coworker keeps calling me “baby mama”

A reader writes:

I work in a male-dominated field, and I’m used to guy jokes and language. My coworkers joke around with me often, and I’m never offended, as I know it is good-hearted teasing. But what do you do when you know for sure it’s meant to be offensive?

A manager with my company (not my manager, not at my location; I haven’t worked with him in over a year) has made it very clear to me and all my coworkers that he strongly dislikes me. I promise you, there is no guessing or assuming here. My location and his location are “sister sites” and we share maintenance, safety, and environmental personnel. Many coworkers have to pretend they don’t like me around this manager to keep from being treated poorly because they like me.

I returned from maternity leave about two months ago. Since I left on leave, I have heard from several shared employees that this manager has begun referring to me as “baby mama.” He asks my coworkers how “the baby mama” or “Dale’s baby mama” is doing. (Dale is a coworker this manager also dislikes, and Dale is not my child’s father or my husband.)

I am married, and I find this term very offensive. He’s been referring to me in nasty terms for over two years now, but never directly to my face. He is always excessively polite to my face, but I hear from all my coworkers that he regularly derides me to others. I know from his attitude toward me in the past that he is not joking, but being intentionally rude. How do I handle this? Am I being overly sensitive?

What the hell?!

No, you’re not being overly sensitive. There are so many problems here — not just the “baby mama” and the implying that another employee is the father of your child (?!), but also the fact that other people feel like they have to pretend they don’t like you in order to avoid this guy’s ire.

That’s a pretty major level of messed-up.

I would do any or all of the following — ideally all, but you should go with what you’re most comfortable with:

1. Talk to your own manager. Say this: “I keep hearing that Fergus is referring to me as ‘baby mama’ or, even weirder and grosser, ‘Dale’s baby mama’ around others. This is unwelcome and I want it to stop. In addition, Fergus has been so actively hostile toward me that Imogen and Rupert have told me that they feel they have to pretend to dislike me when he’s around so that he doesn’t get angry with them. This is obviously creating a very difficult working environment. How can I get this to stop?”

If your manager doesn’t know this is going on, she’ll want to know. If your manager already knows and hasn’t done anything, then skip straight to #2.

2. Talk to your HR department. I’m normally not a fan of calling in HR for 90% of the things it’s suggested for, but this one is right up their alley, and they should have the training to recognize that the “baby mama” stuff risks creating a hostile workplace, in the legal sense of the term. That’s even more true since this dude is in management. Go talk to them, using the language from #1 above.

3. Are you comfortable saying something to this guy directly? You don’t have to if you don’t feel comfortable with it — and this is a situation where it would be fine to go straight to your manager or HR without talking to the perpetrator first, simply because what he’s doing is so out of line — but if you’re up for it, it could be worthwhile to say to him directly, “Fergus, I need you to stop referring to me as ‘baby mama’ or implying Dale and I had a child together. This is unwelcome, and I’m telling you clearly that I want it to stop. Can you do that?”

But it sounds like there are bigger problems with Fergus, and so you’ll need to involve others either way.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 425 comments… read them below }

  1. Anna*

    Holy shit. I am so sorry you’re dealing with this, OP. I would be enraged. Please follow up on one of Alison’s suggestions and get this guy to Knock. It. Off. What a complete and utter loser jerk asshole. (There are not enough words to describe what a crappy human this is.)

    1. AGirlCalledFriday*

      Anna, I so agree with you. I don’t think that this is about someone ‘disliking’ another person, this has moved over into harassment and it speaks volumes about the person involved – he’s not ‘normal’. I might be projecting a bit here, but this guy reminds me of my dad. The constant disparaging of another person to others, the manipulative way he’s kind to the OP’s face, the way that he speaks condescendingly about the OP, as though he needs to turn ANYTHING the OP does into a point of ridicule so that he can feel superior, right to the way that if you don’t agree with him and his ‘war’ (totally in his own mind), he uses that as an excuse to treat you poorly. If I’m right about him, having management talk to him, the OP talking to him, or HR talking to him will escalate the issue because it will embarrass him. He won’t be able to handle being confronted. I don’t think that he would be violent, but he might find other avenues to destroy the OP. And that’s what it might get to, a war to destroy the OP, because if I’m right about this guy, he’s just on *this side* of doing that.

      Honestly, with people like this – not to armchair diagnose or project, but he might have a narcissist disorder – sometimes they can’t really be *dealt* with. The OP should have a 3rd party available for every interaction with this guy. The only thing I see actually working here is bypassing work entirely and having a lawyer send a letter. Of course, I can’t recommend doing that without trying the other options, but if I’m right about him and talking to someone about it escalates the issue, you might want to consider that as a next step, because people like this don’t tend to respect authority and they will twist the issue to make it all your fault, somehow. Good luck!

      1. LaSharron*

        I agree. Talking to him I don’t think will accomplish anything even if you are comfortable, OP. I’d take it to the upper levels. Jerk.

      2. Zillah*

        “Not to armchair diagnose” doesn’t really work when you go on to do it anyway.

        I agree with pretty much everything in your post and I do understand what you’re getting at, but I think that we need to be careful with throwing diagnoses around like this, especially based on one letter, because it both stigmatizes the condition specifically and helps to perpetuate the idea that jerks usually have some mental illness that explains their behavior, which stigmatizes people who have mental illnesses in general.

        1. bearing*

          I’m not sure whether this is relevant or not, but there’s some controversy over whether a personality disorder (such as narcissistic personality disorder, which AGirlCalledFriday alludes to) is a kind of mental illness, or if it’s something else. That is, pointing to personality disorders as a possible explanation for bad behavior doesn’t necessarily stigmatize people who have mental illnesses, if personality disorders are not mental illnesses. But I get your point — maybe most people don’t see a difference between them.

          I have a person who is probably an NPD sufferer in my life — it would be more accurate to say that the rest of us are the ones who suffer from this person’s NPD — and it certainly seems to me to be fundamentally different from people who struggle with depression, or addiction, or the like. Anyway — I’m inclined to give AGirlCalledFriday the benefit of the doubt on her intent here.

          1. Zillah*

            I gave AGirlCalledFriday the benefit of the doubt, too – I specifically said that I agreed with her sentiment, and I certainly didn’t accuse her of maliciousness. I just said that I didn’t think tossing out an armchair diagnosis was helpful.

            Distinguishing between personality disorders and other disorders using a multiaxial system was indeed how psychology was structured in the United States for a long time. However, IIRC, the most recent version of the DSM has actually consolidated all psychiatric conditions onto a single axis in part because there were serious concerns about how useful (and accurate) the distinctions were in clinical practice. I don’t think most people see a significant difference between personality disorders and other mental illnesses, and AFAIK, the medical field is also starting to shift away from the idea that they’re completely different things.

            And, while personality disorders (NPD in particular) do tend to function a little differently than other mental illnesses, there’s a significant amount of overlap between former axis I and former axis II disorders, and there are absolutely people who do want to control personality disorders – we actually had an OP write in to AAM awhile ago about trying to control her BPD.

        2. AGirlCalledFriday*

          Yeeahh I guess I was armchair diagnosing, you are right. Bearing is also correct – but maybe I was insensitive. I’m not sure where the line is here. NPD is characterized by not being willing to empathize or care about anyone else, even close family members. At this time, it seems not to be a disorder like Tourette Syndrome, OCD, autism, etc., but actually a character disorder. The person involved can change, but they refuse to because to do so would threaten their very sense of self. This is very different from someone who has a mental disorder and then behaves in a certain way because of their personal limitations. I mentioned NPD specifically because smear campaigns are very, very common, as well as trying to hold other’s hostage to one’s opinion and punishing those who don’t fall in line, and people with NPD need to feel superior which could account for the condescending comments. However, I could have made my point without mentioning NPD at all, so I’ll take note of that for the future.

          1. The Strand*

            Counterpoint. I think understanding NPD can be very very helpful when dealing with an extensive terror campaign, as this person has been suffering from at her job.

