Fic: Sexual Harassment
Summary: Sexual harassment is bad. Sexual harassment seminars are even worse.
Notes: For angelqueen04's request in the auficathon, who requested Kate and Lorne's introduction into the AU. It's not quite what she requested, but my brain took the prompt and made a left turn into Sillyland. Sorry. ;) With manymanymanymany thanks to aj, who did much hand-holding and told it like it was in the beta phase.
Kate Heightmeyer's first day at Langford University started out with a coworker hitting on her over morning coffee and ended with an afternoon seminar on sexual harassment. The irony of that juxtaposition was not lost on her.
Conducting the seminar was the dean of the law school, not someone from human resources as Kate would have expected. From what she'd heard so far today, the dean had gotten married back in May, and the man sitting in the front with the hair that had never been combed was her husband, a math professor named John Sheppard. Idly, Kate thought that if her math professors had looked like that she might have paid more attention in class.
Probably wouldn't have done any better, though.
She'd been in this kind of seminar before, of course. Her last job had required her to sit through something similar, and as a counselor she'd observed them many times, though usually with students, not faculty. In her experience, they didn't really do much good. The people who needed the seminar most generally didn't get the message. After the colleague had finally left her alone that morning, another woman in the counseling department had assured Kate that the man did it to every woman. That kind of attitude could be a problem too – all too often, people just stopped reporting incidents of harassment because the system obviously wasn't putting an end to the behavior.
Up front, Doctor Weir clapped her hands together once. "Well, everyone, let's get started," she said. "Welcome to our sexual harassment seminar, otherwise known as How to Treat Your Fellow Human Beings 101. Toby Carlisle from HR usually does this, but he came down with the flu and I'm filling in.
"Now, most of you are here because you're new employees. For you, I assure you that this seminar is just a formality, something required of all new employees of Langford University," Weir continued. "However, for those of you who are not new employees, I assure you, this is anything but a formality."
She gave a stern look to the half of the circle across from Kate. They were mostly men, except for one woman with closely-cut blonde hair. She looked particularly unhappy to be there, and kept glaring at the room at large.
The door opened before Elizabeth had a chance to speak again. Through it came a man about Kate's age, wearing paint-splattered jeans and a tight t-shirt. He was – well, "unspeakably hot" was the phrase she and her sister would use. He nodded to Doctor Weir. "Sorry, ma'am," he said. "There was an accident in the art building. Someone didn't mix their plaster correctly, and when the mold came off, the stuff went everywhere. I had to change clothes before I came here."
"It's all right," Doctor Weir said. "We were just about to get started, Mr. –"
"Lorne," he filled in, slipping between two chairs and walking across the circle to sit casually next to Kate. "Marcus Lorne, art department."
Elizabeth nodded. "All right," she said, "Since Professor Lorne has been kind enough to introduce himself, let's go around the room and do the same. And please state the reason that you're here."
They started with Kate, who introduced herself as a new counselor. Everything went smoothly through the new faculty members until they reached the blonde woman who looked ready to hit something. "I'm Doctor Carter of the physics department," she said sullenly, and then no more.
"Sam," Elizabeth said, "why are you here? My list doesn't say."
"I was talking with Radek Zelenka and one of the grad students about the hairy ball theorem, and the next thing I knew I got slapped with an order to come here!"
There was a brittle silence, broken when Elizabeth, who seemed so dignified to Kate, started snickering. "I'm sorry," she managed, "but the hairy ball theorem?"
Sam sat up straighter, looking indignant as the rest of the room began to laugh. Kate felt a little sorry for Sam, but couldn't help laughing. "I'm guessing someone heard the conversation and thought I was talking dirty to a student. But it's a theorem of algebraic topology," she explained irritably. "If you had a billiard ball with little hairs all over it, you couldn't comb it flat and even. You couldn't make it smooth all over. You'd end up with little peaks on two sides."
Elizabeth tried to sober, but glanced at her husband, who was lounging in his chair. "So that explains John's hair, I take it," she said.
The whole room burst out with renewed laughter.
When everyone had calmed down, Elizabeth nodded to Sam. "Well, this was clearly a misunderstanding," she said. "I can't let you leave, but if you want to sit in the back and work on other things..."
Sam grabbed her stuff and got to the back of the room so quickly Kate would have thought her chair was on fire.
"Let's move on," Elizabeth said. "Rodney, why don't you introduce yourself and tell us why you're here?"
The next person up crossed his arms over his chest and sighed melodramatically. "I'm Rodney McKay, professor in the physics department," he said. "I have two doctorates, and I teach the top-level grad classes in the–"
"Rodney," Elizabeth chided.
"And I'm here because I made a remark about girls and math and it got back to Carter," he said. "It was a joke! I was clearly misunderstood, so can I get back to work? I'm far too busy for this."
The words came out of his mouth so quickly that Kate blinked several times. Beside her, Marcus chuckled quietly. "How could anyone talk that fast and not be a salesman?" he asked, leaning over to whisper to her.
"Good question," she whispered back.
