In the three months she worked under the ever-watchful eye of her supervisor, Wade Farrington, UNC housekeeper Amanda Hulon became an expert at taking out the garbage—very delicately.
“[Farrington] would be standing right directly behind me while I’m bending over picking up trash,” she recalls, the tip of her cigarette glowing orange in her Carrboro apartment. “He would be, ‘Mmm, mmm, mmm, look at that ass.’ Or he would call me into his office and constantly be rubbing his crotch while he’s talking.”
Court documents corroborate her allegations. Hulon, represented by Chapel Hill civil rights attorney Al McSurely, has filed a complaint with the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings. The case is scheduled to be heard Aug. 29.
UNC spokesman Mike McFarland said he could not comment on the case. Farrington, Housekeeping Director Bill Burston and Business Officer Van Dobson did not respond to calls for comment.
McFarland said that earlier this week, UNC named Lea Holt interim director of housekeeping to replace Burston, who earned about $38,000 a year in that position. McFarland did not say if, or to what post, Burston had been reassigned. Holt had been director of University Mail Services.
Hulon says the abuse began on her fourth day at work. Even before then, the complaint states, Farrington had offered to lend Hulon money several times, including on the day of her job interview. He knew her temporary job had ended and that she had not been permanently employed for almost four months.
During her first three days at work, she declined Farrington’s loan, even though she was struggling to pay bills. On the fourth day, she accepted $150 from Farrington and promised to repay it from her first paycheck.
The next day, Sept. 11, 2008, Farrington allegedly called Hulon to his office and told her that his favor deserved one in return.
“Well, first of all, if you want to work for me, you are going to have to learn how to shut your mouth and not tell anyone what goes on between you and I,” the complaint states Farrington said. “If you fuck me, I can make your job very comfortable. If not, I will make your job very difficult.”
The lawsuit describes Hulon’s predicament as a “triple-bind”: “damned if she did, damned if she didn’t, and damned if she told anyone about it.”
Hulon says her life became hellacious. Over the next three months, Farrington intentionally bumped into her, grabbed her inappropriately and called her into his office and touched himself in front of her, the complaint states.
Finally, she was transferred to a new zone outside of Farrington’s reach, but the problems worsened, she says.
The new supervisor, Gwen Stanley, is a friend of Farrington, the complaint states, and “initiated a retaliatory campaign against Ms. Hulon with the obvious purpose to make the workplace intolerable and to constructively discharge her.”
Hulon received warnings for being out sick, being late, leaving early and other attendance concerns, the complaint states. Hulon says she had never received a write-up before then. Now she had 15 counselings—warnings of unsatisfactory performance—a write-up and a one-week suspension without pay, which she later appealed and was overturned.
“After an extensive review of the case the University has determined that you received disciplinary actions for departmental policy violations, while others in the department who engaged in the same or similar conduct did not receive the same level of discipline,” UNC Equal Opportunity/ ADA Officer Ann Penn wrote to Hulon in November.
“However there is not conclusive evidence to support the allegation that the inconsistent application of disciplinary action was in retaliation for your earlier sexual harassment complaint.”
Penn went on to write that she recommended Hulon be transferred to a new zone away from Stanley and to have her suspension rescinded.
But problems lie not only with the facilities services administration but also with a grievance procedure that the housekeepers can’t trust, says Jonathan Stephenson, chairman of the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC 25) and a UNC School of Medicine program assistant.
“A lot of employees, I get calls they are in fear of their jobs, they are in fear of their safety,” he says. “This is not one instance that we are jumping, no, it’s a collective. My phone rings off the hook whether it’s my cellphone, my office phone or my home phone.”
Stephenson says the “culture of sexual harassment in housekeeping” is well known, even at the uppermost reaches of the university administration.
UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp responded to organized protests about harassment, discrimination and unfair working conditions by allocating $104,000 to hire PRM Consulting Group, a human resources firm from Washington, D.C.
“This had been going on for at least 50 years that I know of, and we decided to try something that hasn’t been tried for 50 years to see if we can pull us out of this continuous cycle of conflict,” Thorp told the UNC-CH Employee Forum, a group of staff elected by peers to advocate for better working conditions, in December, according to the University Gazette.
PRM Consulting has been on campus since April and plans to spend six months interviewing employees and observing the workplace before issuing a final report.
Hulon says she tried to resolve her workplace issues by following UNC’s grievance process, but the system failed her, the complaint states.
She met with Wayne Blair, UNC’s ombudsman, six days after Farrington’s demand for sex. However, under UNC policy, that meeting doesn’t constitute a formal notice of a grievance that would protect Hulon from retaliation.
Hulon says she then tried talking to Dobson, who referred her to Burston, the director of housekeeping, the complaint states. Burston assured her that he would handle it.
Burston transferred Hulon to Stanley’s zone. But in violation of the grievance policy, he did not provide her with any information on the appeals process or written statements of the remedies he would carry out, the complaint states.
Stephenson says efforts to improve the working conditions are being scuppered because many housekeepers don’t feel comfortable talking about their supervisors and fear retaliation.
“There’s a lot of fear, a lot of anger,” Stephenson says. “We feel that this is a dangerous situation that could spiral out of control, and that’s why we are going to bring it to chancellor’s attention.”
But Hulon won’t be intimidated or silenced, she says.
“My main goal is to hopefully get everyone in housekeeping, especially the Burmese and Karen community, to see that I’m not scared, I’m talking,” she says. “I’m putting myself out there; my name, everything out there and telling what happened to me. They don’t have to be scared either. I’m really hoping that’s what comes of it, I really do.”