            Yes, we could just recommend the “No Asshole” book (which is great, by the way), but understanding NPD may give the OP something to work with, just as people commonly say, “IAMNAL or IAMNYL”, then proceed to explain an aspect of law. When you deal with someone who has NPD, and then actually read about it, it can be a eureka moment when you say, “Oh, my, I am not crazy!”

            As far as armchair diagnosing, mentioning the topic is not the same as defining the person in that way – and saying, definitively, this is what the person has. And to be fair, NPD is one of those disorders that is often diagnosed in absentia, because so few of the people expressing these behaviors are willing to seek help. We never got the NPD person in my family into regular therapy, unfortunately.

            I don’t mean to split hairs, so much as to point out that people who do deal with NPD sufferers use certain strategies that may be important here. I am really glad that you pointed out those strategies, because they work with garden variety assholes as well as people who are dealing with a disorder. I think it is also valuable to explain that, while some people will back down in the face of confrontation, others will actually become more vicious, because their image in the eyes of others is so crucial to their well-being.

            Zillah, is there some way we could have it both ways and avoid diagnosing, while also giving the OP some helpful paths to explore? We were talking about ADHD and ADD a few days ago, and believe me, it was material and discussions I found online that helped me realize my spouse had it, and to give him a break.

            1. bearing*

              I’d be interested in hearing about such a discussion too. I totally get that it’s not so great from the perspective of people who struggle with mental illnesses to hear, “he’s a jerk, probably explained by being mentally ill.” But from the perspective of people who struggle with jerks, any possibly relevant explanation might help!

              1. Zillah*

                How would hearing any possibly relevant explanation help, though? (I’m genuinely curious.)

                1. Zillah*

                  But how does a speculative diagnosis help that, over just suggesting what you think might or might not work? I just don’t understand.

            2. Zillah*

              Hmm. Good question. Because I do know what you mean, and it can be very instructive and helpful at times, especially since we interact with people in these comments who are often from different areas and backgrounds than people we usually interact with.

              For me (and I can only speak for myself), there are a few things to keep in mind.

              – Are we talking about the OP or someone else? Because if we’re talking about the OP, any suggestions we might give have a much greater potential to be effective than someone the OP may be having problems with, particularly if the situation is volatile and/or contentious.

              – Will knowing a diagnosis help the situation? Because in some cases, it absolutely will – e.g., knowing that an employee has panic attacks or knowing that you have AD/HD could absolutely help the situation. Knowing that your-boss-the-jerk has a disorder won’t necessarily help, particularly since the disorder is often not what’s causing the bad behavior in the first place.

              – What basis do we have to speculate in the first place? “Abusive jerk” isn’t enough, IMO, to jump to even speculate about a diagnosis. Someone who says, “I can’t focus and I feel really down on myself and my appetite is gone,” on the other hand, is giving enough detail about their situation for us to say, “Is it possible that you’re depressed?” And, of course, an OP who says, “I have AD/HD” is specifically telling us they have the disorder.

              Those are the major sticking points for me, anyway.

          2. Zillah*

            I agree that NPD often leads to awful behavior, including what you’re talking about – but the behaviors you’re talking about and which the OP talks about occur in many other people, too. The vast majority of bullies do not have NPD.

            Like I said, I agree with the sentiment of your initial post – I just didn’t think the armchair diagnosis was appropriate. We’re overall in agreement.

  2. PEBCAK*

    Gender bias: check! Disability bias (well, legally, pregnancy is classified this way): check! Racial bias: check!

    Good job, Fergus!

    1. UKAnon*

      Was just about to say the same thing! Is there any other ways he’d like to discriminate..?

    2. SnowWhite*

      Racial bias? Have I missed something?

      The way this guy is treating you is disgusting, UK wise you clearly have a gender and maternity discrimination, harrassment (bullying based on protected characteristics) and injury to feelings case.

      1. LBK*

        The terms “baby mama/baby daddy” gets used a lot more towards minorities due to various stereotypes, so I’m guessing PEBCAK is assuming the OP is a minority based on that, but it’s not specified.

        1. Lucky*

          “Baby mama” is definitely a racially coded term, so whether OP is a a minority or not, the term should be avoided in the workplace.

          If I knew how to insert GIFs in comments here, I would place the Mad Men/Joan “I want to burn this place down” GIF here.

          1. LBK*

            Oh, good point – I didn’t make the connection that it’s definitely racially coded regardless of OP’s race.

        2. Ad Astra*

          “Baby mama” is a racist term no matter what race the OP is, because of its origin as a derisive way to describe single black mothers. It might be even more offensive if the OP is a minority, but it’s not like it’s OK to say to a white woman, either. Just like how “Indian giver” is a racist expression whether you’re Native American or not. I am *hoping* this jerk is somehow ignorant of the racial connotation rather than knowingly using such a loaded term, but… he’s given us no reason to assume the best.

          1. Just Another Techie*

            It’s different from “Indian giver” in that a lot of people who use that phrase have zero idea of the historical context, because the term was invented three hundred years ago. So someone can say it and not know that it was related to differences in the ways Native Americans and European invaders conducted trade negotiations. (That doesn’t make it okay to use, mind, just more forgivable once the person stops it.) But “baby mama” was invented in the last decade, so I’m way less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t know where the term comes from and how it’s used.

            1. LBK*

              Likewise with “gypped” – I doubt most people these days make the associated that it comes from negative stereotypes of gypsies (which I believe is also now not considered a great term).

              1. HB*

                I remember when I had the “lightbulb” moment when I made that connection (gypped deriving from gypsy). I was kind of horrified both that I’d said it and that it took me so long to hear what I was saying.

                1. Rebecca*

                  Same! I was an adult when someone told me and I was so embarrassed that I’d been saying it for so long!

                1. AnonyMiss*

                  I was about to say the same thing as Lionness. I’m gypsy, but not Romani. While Romani are a pretty major faction within gypsies, it would be almost like calling all Native Americans Sioux, because, “hey, most of them are some sort of Sioux!”

            2. Ad Astra*

              You’re right, it’s less excusable. I think there are clueless people who don’t understand the racial undertones of “baby mama” because the phrase has become so common, but it’s gross.

              1. Artemesia*

                Yes, one of the derogative riffs by politicians on the right towards Obama has been to describe Michele as his ‘baby mama’ — and then to smirk and say they didn’t ‘mean anything by it’ after all she is the mother of his children.

                No one in the US could possibly be unaware of the racist connotations of this word.

                1. sunny-dee*

                  Actually, in fairness about that — she referred to Barack Obama as her “baby daddy” when she introduced him at the Democratic National Convention.

                2. No Longer Passing By*

                  My understanding is that she used it as turning the head on prior comments. The self-empowerment issue. I will use this phrase that you use to demean me instead to empower me.

          2. Steve G*

            I get you to a degree but hope we can take the “racist” term out of this. The term “race” was probably thrown around more than it has since Ferguson this week just because some lady in Spokane had an identity crisis that the media decided to make a national news story, even though it only impacted Spokane. If we (meaning Americans) are going to keep throwing the term “racist” around, it is going to mean nothing and/or everything.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Disagree; I don’t think this has anything to do with Dolezal. The implications of “baby mama” have been known and discussed for years. I remember it coming up a few years ago in reference to the First Lady, when someone wrote a headline like “Obama and his Baby Mama,” which is of course absurd because they are very, very married.

              1. Steve G*

                The OP wrote in about a jerk at work, not about a race issue. This thread on race is really obfuscating the point.

                1. Aunt Vixen*

                  “Babymama” is a racially loaded term. What makes the guy at work a jerk is in part his use of a racially loaded term. Therefore it is a race issue (irrespective of OP’s race).

                2. Kelly L.*

                  It is a part of the point. The guy is saying offensive things, and there are multiple reasons it’s offensive, and they are all on topic.

                3. Mephyle*

                  It is not missing, hiding, or deviating from the point: his use of a racially loaded term ranks up the jerkiness. He would already be a jerk for the other aspects of his behaviour, but his choice of term is relevant because it significantly raises the jerk level.

