Fighting Sexual Harassment at Samsung: Part 3

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This post, about Lee Eun-eui’s successful suit against Samsung Electronics for sexual harassment by her boss and then being punished for reporting it, follows directly from Part 1 and Part 2. If you haven’t already, please read those before continuing:

소송과정에서 가장 힘들었던 점은?

What has been the most difficult thing in the whole legal process for you?

회사에서는 내가 거짓말 한다고 했다. 인권위에서나 법원에서 회사의 주 변론이 ‘원하는 부서에 배치 받으려고 있지도 않은 성희롱을 했다고 주장한다’라는 거였다. 그럴 때마다 수치스러웠다. 주로 남자들이 있는 자리에서 내가 당했던 일을 말하는 게 쉬운 일도 아니었고.

처음 성희롱이 몸의 수치였다면, 사내에서 가해진 왕따는 영혼의 수치였고, 그 이후 회사의 반응들은 영혼과 몸을 다 부정당한 기분이었다. 내가 나의 성을 팔아야 할 만큼 부서배치나 승진이 대단한가? 매번 그런 사실을 법원에서 인권위에서 해명할 때마다 느꼈던 좌절감이 오늘의 나를 만들어 준 것 같다. 분노로 담금질 됐다. 회사는 나를 괴물같이 보겠지. 퇴사하지도 않고 심지어 (소송에서) 이기기까지 했으니. 그렇지만 나는 이런 ‘괴물’을 만든 건 회사라고 본다. 나는 원래 그런 존재가 아니었는데, 나를 자꾸 흔들어서 내가 살기 위해 움직이다 보니까 이 자리까지 온 거다.

잠시 숨을 고르던 이씨는 신입사원 시절, 연수원에서 배웠던 ‘도덕성ㆍ에티켓ㆍ인간미’를 이야기 했다. 그는 “유치하고 뻔 한 말이지만, 그 세 가지가 지켜졌다면 없었을 일이 황유미ㆍ박지연(삼성전자에서 일하던 중 백혈병으로 사망)씨였고 나였다”라고 말했다.

Samsung Electronics saying that I was lying. Their response to the Human Rights Commission and the Court was that I was simply accusing my boss of sexual harassment in order to get the position I wanted within the department. I felt really ashamed and humiliated whenever I heard that. And it was especially difficult to talk about it when there were men around (source, right).

At first, the sexual harassment made me feel ashamed and humiliated bodily, but then when I was ostracized within the company my spirit felt that way too, and because of the company’s reaction I felt such a sense of injustice and frustration both mentally and physically. Was being promoted within the company so important that I had to sell myself sexually? Whenever I had to explain the fact of what happened to the Human Rights Commission or in the Court, I felt such a sense of frustration and discouragement, and that’s made me what I’m like today. But my anger was sated, and the company will look at me as a monster from now on. However, I wasn’t originally like that, it’s what the company made me; because they kept pressing so hard, I had to hold my ground just to survive and get on with my life.

Reporter Jang Il-ho: Catching her breath, Lee talks about back when she was a new employee, and how at the training center she learned about ethics, etiquette, and humanity through stories. “They were childish, and I always knew what the endings were going to be, but if the company itself had just borne them in mind then cases like Hwang Yu-mi’s, Park Ji-yeon’s (who both allegedly died of Leukemia from working at Samsung Electronics assembly lines), and mine would never have happened” she said.

회사를 그만 두지 않은 이유는?

What is the reason you haven’t quit working for Samsung Electronics?

(그만둘까)많이 생각했다. 편하게 갈 수 있는 길도 있었고 후회와 고민도 있었다. 그렇지만 나는 회사가 이건희 회장이나 사장의 것이라고 생각하지 않는다. 직원과 주주 것이라고 생각한다. 내가 들어오고 싶었던 회사, 자랑스럽게 생각했던 회사, 꿈에 그리던 회사…열심히 다녔고… 결국 내 꿈에 대해 실망했었다.

그렇지만 이 회사는 나의 빛나던 20대와 뜨거웠던 30대가 녹아 있는 곳이다. 불이익을 당했을 때, 회사를 바르게 사랑하는 방식은 바로잡기 위한 노력을 하는 거라고 생각했고, 그걸 실천에 옮겼을 뿐이다. 사실 나는 황유미씨나 박지연씨만큼 중요한 사람은 아니다. 그런 의미에서 부채감도 있다. 그들은 생명권의 문제, 타협이 불가능한 문제다. 그러나 애초에 나는 타협도 조율도 가능했다. 그런데 그걸 해주는 사람이 회사 내에 아무도 없었기 때문에 싸워야 했다.

Quitting…I thought about it a lot. It would have been very easy, and in some ways I regret not doing so. But then I don’t think this company belongs to its chairman Lee Kun-hee, or the bosses of its many subsidiaries, but rather to its employees and stockholders. It’s a company I also wanted to work in, I was proud to work in, it was my dream to work in…I worked hard here…although in the end, my dream was crushed (source, left).

However, my shining (with potential) 20s and energetic, passionate 30s just melted into this company. I thought that whenever something was wrong, the way to show your love to the company was to do what was right to fix it, and indeed in reality that’s all I did. I’m not as important as Hwang Yu-mi or Park Ji-yeon, who had problems with their very lives, which were impossible to negotiate with. With me though, it was possible to do something about my problem from the outset, although because no-one within the company would help me I had no choice but to fight.