It seemed that Doctor Weir had realized how ill-advised it was to have let the first person who offered an explanation sit in the back and not pay attention. She narrowed her eyes at Rodney. "No, you may not leave," she said. "You made an inappropriate joke. You're staying."
He opened his mouth to protest, but Elizabeth gave him a stern glare and he backed down. Kate leaned over to Marcus and said, "I need to be able to glare like that."
"Don't we all," he replied.
"All right," Elizabeth said, calling everyone's attention back. "Next, please."
Next up was Elizabeth's husband. "Hi, I'm John Sheppard of the math department," he said, waving to the group. "I'm here because my wife here made me come."
Elizabeth cleared her throat lightly. "And why did I say you had to come?"
"Because I made fun of you in bed this morning."
Elizabeth gave him a very dirty look that suggested to Kate that this was not the first time the subject had come up. "John," she said slowly, "we're not having this discussion right now."
"Well, last time we didn't really finish our conversation," he said with a leer. "Though we did finish something."
Kate stifled a giggle while the dean of the law school blushed as red as her shirt. Marcus raised his hand. Elizabeth looked relieved and gestured for him to speak.
"Isn't that sexual harassment?" he asked benignly, and Kate almost lost it again.
Elizabeth looked down, drummed her fingers on the underside of the desktop, and ignored the question. "Jack?" she prompted.
The lanky, greying man also waved. "Jack O'Neill, board of trustees," he said. "Also here for making fun of Elizabeth, but not in bed. And hopefully not about the same thing."
The two men looked at each other curiously, while Elizabeth turned to the table and retrieved two stacks of papers. "Okay, before this gets any more embarrassing for me, you two are passing these out," she said.
Kate suppressed a disappointed sigh. She kind of wanted to hear how exactly the two men had been making fun of Doctor Weir.
The two packets that Jack and John passed out to the group were filled with information about sexual harassment and examples – though not at all comprehensive, Doctor Weir was quick to point out.
"Sexual harassment in the workplace is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," she said. "Briefly, we can define it as unwanted sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature, though I should remind you that that is in no way a complete definition. Now let's quickly glance through the first packet, 'Sexual Harassment and You'."
As they all flipped through the first few pages of the packet, one of the other new people raised his hand. "Yes, Professor Clarkson?" Doctor Weir said.
He looked up at her. "Is this what happens to someone who's accused of sexual harassment?"
"As far as I can tell, it's quite comprehensive on the subject," she said. "The first step when you're legitimately reported is ending up in one of these seminars. A more intensive intervention follows, and after that you can be fired and sued. That's it in a nutshell, but the packet describes the process in excruciating detail."
"This is some impressively scary stuff," said the new English professor, who was sitting three seats down from Kate.
"Well, legally we have to take sexual harassment very seriously," Elizabeth said.
"Which is why Jack and I are here for making fun of you," John said.
Elizabeth sighed in exasperation. "John, do you ever want to have sex again?" she hissed.
John opened his mouth, but Jack beat him to the punch. "Hey!" he yelled. "Item #6 on the first page of the second packet says that withholding or threatening to withhold sex from a consensual partner constitutes sexual harassment!"
From the back of the room, there was a partially-muffled giggle. Kate looked over her shoulder to see Sam Carter just barely holding it in.
Elizabeth snatched the papers away from John, and then gave Jack the dirtiest look Kate had seen in a long time. "It does not."
"Made you look."
"What are you, twelve?" John asked.
"Hey, I was defending you," Jack protested.
"Jack, I've only been married for three months, but even I know better than to argue with 'do you want to have sex ever again'," John replied.
Marcus said to Kate in a low voice, "She's got him well-trained."
Kate looked over at him and saw that he was sketching the tableau before them on the back of his packet. She also saw that despite the state of his clothing and the incident he'd described to explain why he was late, his wedding band was all polished and shiny. Kate smirked. "I don't think you have any room to talk."
He looked indignant for a moment, but then shrugged. "Yeah, that's fair," he said, turning back to his sketch.
"I shouldn't have to remind you why sexual harassment is a big deal," Elizabeth continued. She looked a little frazzled, not that Kate blamed her. "Recently the Supreme Court has ruled that employers can be held responsible for sexual harassment even if they're unaware that it's going on. As you can imagine, this leads Langford University to the conclusion that the university, as an employer, must be aware of all interactions among faculty members to prevent this sort of inappropriate behavior, and to take care of a situation before it escalates into a lawsuit. Now, can anyone tell me what a quid pro quo situation is?"
"Wait," Rodney said. "The university has to be aware of all interactions among faculty members? Does that mean the university is reading my email?"
"Well, it wouldn't just be yours, Rodney," John said from the other side of Elizabeth. "Besides, what've you got to worry about?"
Rodney opened his mouth to press the point, but Elizabeth cut him off. "Rodney!" she said. "This isn't about you and your email, and besides, if you're really just here because someone misunderstood a joke, why would you be worried about anyone reading your email?"
"Because it's an invasion of my privacy!"