            2. aebhel*

              Steve, I really dislike the idea that we should stop calling racist behavior racist just because it’s not literally a hate crime. ‘Baby mama’ is a racist dogwhistle, and if OP’s coworker didn’t know that, he should.

              Terms don’t lose meaning when they are used properly to describe a particular behavior.

              1. Steve G*

                That’s not what I said, but also, terms do lose their meaning when they are used incessantly.

                1. Kelly L.*

                  Then people should quit incessantly being racist (and also sexist–we’ve got both in this case).

                2. aebhel*

                  What Kelly said. If people don’t like being called racist, they should stop doing racist things.

                3. SystemsLady*

                  Because being blatantly racist is now commonly acknowledged to be a bad thing, I think it’s all the more important to call out the incessantly used, but often viewed as innocuous, racist dogwhistles.

                  By letting language like “baby mama” go unchecked, it indirectly lets people with racist attitudes say racist things without getting the (properly) damaging label “racist”.

                  Almost just as importantly, calling out these terms makes sure people who don’t intend to be racist aren’t using them so that they’re harder to hard behind.

                  People who call everything racist even when not exist, I guess, but they are very small in number and a strawman.

            3. Clover*

              People using the term racist to refer to things that are actually racist, as this is, does not dilute its impact or meaning. The fact that there are lots of racist incidents in the media doesn’t mean people are just throwing the term around loosely. Taking it out of this would be ignoring that this is actually racist. Please do not ignore racism.

            4. LBK*

              I’ve noticed this every time racism or sexism comes up on AAM – it seems like you’re under the impression those can only exist in their most obvious and conscious forms. The reason you hear those terms more often recently isn’t just because we’ve decided as a culture that everything is racist or sexist now, it’s because we’ve come to understand that it’s not just the big, blatant things like racial segregation or not letting women vote that perpetuate inequality. It’s the smaller things that we may not even realize influence the way we think and act that quietly add up. The fact that we’ve fixed a lot of the more obvious problems and yet many of the inequalities still persist only emphasizes the fact that it’s not just about rights, it’s about attitudes and perceptions.

              I really urge you to not consider institutional prejudice and outward discrimination as two wholly different entities; they’re intertwined and they feed each other. The use of a racially charged term like “baby mama” doesn’t exist in a vacuum; the negative reaction feeds from a whole historical context, and we’re definitely not anywhere near the point of dissociating the current usage from its origin.

              1. SystemsLady*

                Also, with regards to “we don’t know the OP’s race”, we wouldn’t say that a person calling a Sikh a slur meant to be aimed at Muslims isn’t not using a slur.

              2. Steve G*

                That’s because I feel like a lot of the letters are about A, B, and C issues, and somehow sexism or racism or some sort of -ism keeps getting thrown in, without having much to do with the letters, and then every time I question “why are we adding in (insert whatever -ism) it’s not the point of the letter” I get shot down as either ignorant or not understanding world issues. I’m trying to say, let’s look at these issues for what they are and not add in whatever -ism as the answer to every question, or at least add them into the mix after other points are raised. I mean, this letter reeks of a hostile work environment, but the 2nd thread is already about race. What about some comments on hostile work environments first?

                1. LBK*

                  People were noting the level of offensiveness of his comments. A few didn’t get why that term was racial, so others explained it. It didn’t really devolve into a broader cultural discussion until you poked at it, honestly. As for the hostile work environment, from a legal perspective this is completely relevant because racially offensive comments are part of what can create a HWE.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  LBK, Clover, and others above have done a good job of explaining why those things are relevant, not just “throw in.” I’m concerned about this becoming derailing, so I’m going to ask that we leave it here, but with strong encouragement to you to consider what people are explaining. Thank you.

                3. Former Diet Coke Addict*

                  But those issues directly inform a lot of workplace issues. They do because the office is not hermetically sealed against the world, and racism and sexist affect people just as much as they do out in the world. No one is saying that is the only issue–they’re saying it’s one facet of a huge problem. To say that people are just adding them in is ignoring that these issues ARE people’s lives. They are not separate and discrete and not everyone has the luxury of examining them in a vacuum.

                4. Observer*

                  But that is exactly what people are trying to tell you. The particular “isms” that are under discussion are not an unrelated “add-on”. Rather they are an integral part of the problem. In this case it should be more obvious than most, because he is EXPLICITLY using the term to make it sound like the OP is a single mom who has a baby whose paternity is questionable. So, it is 100% clear that he is using a racially loaded term in its most derogatory fashion. How can you NOT see that as racist?

                  And, as a practical matter, this is a key issue, because it’s one of the reasons why even HR department who don’t care about jerks would be expected to act – the obvious racial content here is one of the reasons why this could easily rise to a hostile workplace in the LEGAL sense.

            5. Anna*

              Also, I would disagree that it only affects Spokane. There are a lot of conversations happening around Rachel Dolezal right now because of the implications her lies have on biracial people and how they identify and are viewed in the world. I urge to look in to it. It’s really interesting and some of the commentary is very informative. Junot Díaz has written some good stuff on it and there are interesting counter perspectives on it from Kareem Abdul Jabar.

              1. Steve G*

                I did read a lot on it, and the more I did, the most it seemed like a private family and work issue impacting a small group of people. Montel Williams also wrote a good article on it but the problem was that there was no real way to tie it to a specific broad, social issue, because it’s simply about one person’s identity crisis. It only went viral because it gets people to click on articles and videos and has entertainment value.

                1. LBK*

                  It’s not about whether it impacts the lives of other people; something can’t be an invalid spark to start a discussion about a larger issue (and race absolutely is a larger issue) just because it doesn’t directly change your life in any way. That’s a pretty ridiculous statement, honestly – I suppose you think we should’ve just ignored everything in Ferguson and Baltimore? Those didn’t impact my life either.

            6. Pill Helmet*

              I actually find this helpful. This will make me sound really clueless but I didn’t realize the term was racially charged. I thought it was more classist and said about anyone of any race who parented multiple children with different partners. I think the term is gross and would never say it, but I never made a direct connection with race (although now that I read this I don’t know why since it’s pretty obvious).

              If people stop having these conversations ignorance will perpetuate.

              1. Pill Helmet*

                Sorry. Posted without refreshing and didn’t see your request to let it rest, Alison.

              2. shirley*

                Same here. I had never really thought about how the term is offensive. I don’t believe I’ve ever really used it, but I certainly won’t now. I really appreciate someone pointing out how it’s a racialized term!

              3. Angela*

                Same here – I never identified this with a race, but as a derogatory way to refer to low income single mothers. And I’ve heard baby daddy too, but the insult again goes back to the woman. A baby daddy is usually a phrase said when the person using it is implying the mother is promiscuous and has several “baby daddies”.

              4. kt (lowercase)*

                +1. I would also never use this term because of the gross classist connotations, but I hadn’t realized it was also racially charged (though it seems quite obvious in retrospect) (I’m in the US FWIW) and I’m glad to have learned that. This is why these conversations are important.

            7. Coach Devie*

              Actually, let’s not take the racial connotations out of it, and “race” has been “thrown around” more often lately just because of Dolezal. Just because you personally don’t (have to) deal with “race issues” on a daily or regular basis, doesn’t meant that others do not and so you can’t say that based on your personal experience. Some people deal with matters pertaining to race/ethnicity in their workplaces and daily lives ALL THE TIME. Just because it’s not in the media today doesn’t mean it’s not happening every day.

              Baby Mama is definitely usually very racially loaded and at the very least can be seen as classist if not racist (both, in my opinion)

                1. Coach Devie*

                  And lastly – apologies for adding on when it was well discussed already, I hit reply before scrolling down further.

      2. Come On Eileen*

        I’m guessing the phrase “baby mama” is where the perceived racial bias comes in?

            1. Aunt Vixen*

              The term is racist no matter who it is applied to. If I know you to be a Protestant of some description and I still don’t like that you cheated me out of money and I say you’ve “jewed” me (ugh, my skin is crawling just from typing that), that doesn’t make that word not double-plus offensive just because you are not yourself Jewish.

