Sexual harassment: issue for everyone

Ann Kopecky

Ann Kopecky

Diane Novotny-Young did not talk about her last job at Stroh Brewing Company in St. Paul for 10 years.

“I spent the last 10 years trying to forget,” Novotny-Young said.

On Wednesday night, she finally spoke out about her job and the sexual harassment she encountered as she gave her talk, “Sexual Harassment and Issues of Power.”

Novotny-Young spoke to a crowd of about 200 in the Rotunda on her experience working at the Stroh Brewing Company and the landmark lawsuit that linked the media to the hostile work conditions for women at the plant.

Novotny-Young began working for the company in 1985.

“From the very first night, I realized this was a little different work environment than I’d ever been in before,” she said.

Novotny-Young explained to the audience the types of sexual harassment and assaults the women at the plant encountered. Cat-calling, pornographic cartoons and pictures, sexist and racist remarks and even the the company’s advertising did followed Novotny-Young and her fellow women employees daily.

After receiving the job as shop steward, she realized that sexual harassment was a major problem in the plant. She tried to get diversity training programs into the plant but was denied repeatedly by management and the corporate offices.

After the unsuccessful attempts to combat the problem, some of the women in the plant came together. In 1991, five women filed separate law suits against the Stroh Brewing company.

Besides dealing with the issue of sexual harassment, the lawsuit brought attention to the sexually explicit advertising of the Swedish Bikini Team.

“It sends a message to women what the standard is,” Novotny-Young said.

The litigation lasted two years and was finally settled in 1993. The Stroh Brewing company shut down several years later.

“It does not matter whether you’re in a boardroom or in the back of a laundromat,” Novotny-Young said. “No matter what career you choose you’re going to encounter this, either you’re going to be a victim or be called to recognize it. It starts with each one of us. You’ve got to be able to stand up and say stop it.”