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More Workers Speaking Out About Workplace Harassment

In the wake of numerous allegations of sexual misconduct by high-powered men, many victims across the country and the world have been coming forward about harassment in the workplace, including those whose stories are not about the rich and the powerful.

There are women in low-wage jobs in small businesses, coffee shops, and restaurants who face sexual harassment, but often don't have a human resource department or union to turn to.

Marie Billiel was a waitress at a diner in western Massachusetts and said she was a victim of lewd behavior for more than five years at the hands of cooks and managers. She said during that time she experienced everything from being groped to being kissed against her will.

"Sometimes on overnight shifts they'd would show me porn on the phone," she said. "I was once grabbed by my wrist and dragged out back while the cook asked for a kiss."

Billiel said when she'd complain about the cooks, they'd burn her food or lose her order so customers would think she was giving them bad service and wouldn't tip her well. When she complained about managers, they'd give her bad sections or shifts, so she wouldn't be able to make as much money.

"I could not risk not having this job so I dealt with it. I prided myself on my grit. I felt like I was doing a good job withstanding this. I felt strong," she said.

Sexual harassment at lower wage jobs is seemingly all too common and often goes unreported because of the lack of a human resources department and some workers fearing retaliation.

Yamila Ruiz of Restaurant Opportunities Centers said most women don't know they have rights.

"Every woman has a right to feel safe at work and if they don't they have the right to pursue legal recourse," said Ruiz.

As for Billiel, a year and a half after she left the diner, she made her story public on a blog. The story made it's way to the attorney general's office and a discrimination lawsuit was settled in 2016.

She said that now that there are more women speaking out, many more will finally be heard.

"My God, keep doing it, because the louder we are, the more we can finally create this cultural shift that we really, really need," Billiel said.

If you're experiencing sexual harassment at work and need more information on what to do, visit the websites of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, or the Massachusetts Coallition for Occupational Safety and Health.

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