              1. Steve G*

                Right, but “jewed” is a more offensive because 1) it is never used so is more shocking to hear, and 2) no one has ever used it in a non-offensive conversation. Some terms like the n-word or the term discussed here you can (unfortunately) hear in “normal” conversations (at least here in Brooklyn) and hear in lyrics on the radio. I don’t understand why people are turning a discussion on a work jerk into a discussion on race. Even if you made an argument that the term is completely racist, it doesn’t help the OP. Their problem is a jerk at work, not racism!

                1. Kelly L.*

                  I’ve heard “j****” in casual, friendly conversation between people who didn’t even notice they were saying anything offensive. Maybe nobody says it casually where you are, but they sure do here, and it sucks.

                  I don’t think lyrics on the radio are a good barometer of what is professional speech at work. are you saying the n word is also okay because it’s in some songs?

                  Yes, she has a jerk at work. What makes him a jerk? He’s saying offensive things, which are offensive for a whole bouquet of reasons. If he were calling her a doodie-head, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, because that’s not actually offensive outside of kindergarten. He is a jerk in part because he harbors racist and misogynistic ideas, not in spite of them.

                2. UKAnon*

                  He’s a jerk at work because he is being openly racist and misogynistic. There’s nothing illegal about horrible bosses and little you can do, as we see here all the time. Drawing attention to his breaking the law gives OP many more options if she wants them.

                3. Aunt Vixen*

                  I feel like by your twisted logic you would suggest that the n-word is not racist. So I don’t really know what else I can say to you.

                  What makes the guy at work a jerk is his use of a term that is offensive on many levels. One of those levels is racial. This is simply a fact. You can go on insisting that the speaker may not know or care that “babymama” is a racist dogwhistle and probably doesn’t intend it deliberately as a racial slur when he uses it. E pur si muove.*

                  * Look it up.

                4. OP #2*

                  Part of the jerk’s problem is that he’s racist. If he stopped all the other jerk behavior except the racist stuff, he’d still be a jerk for being racist. This is a pretty clear part of the problem and you can’t solve the problem without addressing that as well.

                5. Observer*

                  The problem at work is that she is dealing with a jerk who is using racist terms to denigrate her. In other words, racism is an integral part of the problem. Furthermore, this is a key issue in terms of a resolution, because it provides a legal imperative to her employer to do something about the problem.

                6. Career Counselorette*

                  Right, but “jewed” is a more offensive because 1) it is never used so is more shocking to hear, and 2) no one has ever used it in a non-offensive conversation. Some terms like the n-word or the term discussed here you can (unfortunately) hear in “normal” conversations (at least here in Brooklyn) and hear in lyrics on the radio.


                7. nona*

                  …We clearly live in very different places.

                  Just because you’ve somehow avoided seeing racism regularly doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

                8. Green*

                  I can virtually guarantee that your legal/HR department does NOT want you to use radio or television or pop culture as a barometer for appropriateness in the workplace. You cannot drop the N word at work (HOLY COW SERIOUSLY?), even in a friendly kind of way, and you cannot talk about hot women and sex and drugs and all kinds of things that are prevalent in mass media. Nope nope nope nope nope. You should use “Conversation with your girlfriend’s great-grandmother, who you are meeting for the first time” as a barometer for workplace appropriateness. (Unless great-grandmother is wild or also a racist.)

            2. UKAnon*

              Or Dale. But as Aunt Vixen says, it doesn’t matter who it’s applied to. If you used N*** in the workplace you’d rightly be vilified as being horribly racist. This is exactly the same.

              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                A better parallel might be “ghetto”. Technically, it can sometimes mean any slum or poor neighborhood, and is not necessarily always racist. However, because it is another code word for the N-word or black urban culture when used in a derogatory manner, it is also one of those dog-whistle racist terms, even though it could have another, legitimate use (e.g., the Jewish Warsaw ghetto during WWII). If some ignorant, mean-spirited person called someone else “ghetto”, there’s no mistaking the racist and classist overtones, regardless of the actual statuses of the people involved.

                1. simonthegrey*

                  A friend of mine has made a similar point for the term “white trash.” It has obvious classist connotations, but there are racial connotations as well (white trash vs. what? Black trash? Well, that’s pretty racist.)

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            Apparently not as well known as everyone here thinks, because I’ve heard the term but always referring to someone white, and usually used as a self-reference.

        1. Anna*

          When defensive, claim someone is “playing the race card.” As has been explained, the term “baby mama” is racially loaded. Nobody is calling the douche manager a racist, they’re pointing out the phrase he’s using is racially biased and should be called out immediately.

    3. Just Another Techie*

      Also class bias! Or at least, I read the phrase “baby momma” as both racist and classist.

      1. Ad Astra*

        Class isn’t a protected, um, *class* is it? Though I agree, the term is incredibly classist and judgmental.

    4. littlemoose*

      Where did you see an indication of racial bias? Did I miss it?

      But his remarks are so obviously indicative of gender bias, and possibly disability bias due to the OP’s recent pregnancy, that this could give rise to legal action, and I think for that reason HR needs to be informed. I would not be surprised if he talks about other female coworkers this way too, and it just hasn’t gotten back to the OP.

      1. Sans*

        Baby mama implies that your only relationship with the woman is that she’s your baby’s mother. It’s meant as a demeaning term that characterizes you as someone who just has lots of kids with different men, without long-term relationships. You’re just their babymama, not their girlfriend or wife.

    5. TheExchequer*

      Can we get a bingo card going here? I’m feeling lucky about finding even more ways Fergus has shown bias. :P

  3. AMT*

    If the OP’s manager DOES know about it and hasn’t said something, that says a lot about the culture of this workplace, and possibly about whether the OP needs to start looking for another job.

      1. AGirlCalledFriday*

        I was thinking that, if all else fails, having a lawyer draft a letter to send to the guy could be a decent idea. People like this are bullies and sometimes disregard anything but formal legal proceedings.

            1. Green*

              This does often work with general a-holes though that you encounter (I’d just keep it out of the workplace). There was a neighbor who was harassing multiple neighbors for years. We moved in, he tried that with us, and he’d made plenty of claims that he had “plenty of time and money and a lawyer” to spend harassing us. I drafted a cease & desist telling him to stop being a creep, paid an attorney friend $100 to review and send it (I’m a lawyer but a lawyer sending their own letter doesn’t send the same message that I’m not playing with you and I’m willing to pay money to get this to stop)… and none of us have heard from the guy again.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        The sad thing is, if her company suddenly has to retain a lawyer and go through all this, they will eventually find some other way to get rid of her. I’ve seen it happen. Maybe not right away, but sometime down the road. Unless they fire Dale then maybe not. Also job applications sometimes ask if you’ve ever sued a previous employer and that can open up a whole can of worms during her next job search

        1. Ineloquent*

          Retailation’s illegal in cases like this, and is often easier to prove. They’d be fools to let go of her for anything short of demonstrated clearly egrigious behavior after she reports something like this.

        2. No Longer Passing By*

          If in the U.S., those job applications are illegal as they open the door to retaliation

  4. Human*

    Has option #3 ever worked for anyone, ever? Douchebags don’t stop just because you ask them to.

    1. Hlyssande*


      I have a sick feeling that he’s going to double down no matter which of the three she does.

      1. AMG*

        Hence getting HR involved asap. This is harassment in the classic sense of the word and the company will want it to stop immediately.

        1. Anna*

          And if she does go the HR route and the asshole does double down, what you have there is retaliation and a paper trail.

    2. AnonEMoose*

      It depends on what you mean by “worked.” It likely won’t get them to stop, no, but it removes any vestige of plausible deniability. As in, it makes it much more difficult for said jerk to use the “Well, I was just joking, how was I supposed to know he/she was offended?” defense.