Elizabeth took a deep breath and said, "Rodney, I'm not having this conversation with you."
"Why not?" he demanded.
"Because she agrees with you," John told him.
"What?" he said to her, holding his hands out helplessly. "You do!"
By that point Elizabeth slapped her papers down on the desk. "That's it," she said, going to the corner of the room to drag an A/V cart over. Like most A/V carts Kate had ever seen, there was a television strapped to the top and an archaic-looking VCR on the shelf below it. "We're watching a video," she announced as she set it up. "Right now I don't care that it's from the dawn of time."
Some very cheesy music from the seventies played as the title card came up. Both smiling, Kate and Marcus looked at each other and sat back, fully expecting to be entertained.
"Sexual harassment is no laughing matter," said the young man introducing the video. "Would you want someone coming up to your sister or your mom and saying something like this?"
It cut to a scene in a badly-lit set which seemed to be a nightclub. There was awful disco playing and people were dressed like Kate supposed people did when they went out in the 1970s. A girl came into the foreground, dancing a little and drinking something from a can. Two young men came up to her then, but before the action got started, Jack said, "Hey! That's me!"
"What?" Elizabeth said, stopping the tape.
The video quality was pretty low, but as Kate looked from Jack to the television and back, there was no mistaking that it was the same person.
"When I was in college about a hundred years ago I got paid fifteen dollars to be in a film for some A/V geek project," he explained. "I can't believe I'm in a sexual harassment seminar and watching a video I was in. Surely I can leave, Elizabeth."
From the back, Sam asked, "Wait, are those bellbottoms?"
"I'm not modeling those for you when I come over tonight."
The established faculty members all turned to Sam while the new people looked around at each other. Kate had the feeling that they'd just stumbled upon something important.
"Is this significant?" said Doctor Greenburg, a new chemistry professor.
"Sam?" Elizabeth prompted.
The blonde woman looked at Jack ruefully. "I guess the cat's out of the bag."
Jack shrugged and turned his attention back on Elizabeth. "Doctor, I was in a major production involving awareness of sexual harassment," he said. "Please tell me I can leave."
"Oh, fine," Elizabeth said, defeat in her voice and posture as she leaned against the desk at the front of the room. "You can all go. Everyone, please read the packets! There really is important information in there."
Chairs scraped against the floor as everyone got up to leave. As Kate gathered her belongings, Marcus nudged her. "Hey, you got anything you have to do after dinner?" he asked.
Across the room, Kate heard Elizabeth threatening to beat Jack with a baseball bat, but she just shook her head, focusing on her own conversation. "I have to go to a meet-and-greet dinner with the rest of the counselors, but after that I'm free."
"Great," he said. "I have to make sure the plaster disaster has been taken care of, but the other art professors asked me to go out for a drink with them tonight. You interested?"
She glanced significantly at his left hand. "Your wife won't mind?"
Marcus chuckled and patted her arm. "Nah, I don't think so," he said. "We're meeting at eight. Some place called Maybourne's on Clark Street between 15th and Main. Should I pick you up somewhere...?"
Kate narrowed her eyes. "I think it's more fun if you have to wonder if I'm going to show up or not."
She slung her bag over her shoulder and headed out. She knew full well that he was watching, so she let her hips sway from side to side a little more than usual.
Marcus came into Harry Maybourne's bar a little later than he had hoped. He followed the other art professors toward an open booth, but soon spotted Kate sitting alone up at the bar. "Guys, give me a minute, all right?" he said. "I'm supposed to meet someone here."
The others waved him off cheerfully, and Marcus made his way up to Kate's side. "This seat taken?" he asked casually.
She looked at him and smiled brightly. "Have at it," she said. She already had two bottles of beer in front of her, and she slid one over. "How was the rest of your day?"
Marcus shrugged as he took a drink from the bottle. "Just like any other first day of work," he said. "Aside from the insane sexual harassment seminar."
She kept smiling and turned on her bar stool to look around the place. "We'll have to ask around and find out what places aren't generally packed by students once they arrive," she said. "I don't want to see my patients in bars."
"Probably wise." He set his beer down. "So how was your day?"
Kate shrugged too. "About the same."
"Well, nothing blew up other than the plaster," he replied, "so maybe that's a good sign."
He laid his hand on her knee, and she leaned toward him. "By the way, the rings don't keep men from hitting on me," she said.
Marcus chuckled. "I told you that when I proposed," he said. "I was pretty sure the wedding ring wouldn't help any more than the engagement ring did."
"Yes, but they're pretty," Kate replied.
"You keep telling yourself that, honey," he said, rubbing his hand up and down her thigh. "So do you have to make rounds here?"
She shook her head. "I talked with pretty much everyone I recognized before you got here."
"Great," Marcus replied, finishing off his beer. He stood and helped her up, wrapping his arm around her waist as they walked toward his new colleagues. "We can chat for a bit with these guys and then go home and finish unpacking."
Kate gave him a mischievous smile. "Surely the unpacking can wait."