1:21 Seminar Guy is retiring soon! Seminar Lady is pretty upset about it.

1:25 The Supreme Court was just quoted as having said, “We don’t believe you, Mr. Boss!”

1:27 Tension between the seminar people. He wanted to continue the lecture, but it’s time for another “Office” clip.

1:28 Seminar Lady just gave a hypothetical example of inappropriate behavior off the top of her head. Seems like a risky form of improv.

1:33 Discourteous behavior is not necessarily a violation of the law!

1:34 Private thoughts don’t count, as long as you don’t express them!

1:35 But there are more ways to express them than you might realize.

1:38 Seminar Lady: “Say I hate yellow; if you’re wearing yellow we’re going to have a problem! I’m not breaking the law, because people who wear yellow are not a protected class.”

1:39 Everyone is turning in their seats to chuckle at the one guy in yellow.

1:42 Part of the law is that the person making the harassment complaint has to be reasonable? That seems like an awfully vague term for legal use.

1:45 It has to be severe AND pervasive, unless it’s severe enough, in which case it doesn’t have to be pervasive, and if it’s pervasive enough, that counts as severe. Okay.

1:48 Turns out the “newest thing” is Third Party Harassment. Like if someone overhears dirty jokes, or has to be near people overdoing it on the flirting.

1:49 Direct quote: “Maybe they’re loudly sharing about what happened in Vegas, instead of letting it stay in Vegas.”

1:50 You just never know when someone can overhear you. You just never know.

1:51 The Seminar People are not trying to say the jokes aren’t funny!

1:53 You have to watch what you hang in your cubicle. It doesn’t have to be a Playboy center-fold. It could be an arty, B&W photograph. This is based on a real-life scandal involving a calendar the art center sent out.

1:57 Uh oh. I call people darling and dear all the time at work. I need to cut that right out, apparently.

2:01 Genuine direct quote from the Seminar Lady: “You might think unwanted physical contact is a thing of the past, but just open a newspaper! And that mayor wasn’t even attractive! Ugh!”

2:02 That scandal was last year, I think, but they only do these seminars every other year. They’ve probably been looking forward to talking about it since it happened.

2:05 Just never look below a person’s mouth.

2:07 Quote: “When do you think your obligation not to engage in harassment starts?”

2:11 Someone just asked what “perception/association” means on the list of protected characteristics. I’m so glad; I don’t know either.

2:12 Oh I see. It means someone can sue for being harassed for being gay even if they’re not gay. Well, that’s good.

2:15 Seminar Lady says: “Working for the city, rather than a for-profit company, means we always have the option of doing the right thing, lawsuits aside.” I’m glad she said that; that’s the first time it has been suggested there might be reasons not to harass people other than lawsuits. I mean, the seminar is being given by the legal dept, but still.

2:18 These chairs are outrageously uncomfortable. That’s not harassment, though.

2:20 They keep talking about how this seminar is for supervisors. So why do I have to be here?

2:21 Oh it’s because I work with the public.

2:29 The only official service animals are dogs and miniature horses? What about helper monkeys though.

2:41 Hooray it’s time for another “Office” clip.

2:43 These clips from “The Office” are hilarious, but could it count as harassment to make employees watch someone be wildly inappropriate and use hate speech? I feel like they’re walking a line here.

2:47 It’s fun when the Seminar Lady starts to use a specific example and then realizes she can’t give the details.

2:50 Okay, it can be severe OR pervasive if it happens to you, but if you’re a third party overhearing dirty jokes, etc., it has to be both severe AND pervasive.

2:52 Intent is not a defense. Participation is not consent.

2:55 Quote from Seminar Guy: “When you look at the question of ‘who is liable?’ you should visualize that question mark as a dollar sign.”

2:58 Um. The Seminar Guy just gave a real-life example of an actual harassment case in which a woman was groped, only what he said was, “pulled her onto his lap and grabbed her right boob.” I’m almost positive he should not have just said boob. Breast is best, Seminar Guy!

3:01 Actual line from actual slide: “Harassment is NEVER in the course and scope of your job duties!”

3:06 These chairs are uncomfortable enough that I’m becoming alarmed.

3:07 I brought a sweater in case it got cold, now I’m trying to slide it under my butt to use as a cushion of sorts.

3:11 Some city employee was told by the courts that he’d have to stop using racist terms to his underlings at work (both saying racist things to them, and calling them racist things), and he filed an appeal. The hell?

3:15 Question time! Someone I don’t know asks: “If a member of the public is obnoxious to us, can it count as harassment?” Answer: We have to figure out if they’re being obnoxious to us because we’re a member of a protected class.

3:21 I asked a question! I said, “What if they’re not discriminating against us, but making comments about other protected classes?” Turns out it still counts!

3:30 Okay, that’s a wrap. We get to go, as soon as we fill out our seminar evaluations. Also people are still talking.

3:40 Filled out my evaluation on how the seminar was. I thought it was pretty good, but I checked “excellent” because I know supervisors often think anything below “unbelievably fantastic” is bad.

My favorite thing: The way real-life examples were given. My suggestion: Bathroom breaks (that’s always my suggestion, even though I didn’t need to go this time).

4:35 Looked up the quote from the first slide, about the state-appointed shrink not being your friend. It’s one of the Jack Handey Deep Thoughts, from SNL back in the ‘80s. Surely the legal department should have credited the quote?


See also: Notes From City Hall 1: City Employee Orientation


Author: Sarah McKinley Oakes

Sarah McKinley Oakes is an L.A.-area writer, nanny, and library clerk. Her other website is, where she writes up old restaurants but barely mentions the food. To contact Sarah, email her at, or DM the Hatpin Slayer Facebook page

3 thoughts on “Notes From City Hall 2: Harassment Seminar

  1. If I had been at the harassment seminar I would not have been able to restrain myself. They need to do a better job.

  2. hahahaha.
    love your crazymind.
    are hatpins a protected category? i was going to say something awkward about ugly, pointless, sexist, classist, sartorially imposed female chapeaux from early days but i shall forfend.

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