      1. alter_ego*

        I agree, but I also think the fact that he’s never said it to her face shows that he knows it’s a terrible thing to do, so he’s already sort of lost all of his plausible deniability, at least in my eyes.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Well, yes…but there’s also that directly telling the person the behavior is unwelcome is usually also one of the steps HR will want you to take.

          And in this instance, it also removes the “well, I never said it TO HER” contention.

          (Yep, spent way too much of my life dealing with bullies…and this guy is a classic example…)

            1. AnonEMoose*

              Nope; I only post as “AnonEMoose” here. Might have to check out Dr. Grumpy, though – the name sounds interesting!

      2. Raptor*

        Intent is not magic. The ‘it was a joke’ excuse is just that, an excuse, and a pretty terrible one at that. If anyone accepts it as an apology, they go right into the a-hole category along with the person who said it was a joke.

    3. Allison*

      If anything, douchebags tend to get even douchier when confronted. “What do you MEAN it’s offensive? Why are so you sensitive? Can’t you take a joke? This is America, I can say what I want! You’re offending me right now, quit being the PC police!”

      1. puddin*

        You have to have your script ready for this ‘comeback.’

        Explain why its offensive.
        I am not sensitive, and even if I were you still need to stop as it creates an untenable working relationship and impacts productivity.
        Yes I can take a joke but this is not funny to me the butt of your joke. You know what is funny, dad jokes, puns, Dilbert, and lots of other work appropriate humor. How about trying to be actually funny instead of mocking and dismissive?
        You can say what you want (well, not really but for the sake of argument). However, that does not indemnify you against the consequences of what you say. My concern is one of those consequences.
        I am sorry you are offended, I truly am. Please know that I do not wish to impinge on your happiness as long as your pursuit of it does not come at my expense or the expense of others.

        Now, who can remember all of that during a flustered argument LOL!

        1. Zillah*

          Oh, I’ve been taking the opposite approach lately! I just sidestep the “You’re too sensitive,” “You can’t take a joke,” etc entirely, because IME, letting people draw you into that is just allowing them to derail the conversation into territory that they feel more secure in.

          So if someone says, “You’re too sensitive,” I tend to say, “Maybe. But it still bothers me, so please stop.” It tends to lead down a rabbit hole of further attempted derailments, but it actually is pretty effective at stopping people who genuinely like me and are just being jerks in the moment, and at least the derailments aren’t quite as personal and I don’t get quite as flustered (because I’m basically just saying the same thing over and over).

          1. Liza*

            Zillah, I didn’t reply at the time and I don’t know if you’ll see this, but this is amazing, thanks! The “you’re too sensitive” is always hard for me to respond to, and I’m going to steal your response to it.

      2. Mel in HR*

        This basically happened to me when I was young. It was my second job and I was 17. I was alone in the office when one of the male realtors came in. He asked me to help him fix the copy machine, and after I did he slapped my butt. I didn’t know what to do because he and I were the only two people were there and I was terrified. Thankfully the owner’s wife came in about 10 minutes later and I ran into her office crying and telling her what happened. She assured me they would take care of it and sure enough, she called her husband in and they sat him down and talked to him. He comes out, smiling and winks at me. I get called in and the owner tells me that I simply misunderstood his intentions and was being too sensitive. He told me to lighten up and learn to understand the guy’s sense of humor.
        10 yrs later, I still wish I had told him: Laugh at this joke- I’m calling a lawyer!
        Instead I called him sexist pig and quit. I suppose that kind of works, but I wish I had shut that jerk down.

        1. SerfinUSA*

          I’m sorry that happened to you. A group of young women (myself included) once did what we thought was the right thing (according to the company manual) when a male coworker was very obviously ogling the young female employees. Instead of this guy being disciplined, we were told that he was a family man with a career, and no one was going to ruin it for him by making an issue out of this. The ‘solution’ was to set up a dress code, and anyone not following it got what they deserved.
          We should have lawyered up, but I was maybe 20 years old and was so heartbroken by this that I quit, as did most of the other women involved. It just sucks when you expect people to do the right thing and get blindsided.

          1. hayling*

            And that, my friend, is the definition of “rape culture.” You have to “cover up” so you don’t “tempt” him. What a load of crap.

    4. Jake*

      I disagree. 90%of douchebags I’ve called out either quit or removed themselves from the situation.

      1. Just Another Techie*

        most douchebags are cowards and will wilt under the slightest pushback. The problem is the small minority who will not wilt, but will double down on the harassment. You have no way of knowing in advance which manner of douchebag you are confronted with, and if you have the second kind, challenging him can make your life a living hell.

        1. Jake*

          True, buy the attitude that talking to them is futile needs to be debunked because so many people could solve their problem by just directly talking about it with the problem maker.

          1. Just Another Techie*

            I’m not saying it’s futile. I’m saying there’s a risk to be taken there, and it’s not fair to say the OP has a responsibility to take that risk if she doesn’t feel okay doing so.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t know if that’s in reference to my advice or someone else’s, but I don’t think the OP has a responsibility to do that if she doesn’t want to (and was deliberate about saying in the post that she doesn’t need to if she’d prefer not to).

          2. Amanda*

            I don’t want to make assumptions about anyone’s gender but I would note that douchebags tend not to back down from women as quickly or quietly as they do with men.

            1. naanie*

              Absolutely; there’s also no way of knowing when confronting a male douchebag (as a woman) whether he will react violently.

              1. Zillah*

                Yes, to what both you and Amanda said. IME, men are far more likely to back down when called on bad behavior by men than they are when called on bad behavior by women, which is part of why it’s important for men to speak up when they see sexist behavior.

          1. Lucky*

            Schrodinger’s douchebag is a thing!
            Per Urban Dictionary: One who makes douchebag statements, particularly sexist, racist or otherwise bigoted ones, then decides whether they were “just joking” or dead serious based on whether other people in the group approve or not.

      2. Zahra*

        Then I must be unlucky, because I get the “It’s just a joke!”, “It’s just an expression!”, “Stop being so sensitive!”, “Whoa, stop being so angry about this!” type of jerks. Or maybe they’d back down when faced with guys telling them it’s not okay.

        The eye-rolling with a “Seriously?” face does seem to work over the long time when directly faced with offesive behavior. I got called “Sheherazade” at work a lot when I started here. Since I didn’t rise to the bait (joking about it or otherwise reacting), it stopped within a few weeks.

        1. alter_ego*

          It shouldn’t happen at all, but I agree. When someone at work has tried to give me a nickname that I don’t want, derogatory or otherwise, I just straight up ignore them. They aren’t calling me by my name, how was I supposed to know that they were talking to me?

          1. aebhel*

            So, this makes me think of a story my dad likes to tell about when he was younger and working at, I believe, a newspaper print. He’s a big, tall, lanky guy, and his manager decided that it would be funny to call him ‘Lurch’. My dad told him to stop, repeatedly, but he wouldn’t.

            So one day one of the presses gets jammed with something, and the manager yells, “Hey, Lurch, turn that off!”

            And my dad ignores him. Keeps ignoring him. The press jams, they lose hours of work, the manager freaks out, “why the hell didn’t you turn it off like I told you?”

            My dad says, “Because my name isn’t Lurch.”

            I mean, he did get fired, but he says it was worth it. :)

            1. alter_ego*

              That’s amazing! Luckily, there was never anything that high stakes going on when I was forced to ignore my coworker. I don’t know if I would have been able to stick to my guns in a situation like that.
              He definitely got his point across though. I can’t stop laughing at the mental image of him just calmly watching this totally disaster happen.

        2. Ad Astra*

          Sorry to be an ignoramus, but would you mind explaining why that’s offensive? Not that I go around calling people “Sheherazade,” but I think I’m missing the reference.

            1. Ad Astra*

              Oh, gosh, gross. (And aren’t Indian and Arabic two completely different things anyway?) How completely unprofessional.

          1. LBK*

            Sheherazade is the storyteller from One Thousand and One Nights. I’m going to guess it was meant as a reference to her being a Middle Eastern woman and not because she was telling stories? It’s generalizing someone by their race – it would be like calling her Jasmine.