삼성은 노조가 없어도 노사협의회로 노동자의 권리를 보호해준다고 하는데, 도움이 됐나.

Samsung doesn’t have a union, but it does have a labor-management arbitration committee to help protect workers’ rights. Did they help?

단적으로 노조가 있었다면 소송할 때 변호사비도 들지 않았을 거고, 회사 내에서도 중재가 가능했을 것이다. 노사협의회에 도움을 요청했더니, 회사와 개인의 문제에 끼어들 수 없다고 하더라. 이 문제에서 노사 협의회는 전혀 도움이 안 됐다. 오죽하면 노사협의회에 근로자위원으로 입후보하려고 했는데, 우연의 일치인지 입후보 기간에 맞춰 출장을 보냈다. 이번 민사 판결이 의미 있는 이유 중 하나는 노조가 없는 회사에서 그동안 ‘회사와 싸우면 깨진다’라는 본보기를 깨트린 점이다.

Putting it simply, if there had been a union then they would have provided money for a lawyer and/or mediated with the company for me. In contrast, the labor-management arbitration committee told me that if was a personal issue between myself and the company and so they couldn’t get involved: they weren’t any help whatsoever. Indeed, I applied for a position on that committee, but by a [supposed] coincidence I was sent away on a business trip and was unable to. The judgment of the lawsuit means [though], that unlike what everyone thinks, you can win if you fight against a company which has no union.

(James – I’m a little confused by her application: she was immediately moved from her department after reporting being sexual harassed by her boss, she was then completely ostracized at work – indeed, later put on extended leave for 7 months – , but somehow still expected to get on to a committee that had already refused to help her? My wife suggests she may have been so desperate though, that she literally tried anything)

가족들의 반응은 어떤가.

What was the reaction of your family?

물정 모르고 자란 막내딸이 이런 소송에 휘말릴 것이라고 생각지도 않으셨다. 아직도 어머니가 매일 아침 머리를 말려 출근 시켜주신다. 그런 어머니에게 차마 말을 할 수 없었다. 알고 나서 무척 싫어하셨지. 그렇지만 나중에는 제대로 싸우라고 응원해줬다. 이왕 얼굴 내놓고 싸울 거면 예쁜 모습으로 싸워야 한다고, 옷 같은 것도 참견하시고(웃음). 종내 항상 힘을 보태주고 지지해주는 건 가족인 것 같다.

4시간 가까이 쉼 없이 말을 쏟아놓던 이은의씨에게 카메라를 들이댔다. 이씨는 “이왕이면 예쁘게 찍어 달라”라고 요구했다. 그는 “여자로서의 욕망이 아니라 ‘파이터’로서의 옵션이다”라고 덧붙였다. 불쌍하게 보이고 싶지 않다고 했다. 질 수 없었던 싸움, 희망의 언표가 되고 싶다는 이유였다. ‘언니를 지지할 수는 있지만, 언니처럼 될 수 없어서…’라며 성희롱 피해를 당하고도 싸우지 못하는 많은 여직원들을 보며 그는 ‘파이터’의 감수성을 키워왔다.

앞으로의 계획을 물었다. “지난 5년은 힘들면 맥주 한 잔 하고 풀 수 있는 평범한 일상이 사라진 시간들이었어요. 이제 그 시간들을 회복해가야죠”

My parents never imagined that their youngest child, who knows so little about life, could ever get involved in such an unsavory thing. But still, my mother dries my hair everyday as I prepare to go to work. At first, I couldn’t tell her anything about it. And once I did, she really really hated it. However, later she said that if I was going to fight then I had to do it properly, and that she would support me. And that because my face was already out there, I had to do it prettily, so (laughing) she was always telling me what to wear! And in the end, whenever my strength and resolve were lagging, my family always made up for it (source, above).

Reporter Jang Il-ho: After talking without a break for 4 hours, I started taking pictures of Lee. She said “please try to make me look nice I guess”, but added that she “didn’t want people to think of her as a desirable woman, but rather as a fighter”. And she doesn’t want people to take pity on her, but instead think of her as someone who couldn’t lose, who is a symbol of hope, as she heard from so many women who’d also suffered sexual harassment that they could help her, but they couldn’t be like her, so she developed a real sense of herself as a fighter.

I asked about her plans for the future.  She said that “For the last 5 years, I’ve had no opportunities for a normal life, even just having a simple glass of beer. Now, I have to recover, and make up for lost time”. (end)

( Source )

Personally, I was a little disappointed with that conclusion to the interview: there were many further questions raised about the incidents of sexual harassment, the reaction of the company, and the lawsuit and so on in Part 1 and Part 2 (and indeed even here too), but unfortunately we were given a rather repetitive look at the emotional side of the case rather than any real answers to those. Not that her own feelings are trivial or uninteresting of course, but I am left feeling a little frustrated.

Anyone else feel the same way? There are a few more Korean-language sources available, so if you have any further questions yourself about the case, then I’ll endeavor to find the answers myself if they’re available, albeit only translating the relevant sections of the articles this time!^^

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Filed under: Korean Economy, Korean Feminism, Sexual Discrimination, Sexual Harassment Tagged: 삼성, 성희롱, 이은의, Lee Eun-eui, Samsung