Reading this story about a man who sexually harassed a girl for two years and almost got away with it hit a little too close to home for me.
I, like Emily Houser, was sexually harassed by older dudes while working in a Tex-Mex restaurant as a 17-year-old. Only I didn't know that's what it was and that I was supposed to object to it. But years later, I reflect and realize that, yes, pushing a teenager against the wall and kissing her — even in a playful way, even if you've guessed that she's attracted to you — in your workplace is a fireable offense. So is narrating any changes in the shape of her butt since you last caught a glimpse of it in a pair of early-2000s black party pants.
I have a soft voice and am still, in my early 30s, working on dredging up the self-confidence to stand up for myself when I'm slighted. So for me, Emily Houser's courage to speak up is a stand-in for what I should have done back then, and since, to call my male coworkers on their relentless bullshit.
Josh Davidson, 24, was Houser's manager at a Chili's in Whitehall, Pennsylvania. She was 16 when she started there, and when he began to pursue her despite the fact that she clearly wasn't interested (and that what he was doing was quite possibly illegal, in more than one way).
"[The] new manager found particular interest in me and began forcing me to go on dates with him," Houser told BuzzFeed News, which first reported the story. "He stole my number from my work file, and he would just show up to my house uninvited and say he was outside and I had to come with him."
Over a two-year period, she continued, he kept giving her gifts — money, flowers, cards — that made her uncomfortable "because I was not sure what he expected of me from these gifts."
After she turned 18, things got even worse. Multiple times, Davidson showed up to Houser's house in the middle of the night.
"In August, the last time he showed up to my house around 2:30 in the morning, he gave me a card with hundreds of dollars in it, to which I gave it back and kind of told him to just really back off of me, because I was so obviously not interested in him and did not want to be with him," she said.
At that point, Davidson started "being verbally and even physically weird and abusive towards me at work," she said. (Davidson hasn't responded to BuzzFeed News' request for comment as of the publication date.)
First she brushed it off, but when he started hitting on another girl at work, Houser decided to take action. "[T]hat’s when I decided I should report the situation, because even though I came out of the situation fine, I don’t know how another young girl is going to feel," she said.
Houser also gave her two weeks' notice and contacted Chili's corporate headquarters about the ongoing harassment. The chain conducted an investigation, which resulted in Davidson being transferred to another Chili's — this one in Montgomery, PA, which is about two hours away from Whitehall.
And then, shit really hit the fan. Instead of being happy and relieved that Davidson, who had been hounding their friend and coworker, was gone, the garbage humans who worked at the Chili's in Whitehall threw him a goodbye party. Not just a normal goodbye party, either, but one that shamed Houser — who, as you may have gathered, did nothing wrong — in the worst way.
On a white sheet cake jazzed up with colorful frosting, they wrote: "Fuck Emily Houser." The general manager of the restaurant was at this party. One of them even posted a photo of the cake on Instagram and several people commented "#teamjosh." That account (and the accounts of some of the commenters) has been removed.
Houser's reaction will ring true for any woman who's been attacked simply for standing up for herself.
"I didn’t know how to feel, except I just didn’t really feel anything," she said. "And then I just started to cry, because I came to terms with the fact that I did call these people my friends and I did love them and care about them, and I have no idea why they were doing this to me." She had hoped to keep the situation private, but now she had reason to believe that Davidson told the staff about it.
In the end, Davidson was fired from the Montgomery, PA, location. Chili's said in a statement to BuzzFeed News on Tuesday night that "the Team Members involved are no longer with the company."
Houser said she's happy about the outcome — not because Davidson has lost his job, but because he won't be sexually harassing any more of his coworkers. As for her bullies, she said: "I just want them to stop, because this is the kind of thing that people commit suicide over." That's the most heartbreaking part of it all. But we hope this story encourages more women to speak up like Houser did.