                1. Nashira*

                  You will also get people who talk about all First Nations people in the past tense, and swear it’s not at all offensive. Flames on the side of my freaking face.

        3. chewbecca*

          I think the reaction one gets to calling someone out on their behavior depends on the gender of the person doing the calling out.

          All the reactions that you list are things that are almost always pulled out when a woman dares to point out sexist behavior.

          1. Helka*

            And when it’s a woman calling out someone who’s higher in the food chain than her, even if he isn’t her direct manager, that’s going to make it even more risky.

          2. Mirror*

            This happened to me recently. I’m part of a work forum, 99% male (although the actual profession is more 50/50), and a man asked to hear about some stories where the opposite sex gave a new perspective to our work with clients. A different man responds to say “careful, the few women who respond don’t represent the majority. Just look at those trashy magazine articles you find in Cosmo.”

            As one of the few women on this professional forum, I thought this was a pretty asshole thing to say. So I said so. Politely. You wouldn’t believe the angry comments I received. “Our discussion would be more productive without you, you’re crazy, I put women on a pedestal but you’re just an idiot, I can’t bother responding to your insane logic, etc”.

            I was pretty shocked at what was lurking beneath this forum. Up until that point I respected it a lot. I don’t visit it much anymore. They can be in their bubble.

        4. Sans*

          Yup. A while back, some commentators called Michelle Obama a babymama. Obviously racist and insulting. And ludicrous when you consider she has children only from her one marriage. But when called on it, the commentators were totally “it’s just a joke!” “Lighten up!”

          1. Hellanon*

            That “lighten up! Can’t you take a joke?” business is bullying, plain & simple. The phrase, “Oh, was that a joke?” comes to mind because they aren’t, in fact, joking…

          2. Lori*

            What often works well when someone tells an off-color or offensive joke is to blankly say “I don’t understand why that’s funny. Can you explain?” And watch them try to explain without sounding racist/sexist/homophobic/whatever.

        5. OldAdmin*

          “It’s just a joke!”, “It’s just an expression!”, “Stop being so sensitive!”, “Whoa, stop being so angry about this!”

          Yeah. Right. My direct superior, who also is a woman, gave me *exactly that* when I officially complained (and named witnesses) about a manager who insinuated I was a hooker (and had had intercourse with him) – AT A FULL GROUP MEETING.
          Nothing ever happened to him. I moved away from his sphere of of influence. He now calls random guys “gay”, and cracks jokes about the height of little people with impunity at meetings. Lovely.

      3. Adam*

        Unfortunately, this is kind of what you hope for. It’s rare that calling someone out for mistreating you will actually change them. If it becomes clear to them that continuing to bother you could end up posing some sort of risk to them they’ll cut their losses and find someone else to harass who will take it. Even if his offense is bad enough to get him sacked he’ll likely continue the behavior at his next job if he thinks he can get away with it.

      4. AGirlCalledFriday*

        I agree, but I think that this guy is not just a douchebag, I think he’s trying to ‘wage war’ against the OP for some reason, and I don’t think he’s entirely in his right mind. He’s gone waaaay too far and there are too many consequences for others getting along with the OP.

    5. purplewombat*

      I agree with you, but if she does talk to him first, then if she brings it to HR/her manager the guy can’t innocently say, “I was just kidding and had NO IDEA! I wish she had just spoken to me, and I would have stopped.” (Even if he’s lying, I feel like he would immediately use this as his defense.)

      I wouldn’t blame the OP at all for deciding not to talk to that guy, though. Those type of comments are uncalled for and unacceptable.

      1. AMG*

        Hopefully HR will tell him that not even someone living under a rock would not know that this is offensive. You shouldn’t have to clarify this kind of thing. Even if he uses that tactic, HR should see how thin that areguement is. *knocks on wood*

      2. E*

        Even so, OP may not be comfortable approaching the person directly, which is fine and that is why HR can intervene. And even if the guy is defensive about HR getting involved, that should make plain to him that he needs to stop now.

      3. Jillociraptor*

        You’re probably right, but then he loses all deniability for future incidents with that defense. Not a good feeling in the short term but puts you in an okay position in the longer term.

    6. neverjaunty*

      The point is not that the douchebag will stop. It’s to demonstrate to the grown-ups that they are a douchebag, because they did not stop when you told them to.

    7. DebbieDebbieDebbie*

      Option #3 has worked for me. High level boss said “Hi Debbie-Does-Dallas” to me..and then would laugh like a 12 year old boy so despite the fact that he was fairly new to American culture made it clear that he understood the genre of the film. This happened in front of male colleagues and when I was the only woman in the room. This first time he said it, I was stunned/thought I misheard/speechless/distracted by the look of horror on the faces in the room. The second time he said it, I responded flatly: “Do not say that to me again”. The THIRD time he said it, I said “What you are saying to me is offensive and I am asking you in front of ALL OF THESE WITNESSES to not ever say this to me or about me again. If I hear this or of this again, I will escalate the matter.
      I think the presence of the witnesses helped me tremendously, though. He could never have denied it.

        1. DebbieDebbieDebbie*

          Thanks for that! And I love your screen name… Are you in Galveston? Or a bibliophile in NYC?

            1. Ruffingit*

              I’m in Houston, well north of Houston actually, but close enough. Hope you guys survived the horrible Tropical Storm Bill :)

    8. Tomato Frog*

      I’ve had times when I called people out on douchey behavior and they responded like jerks, but then actually stopped the behavior. But their douchery was lower-level than this dude’s.

    9. BethRA*

      No, but d-bags do often stop bad behavior when they’re called out on it, and realize that the person they’re targeting is will fight back.

    10. Mel in HR*

      Honestly in harassment claims, I find it helpful when the victim has told the person to top first before coming to me. Then I can document that they were told to stop and continued. Alternatively, when it is a case of someone being an idiot and not realizing the comments are not welcome, they have a chance to stop before I’m involved. I think it’s pretty standard to have the target of harassment to say “stop” whenever they feel comfortable enough to.

    11. Ruffingit*

      It hasn’t worked for me. A few months into my job last year, I had a talk with my manager about his rather crappy behavior and there was little benefit to doing so. The fact that he behaved the way he did meant he was unable to accept a professional, mature conversation about his behavior. I suspect the same is true for this guy. His behavior is so egregious that it’s clear he doesn’t know what is appropriate or acceptable and isn’t likely to have a mature conversation about it. There’s a difference between naive and malicious. The naive person doesn’t know they’re doing something wrong and will generally correct it when told. The malicious person knows it, doesn’t care, and gets angry when called out. This guy is malicious.

  5. LBK*

    This is a great example of why the “if women want there to be more diversity in the workplace, they just need to start applying for more jobs in male-dominated industries” argument is such BS. Who wants to sign up to subject themselves to this?

    1. CAinUK*

      But if HR handles this swiftly and supports her, isn’t that a good result (and starting the culture change we’d want)? One asshat shouldn’t make everyone throw up their arms and say “why bother!” even if that’s an understandable reaction.

      I don’t think anyone should apply and work somewhere JUST to make a point or change things, but I don’t think anyone should AVOID doing it because that sector sucks at this stuff.

      1. Judy*

        But shouldn’t someone have stepped in at some time anyway?

        I’d certainly speak up to the person or my manager if I heard another employee calling someone a name as offensive as that. But I’m dumb like that.

        People are telling her about it instead of doing something about it.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, that’s not good. I’m hoping it’s because they’re isolated and not because people above Fergus traditionally don’t give a damn.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            They may be afraid to rock the boat by telling anyone else. If Fergus is treating them badly because they like the OP, and he’s a manager, he could make it difficult for them (or they may think he can).

        2. Cordelia Naismith*

          That’s what I don’t get about this — why are all of her coworkers telling OP about what Fergus said? Why aren’t they telling either their own managers or Fergus’s manager?

          1. Cordelia Naismith*

            Okay, whoa, I just saw fposte’s comment about the firings. That’s…wow. I don’t even know what to say.

