Men also need protection in the workplace

I could virtually hear my heartbeat pounding against my chest as I held on to my phone with a tight grip and an uncharacteristic sweaty palm. I made a mental note of when my cellphone bill was due, slightly grateful my line would not be disconnected since I got the job.

“Because of its location in the West End and by Georgetown, you’ll find that our branch happens to be the high-end boutique of retail banking,” said Tania in my first conversation with her.

The pitch of her voice was affectedly low, slow and soothing. Tania presented herself as if she were some bigwig and not just a newly promoted assistant branch manager. She carried a Chanel bag and I recognized her Chanel No 5 perfume, only because my wall street attorney ex-wife had worn it, too.

I was offered the job as the sole financial sales consultant responsible for sales at the bank branch with a caveat that it would transition me in a year to the wealth management division while I worked on renewing my expired securities and investment banking licenses. Tania would train me in the systems and introduce me to the affluent clients.

Then I saw another side of Tania. One day she called me on the intercom informing me she was redirecting a Kenyan student at the Kennedy Center whom she refused to open an account for because she was sure he had no money and would only end up writing bad checks.

Perhaps she was a snob because her father had been a bank executive—at least that’s what she told me—so she had the air about her as if she was better than the people at the branch.

“You must take breaks and eat, Olu. I have noticed the best workers are so hard on their bodies and never take lunch. But it only hurts you in the end. Trust me, I have been there,” said Tania as she tried to act like a confidant, in that signature affectedly low, soothing voice. I tensed up as she held my arm lightly while she advised me again, in her now too familiar patronizing tone.

Within 90 days of my start, I had become the leading credit card seller in the bank. I’d hit my sales out of the ballpark, and because of my energy, upbeat personality and my ability to get along with anybody—even Tania—I was asked to help boost sales at other branches, including to open a new branch at Georgetown. Unfortunately, it was not the first time my ascendancy had evoked jealousy in America.

I had been waiting patiently, standing before Tania who was managing the lobby, but was taking a call and seemed to be on the phone longer than was necessary on a busy day. The foreign clients seated in my office had become agitated because their passports had been inexplicably taken from them while I opened their new accounts. I had exhausted all the causerie I could improvise to keep the history professor and his son calm until Tania stopped playing games.

She’d locked up the passports in her cabinet, but I could not get into it because she held the keys. Suspecting she was being mischievous, I informed the manager who sat in his office—for the third time. The manager hated to move his 310-pound weight around. But he eventually retrieved the passports and handed them to me.

The next day, I was early at work and seated in my office, when Tania walks in and used the pretext that she needed to access the business account files that I opened, which she had locked up in my credenza, while retaining the keys. She initially walks around my desk as if she did not know the files were not in my desk drawers but in the credenza by the door she had just walked through. After she retrieves them, she walks towards my desk saying she wants to talk to me about yesterday.

“I was just holding the passports to verify their information and then I got another call. I was doing so many things at the same time. I did not want you to think I was trying to prevent you from doing your job,” says Tania making excuses.

“Tania, please don’t worry about it. That was yesterday, I have a lot of work to do today.”

And then she went off her gourd. I heard a huge bang as she slammed her hand on my desk.

“Who the hell do you think you are?”

Startled but not surprised, I looked up at her bloodshot eyes and her tangled hair as she continues to raise her voice. And then I get up and walk out of my office, but she follows me.

“Yes, get the hell out. Go home now and don’t come back!” Enraged she continues to follow me, as I cross the lobby to get to the men’s room and lock the door behind me. She is still screaming and using profanities, but I do not say a word, since I have seen a psychotic lose it before. I just wait for her to pipe down and for others to arrive.

Then she informs me that the manager had called and wanted to speak with me. I step out to take his call. He asks me to take the day off.

“Trust how I handle this, Olu.”

The next day I sat in the branch manager’s office who had been told by his boss that we needed to resolve the matter at the branch level and not let it escalate. Tania started to relay her version of events.

All genders experience some form of workplace harassment. It is a double-edged sword when race is implicated too.

“All of a sudden, Olu screamed at me and banged his fists on the table and charged at me. But he was so big, and I am so small. I was so afraid that I was crying and saying, ‘Olu please why are you screaming at me? What are you doing?’” She was looking coyly down at her knees as she gesticulated with her hands.

“Then when he got up, he came after me. Or I wasn’t sure. Because at least I thought he was coming after me, I ran away crying. How I wish someone was there. It was so terrible. I was so scared. I did not know what I did. I was just trying to help him,” said Tania continuing with her lies.

The manager looks straight into my eyes and asked me if I had anything to say. I told him she was lying and because my reputation and everything I had was on the line, and I would not let anyone damage my family’s name, I wanted to escalate it to HR immediately, so they could investigate the issue for my exoneration. I told him to immediately retrieve the tapes from the cameras in the bank and the lobby, which caught everything.

“The video won’t lie.”

Then suddenly, Tania put her hand on mine and said, “Wait, we don’t need to make a mountain out of a mole hill. This is nothing. There’s a lot of money here for all of us,” and she let off a timorous cackle. She gets her reprieve as she excuses herself to attend to a customer in the lobby.

“She has changed her story. I know she is lying, she said something totally different,” said the manager.

The next time I saw Tania was on a Saturday, after I had received an emergency call to fill in for someone who’d called in sick. She had not expected that I’d be there as she came to clear out her desk. Tania had been fired. She wore an oversized red hoodie and hid her face in a baseball cap that made her unrecognizable. As she walked past my door she looked in and saw my eyes. She was almost as red as her hoodie. She looked embarrassed and angry. It was as if she wished she could tuck herself into the baseball cap she was hiding under. But I felt sorry for her. I didn’t necessarily feel vindication sweep over me.

I saw her one more time carrying a knapsack and wearing flip-flops and shades. A teller told me she had rented an apartment for over 2,500 dollars in the swanky neighborhood of Washington, DC.

“Why would you wanna rent right next to work? I told her not to live so close to work when she just got hired. And it is so expensive here at the West End. I guess she never thought she would be fired someday,” said the nosy teller.

Victims of workplace harassment are known to suffer reprisal action when they report abuse.

Tania had started off being friendly—over friendly—with a steady flow of compliments. I never learnt from the manager what her original story was—the one she changed which convinced him she was lying. I don’t know if she changed her ways, or if she manipulated another hapless victim into her venomous snare, but I was told that I was not her first victim at the bank. One of them told me not to feel bad that she had been fired for her self-inflected wounds. Her targets had been minority men. She certainly made me circumspect of some folks in the workplace.