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Sexual harassment may signal other issues if not stopped

Sexual harassment in the workplace may just be the tip of the iceberg, depending on the psychology of the harasser. It may be the not so subtle signal of other mental issues percolating in an individual’s mind, waiting for an outlet. Certainly sexual harassment is a clear warning signal that something is wrong. Employers need to pay heed to such behavior and not brush it under the rug or ignore it.

Consider the Homeland Security Department (HSD) case involving a gun battle inside a secure government building, on a secure floor of a southern California office building. Deceased supervisory agent Ezequiel “Zeke” Garcia, 45-years-old at the time of the shoot-out, started a gun battle in 2012 inside the Long Beach offices of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations. Garcia was armed. His target that day, senior regional manager, Kevin Kozak, was not. Perry Woo, his supervisor, killed Garcia with a shot to the back of his head.

According to the Associated Press (AP), who obtained the report on the incident, HSD missed Garcia’s clear warning signals. Had they taken action to deal with Garcia, Kozak may not have sustained severe gun shot wounds to his back, leg, hands and abdomen. Kozak may yet lose his leg and suffers greatly from his debilitating injuries.

Garcia had been the subject of four substantiated sexual harassment complaints. He was heard to complain to co-workers that management were targeting him to demote him despite his 21 years of service.

The report the AP obtained under the auspices of the Freedom of Information Act revealed frightening details that clearly showed Garcia needed help. In fact, it went on to outline that Garcia’s previous supervisor recalled a conversation in which Garcia said the agency “had taken away from him everything that mattered” and that Garcia had to be talked “off the ledge every day in an effort to motivate him to work.”

In summation, the internal HSD investigation report also concluded that Garcia’s behavior and misconduct would have alerted his superiors, had they known his full history — a remark that points out that perhaps no one was really paying attention to his actions, or comprehending what they may mean. Add to the fire that the deceased agent was known to be easygoing may have meant his actions were not given much scrutiny. In other words, no one knew he was capable of such deathly violence on a moment’s notice.

Substantiated sexual harassment charges were just the beginning of the end in this case. Never ignore sexual harassment in the workplace. Pay attention to other signs and signals. Ensure the harasser gets help.

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