      2. LBK*

        But it’s still exhausting and daunting to have to deal with this kind of stuff and to apply for the job knowing you’ll probably have to do it at some point. Yeah, it’s great if this is handled, but it’s still stressful for the OP while the process is in the works and it’s clearly been stressful to deal with it so far.

        I also think that plenty of women do try to go into male-dominated industries because they don’t want to be deterred by the culture and then end up getting sick of it and leaving anyway. I wish I could find the article I read recently about the number of women who go into some particular male-dominated field – STEM, I think? – who end up changing careers.

        1. alter_ego*

          Yeah, I’m an electrical engineer, and I specifically work tangentially to construction. I knew it would be male dominated going in, but I’ve always had about even friendships with men and women, so I figured it would be fine.
          I’m three years into my career, and while I have no plans to leave, because I do love what I do, it’s definitely more exhausting than I thought it would be.

          1. Perpetuum Mobile*

            I am in oil & gas, and while it’s completely civilized in the office I hear from my female colleges who have to go on business trips a lot that it is a little diferrent story on sites, whether it’s a remote location onshore or a drilling rig offshore. I guess I’m lucky not to have to deal with it as my job doesn’t involve traveling.

            1. The Strand*

              That is something I have concerns about. Is this merely downstream or upstream where you’ve heard the stories? I wouldn’t want to work for KBR or Haliburton for other reasons, but when I heard about what happened to one of their on-site contractors when she went to the Middle East, it really soured me on ever touching the field.

              1. Perpetuum Mobile*

                I am in upstream, always have been. But it really doesn’t matter what companies, client or service providers, or what part of the business you are in. It’s more about geography of the locales (remote/harsh conditions) because by definition those will be staffed almost solely with men, quite often on rotation, and that’s when these guys tend to display their rougher side a bit more prominently than in the home office. Hate to sound like I am stereotyping but again, after some stories from girlfriends at work I am very happy I am not exposed to this part of the business. I tend to take things very personally, one of those “sensitive” types, so I know I would hate every second of it while feeling helpless.
                PS. I am not even touching the subject of working in the Middle East, it’s the whole new level. I would kill for an overseas assignment – any place but the ME.

      3. Just Another Techie*

        Ideally it shouldn’t even get to the point of getting to HR; ideally the culture just doesn’t tolerate that shit and enforcement happens in the moment the gross joke or whatever is made. For example, I work in a male dominated field. Less than 10% of my team are women. My first week at my current job a dude made a really gross rape joke to me, and immediately two senior male colleagues told him that was unacceptable in our office and to apologize. Never had a problem with him again. That’s how it should be done; not with coworkers cowering before the bully and pretending to dislike their colleague because their dbag boss doesn’t like her. That’s seriously fucked up.

        1. Adam*

          Precisely. Some may consider this a sexist phrase but I don’t care in this instance: her fellow co-workers need to Man Up and quit cowing to this skunk and back her for force. Just because he’s a manager doesn’t give him the right to run roughshod over whomever he pleases.

        2. Dana*

          Exactly. I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to help make the world a little bit better of a place, no matter who the current douchebag is offending. Speak up!

        3. Nashira*

          This is a great example of how things should work! It warms my almost-a-techie heart to hear about men calling out men in a male-dominated crew.

    2. Adam*

      To me the problem isn’t the guy. There are scumbags in every industry.

      From where I sit the problem is that the other dudes in the workplace aren’t supporting her even if they are nice to her when Mr. A-hole is not around.

      1. LBK*

        Agreed – you certainly can’t weed out every a-hole from every office in every industry, but you’re right that the overall culture where allegedly nice people are being complacent about this kind of sexist crap because “this is a man’s industry and that’s just how it’s always been” (or whatever their thinking is) is what really makes the environment unbearable for a lot of women.

      2. Hlyssande*

        I would say that the problem isn’t JUST the guy, it’s also people who don’t speak up to say anything.

    3. Anonsie*

      David Wong wrote a perfect example of this a while ago (for Cracked, shhh) where he was saying hey, maybe the problem isn’t that we need to shoehorn more women into businesses that are hostile to them, maybe we need to look at the fact that accomplished women avoid those places like the plague and take that to mean something is wrong with those businesses and needs to be fixed to attract them back.

      1. The Strand*

        We’re not allowed to like Cracked?

        Some of the articles are sheer crap, but most of them, by Wong and others (including women writers) are quite good. It’s the comments I’ve found I want to steer clear of.

        Just like there are some fantastic communities for women on Reddit. Yes, Reddit.

        1. Anonsie*

          I like Cracked, but many people (and especially those of us old enough to remember the magazine) will raise an eyebrow clear up into their hair line at it.

          What I really like about Cracked is that they consistently avoid and often lampoon the same sort of sexist and racist tropes that their own audience seems to buy into. I really enjoy how often their bits are not just “hey guys someone over there was sexist,” but saying directly to their readers “hey you guys have a problem with women in x way and it’s not ok.”

          1. The Strand*

            Oh yes, exactly, regarding the tropes they tease… and I am old enough to remember the magazine from the 1980s as a lamer, more sexist version of Mad. I know a former writer for Mad, and share a mutual friend with an extremely popular writer associated with Mad’s golden age … while they are both very talented and funny, the average article I read in Cracked is more sophisticated and has more layers than work I read in Mad over the years. (But then, I wasn’t a reader in the “golden age” and understanding of how it responded to society in the ’50s and ’60s…)

            When I was reading these magazines, it seemed like they always went for the low-hanging fruit. Always. The centerfolds were occasionally mindbending though. A few pieces I’ve read in the last few years by Cracked, though, were downright philosophical about the meaning of life and society. And they manage to sneak it into their audience’s craws. I admire that.

  6. CaliCali*

    I was disappointed that “set him on fire” wasn’t one of the suggested options, but I SUPPOSE that wouldn’t exactly raise the level of professionalism in this situation…

    1. TheExchequer*

      I don’t know . . . It would rid us of the problem pretty quick which would raise the professionalism at the company by about 1000%.

    2. RubyJackson*

      I understand your suggestion of violence is supposed to be funny, but I just can’t find humor in this phrase anymore after what happened to that Jordanian pilot.

        1. The Strand*

          Everyone’s different. Someone very dear to my spouse killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head less than a year ago. My spouse can and does still laugh when people point their fingers at themselves in jest, because he understands the intention is not to offend him or make light of what happened to his loved one. It’s OK if some people feel very literal about this kind of humor and it’s OK if others don’t feel that way, or cover their discomfort with jokes.

      1. ilovejoshlyman*

        You are aware that wasn’t the first instance of someone being set on fire in the world, right?

  7. CAinUK*

    HR should RUN, not walk, to discipline this asshat. He is leaving the company open to litigation since you would classify as a protected class for both hostile workplace and harassment.

    Also be clear with HR that you don’t want retaliation for you OR the folks who reported his activity to you (and ideally those folks could go report directly if they felt reassured HR would keep them from retaliation). It will make things awkward on Fergus’ team since he’ll likely try to find the “fink” but tough. This. Is. Not. Okay.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I can, sadly. He’s a manager, OP is not. If he is perceived as more “valuable” to the company than she is, the OP would not be the first person who reported harassment to be quietly sidelined, subtly pressured to leave, or terminated on some trumped-up (but just legitimate enough to pass muster with the company lawyer) excuse. Doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, and it’s not right, but it happens.

        And if the OP took legal action, no matter how justified, that may well be counted against her by future potential employers (“she sued them, she might sue us, too…”).

        To be clear, I am not saying that it’s right, or not crazy, or that the OP should not report it (I absolutely think she should!). But there are, sadly, a lot of incompetent HR departments out there, and a lot of bad managers and executives. Some of whom will care more about “Fergus’s” perceived impact on the bottom line than they do about doing the right thing.

        Hopefully the OP’s company is not like that, and will take care of this promptly and decisively.

