In 2007 I was working as a freelancer at what was very close to my dream job. They respected the work/life balance, it was a major company, and it was a very doable commute. I was told by the director and manager I was doing a great job with my projects and was therefore asked to take on more responsibility. I very much enjoying working with the team.
There was one project manager that was a bit difficult. Of course he was nice and friendly but he had a habit of cutting ahead in line, meaning bringing us work that wasn't quite ready so that he could get his projects ahead of others. The manager and everybody knew so there was no issue with pushing back when needed. His reaction was usually, can't blame me for trying.
One evening I was staying a few minutes late in order to complete something. I was concentrating heavily on my computer, my back was to the rest of the room (as it always would have been). This project manager walked up behind me and said, "sometimes I just want to slap your butt. Hahahaha." I turned around and quite spontaneously said, "If you do I will hit you" and then got back to my screen. I was furious, could no longer concentrate and continued fuming the rest of the evening. I was angry and embarrassed. I went through the usual mental acrobatics of trying to determine what I had done to provoke this behavior. I tried to discuss it with my husband but he had nothing to say which made me feel even more alone with the situation. I don't know why I didn't call a female friend. I was busy with two young kids at the time, I suppose there was no time but maybe it's because I didn't think I would be taken seriously.
About bedtime I decided I would go to HR the next morning and tell them what had transpired. I felt if I did end up slapping him they needed to know why. My husband said that wasn't a good idea but could not elaborate.
The next day I went to the HR woman who, in retrospect, I don't think was normal HR. Because I was a freelancer and not even through an agency, I don't think I was actually a subject of HR. I told her the story including if he ever actually touches me I will slap him. She said, "you know sometimes people joke around..." She minimized the situation which I suppose was her position. I considered what she said and yes, as a group, we had joked around, we had had adult, married people conversations but this was different. The two of us were basically alone, the comment was made directly at me and it was about physically touching me.
Later the HR woman held a meeting that warned us all about joking around with each other and think about how others are taking what we say. As far as I could tell, the project manager had no repercussions. It seemed he was more aggressive and hostile about the projects he was trying to push ahead and the manager was less likely to back me up. Soon they decided that they could no longer directly employ freelancers, they had to come through an agency. They hired some of the other freelancers but I wasn't one of them.
This company has since posted jobs I'm qualified for. I've applied but I've never gotten a response. The people I worked with clearly aren't recommending me. I assume they know some version of what happened and I appear to be a high risk crazy person.
Can anybody tell me how I should have handled this situation? If somebody in that position were to touch me like that, honestly, I would slap them as a reflex. I would still love to work for that company, do you think there's any hope?
Since we now have the me too movement, I wonder if other women who worked in that department have had to deal with this sort of thing. I even considered the fact that I'm thirteen years older working in my favor. It's intermittently depressing.