Janette Trolan, 52, Sydney, NSW
I’d just left my desk and
was walking towards the hallway when it happened. My boss, Warren Gelle, slid in front of me. ‘You look nice,’ he said. There was something about the way he said it that made me feel quite uncomfortable. ‘You should wear dresses more often,’ he went on. ‘To show off your legs.’
Was he coming on to me? My face flushed as I muttered an excuse and left.
It was 2008, and I’d only been working at WD Gelle Insurance and Finance Brokers for a few weeks. Warren had hired me when the company I’d been at before closed – and as an insurance underwriter with heaps of experience, he could use my skills. I’d been thrilled to join Warren, his wife Anna and around half a dozen employees at the company, and the first few days had gone well.
Except, soon I was feeling uneasy...
‘You should wear dresses more often’
Warren could be intimidating and at times I saw him lose his temper in the office. Then another side of his personality emerged. I first experienced it when I was making a cup of tea in the office kitchen one day. Warren came up behind me and pressed his body into my back. I was totally shocked, but before I could say anything, Warren quickly left.
Should I go after him? I thought. I wanted to confront him. But he was my boss...
I really didn’t know what to do, so that night I called my dad, Peter, in the UK. ‘Dad,’ I said. ‘Something happened at work.’ Explaining what Warren had done, Dad was livid and begged me not to go back. But I had to. I had a mortgage to pay. I just hoped it wouldn’t happen again. If only...
Another time Warren called me into his office. ‘I just want to show you something,’ he said, beckoning me behind the desk so I could look at an email on the computer screen. As I leant over, I felt his hand slip up my blouse. In a flash he was grabbing at my breast. A feeling of disgust washed over me, as I backed away. I wanted to scream, but in his office I felt powerless.
Would anyone believe me if I spoke about what had happened? What would it mean for my career? Reluctantly, I stayed silent. But from then on, Warren’s behaviour continued.
Another time, I was leaving the office and trying to enter the access code to the carpark on a keypad when he put his hand up the back of my dress and squeezed my bottom.
‘You filthy b*****d,’ I cried, unable to keep it in.
‘Why? That was an accident,’ he said innocently, backing off.
Revolted and scared, I’d had enough. That night when I called my dad he suggested I get a doctor’s note to take some time off of work. So the next day I saw my GP and was given three days sick leave.
Would anyone believe me if I spoke about what had happened?
While I was off, Warren’s wife, Anna, called me to ask what was wrong. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. ‘I’m not at work because Warren put his hand up the back of my dress and squeezed my bottom,’ I told her. I was amazed when she said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll sort it out.’
I desperately hoped that would be the end of things, but when I went back to work nothing had changed. One day Warren sat next to me at my desk and slid his hands up and down my trouser leg. The same month, he tried to kiss me in the filing area. Another time, he cornered me. ‘I want to make love to you because you need to have a baby,’ he said. My stomach churned. I felt utterly revolted. Why was this happening to me? Why wouldn’t he leave me alone?
‘I want to make love to you because you need to have a baby,’ he said.
By then it seemed futile to complain. I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t, my mortgage was too much of a worry. But my ordeal was taking a heavy toll on my health. I became incredibly anxious and then something happened which was the final straw.
One day, I was typing at my desk when Warren came up behind me and dropped a pencil down my trousers. Enough was enough. I marched straight out the door. I felt so violated. Almost as if I had been raped. Certified unfit for work by the workers’ compensation office, I asked them to notify my boss that I would not be going back. But Warren didn’t take my decision lying down. The following morning I woke to the sound of his voice. He’d let himself into my yard and he wanted to see me. ‘I only want to talk sweetheart,’ he shouted, so I called Triple-0 and the police removed him.
He’d let himself into my yard and he wanted to see me.
I hoped against hope that was the end of things. But a few weeks later I received a chilling phone call by someone threatening to kill me. I can’t be sure who it was, but still it frayed my already shattered nerves. I felt frightened in my own home and if I had to go out I was filled with dread. Prescribed medication to sleep, I stopped going to see friends or out to the shops. I just felt so worthless. Time passed and, still unable to work, I defaulted on my mortgage payments and was forced to move.
Dad helped me look for somewhere I could live with my dog, Honey, and I found a place with a man named Brian, 57. He was tall and broad-shouldered with a generous heart and on my first night he cooked for me and we talked about everything that had happened. He was so warm and caring, I found it easy to open up to Brian and, gradually, we fell in love.
We’re still together and I’m relieved to say the ordeal I went through with my boss was acknowledged at Sydney District Court. After a civil case, WD Gelle Insurance and Finance Brokers Pty Ltd was ordered to pay me $733,723 in damages.
I just felt so worthless.
The judge accepted Warren’s harassment left me agoraphobic, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and a chronic adjustment and major depressive disorder. Although the compensation won’t buy my life back, it felt good to know that Warren hasn’t got away with what he did.
Now I’m sharing my story because I want other victims of sexual harassment to speak up. I want them to know it’s not their fault, it can happen to anybody, and they don’t have to suffer in silence.
In summing up the case, judge Levy said
I am satisfied that the plaintiff (Janette Trolan) gave truthful evidence concerning the alleged unwelcome conduct of Mr Gelle towards her in the workplace... I have rejected the evidence of Mr Gelle in which he denied that the conduct in question had ever occurred.
Originally published in that's life! Issue 3, 2014.