        1. Just Another Techie*

          Honestly I think the best option for OP here is an offer of super generous (like, at least 3 months) severance if she resigns. Even if they discipline the asshole, she still has to contend with the fact that her colleagues pretended to hate her in order to not make waves with the asshole. That’s some really seriously dysfunctional work culture, and in her shoes, my professional relationships with everyone on Douchebag’s team would be forever poisoned.

      2. fposte*

        If nobody who’s actually heard the comments is willing to say so to HR, it’d be tough to fire him.

      3. Anonsie*

        I’m highly doubtful anyone would get fired for this in most situations. If he’s been able to get away with doing it already this whole time, odds seem good that the overall expectations are such that this won’t be seen as a huge deal.

    1. Juli G.*

      I’m HR in a male dominated industry and I feel like going out and asking all of our recently returned to works mothers if someone is calling them baby mama. So unacceptable.

      1. OP, aka The "Baby Mama"*

        UPDATE: In answer to many of the questions in the comments, I’m Caucasian. Several of my coworkers tried to stand up to Fergus, and paid for it. 2 of them were fired.

        So, I went to HR about this once Fergus REALLY crossed the line (he called me a “know-it-all c*nt” at a work function). My manager and this jerk are friends, so going to my boss isn’t going to help.

        I was called in to a 1.5 hour meeting with local HR rep and the area manager after my complaint. They spent the first 5 minutes telling me that this “has been addressed” and will not happen again. The remaining hour and 20 minutes was spent reprimanding me for things I’ve been doing for the whole 3 years I’ve worked here that were never a problem, and have never been raised as an issue until now. It was all small things, and 99% of these things were done at my bosses’ request or with his written permission. (Example: Coming in to work early M-Th to make up for having to come in late Friday because of a prenatal appointment.) I protested when they gave me a formal write up, and asked to see any documentation that I was ever told any of these things were a problem. (Company policy requires a verbal reprimand before a written reprimand.) They were unable to present anything. Not only was I written up, but my job duties were so significantly decreased that I went from being an office manager to a receptionist.

        I took my case the the corporate VP of HR, claiming hostile work enviro., retaliation for filing HR complaint, sexual harassment, etc. She ignored me and my emails for 3 months and only responded when I threatened to get a lawyer involved. I was offered a job in a different state (I was looking to relocate anyway, but the offered job was not anywhere near where I was trying to move to), and pretty much told that I could either take the job, take 2 weeks severance, or quit my whining.

        Unfortunately, I now have a child and my husband recently lost his job, so I’m stuck in this nightmare workplace. Fergus no longer bothers me directly. He has my manager to that for him. But at least they are being smarter. Instead of direct harassment, they just assign me job tasks that I’m guaranteed to fail at (I’m an admin, and they have me doing environmental and maintenance tasks in a natural gas plant…). Fergus is still employed, and was never reprimanded.

        1. fposte*

          Ugh. I’m so sorry. It sounds like an EEOC complaint would have more trouble for you than you can face right now, too. If they do something egregious close to when you leave (because you will, I’m sure, leave for something better), so that you’re within the 180-day window, you could always consider filing then.

        2. Job-Hunt Newbie*

          I….I can’t even. I need to sit on this for a while before I make a more well rounded comment. I have no idea what I just read, or why your company thinks that is okay.

          In the interim, I am SO sorry you are having to deal with this, OP.

        3. Lori*

          OH MY GOD *runs around and sets self on fire*

          I am so sorry you can’t get out of this situation and HORRIFIED at how you’re being treated here. This workplace sounds like an old boys’ club situation, is that accurate?

          1. OP, aka The "Baby Mama"*

            No, it’s not so much a boys’ club, as the other 3 women I work with aren’t treated this way. They just don’t like me. Wish I knew why!!!

            1. Cari*

              The other 3 women don’t like you, or you are referring Fergus et al?

              Are these other women either more “one of the guys” than you, or more “flirty and girly” than you when it comes to interacting with these asshats? (this isn’t a lead in to an explanation as to why this dislike of you is your fault, OP – it really isn’t your fault the company you work for is full of fail)

              1. OP, aka The "Baby Mama"*

                The other 3 women are all buddies of my boss and his wife, and therefore on the “good list” with Fergus.

                1. Cari*

                  Ohh :( gosh Fergus really is sounding like a proper Mean Girl. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this, fingers are crossed for you and your husband finding something way better!

        4. Amber Rose*

          Last option: burn it all down.

          I’m so sorry this is happening and I’m SO angry on your behalf.

        5. Zahra*

          Wow, I’d start talking with EEOC (or an employment lawyer) to see what could be done and what the impact would be for my livelihood. Check if there’s a prescription period too. You may be able to document the issues and pursue the matter legally/through EEOC once you leave the workplace.

        6. SnowWhite*

          That is absolutely disgraceful and I am astonished at how much the HR department have failed at the human part of Human Resources.

          I’m not sure about be US – is there an arbitration service you can contact for free employment law advice? In the UK we have ACAS, and they not only give you legal advice they act as mediation before taking the company to court.

        7. Nashira*

          Oh. Holy retaliation, Batman. I’m so sorry, and I hope circumstances improve soon so that you can escape to someplace that isn’t filled with horrible awful people.

          No one deserves to be treated the way you are being treated, OP.

        8. Kristine*

          I would definitely go the EEOC route. Document, document, document everything that happens.

          Word of warning: Fergus could be treating you this way because he is sexually attracted to you and knows that your answer will be “no.” I’ve seen a lot of workplace dynamics and I’d stake my life on it. However he talks to you now, never be alone with him, and make sure that he does not approach you outside of work. I don’t mean to scare you but be very careful.

        9. Book Person*

          Holy shit.

          Holy. Shit.

          I wish I had something more constructive to say, but…. holy shit. Calling you a c*nt and YOU’RE the one who gets in trouble?

          1. Student*

            Yeah, this is actually not uncommon in heavily male-dominated industries. I had a guy grab at my crotch once, and I’m the one who got in trouble over it.

            They consider it easier to get rid of the complaining woman than to rectify the entire workplace culture. In fact, that’s pretty much the entire public justification for keeping women’s role in the US military limited, for example, and we the voters have tolerated that for ages.

          2. the_scientist*

            My jaw quite seriously dropped open when I read that. OP, I am so, so sorry you have to deal with this and I hope things start looking up for you soon.

            In the meantime, could some aerospace folks on here explore some ways to strap this entire office to a giant rocket and fire it into the sun?

        10. Student*

          Have you considered contacting the local branch of the ACLU? They may be able to offer you legal aide or direct you to lawyers who might take the case for cheap or pro-bono.

          1. fposte*

            It has to go through the EEOC as long as it’s a discrimination case. And there’s unfortunately not much of a window for that–it’s 180 days or 300 days if you’re in a state/municipality with its own EEOC.

            1. Coach Devie*

              when does that time begin? from the first incident or from when she first complained or from when she leaves the job?

              1. fposte*

                It’s from the incidence of discrimination/retaliation itself (so the meeting with the writeup, for instance), and if there are multiple incidences, the clock runs individually for each. What constitutes an incidence of discrimination vs. a consequence of it gets into a greyer area than I’m equipped to parse.

        11. BethRA*

          A) damn, I’m so sorry you have to deal with this!
          B) I hope Fergus, your boss, and your HR department spontaneously combust
          C) If you can’t leave now, document, document, document and cover your backside.

        12. RVA Cat*

          “they just assign me job tasks that I’m guaranteed to fail at (I’m an admin, and they have me doing environmental and maintenance tasks in a natural gas plant…).”

          Call OSHA and whoever regulates your plant. This has gone way beyond retaliation to the point they are endangering your health and safety — and possibly their other employees and the public.

          I am sorry you are going through this and supporting your family on your own, but when it comes right down to it, you can get another job. You can’t get another body or life.

          1. The Strand*

            This. This absolutely. Call OSHA as well as EEOC. Lawyer up.

            I think RVA Cat’s last sentence bears repeating. This too (I wrote “tool” originally which also works, if the “tool” is Fergus) will pass. But… You can’t get another body or life.

            Do what you need to do to protect your safety. Food stamps, WiC, food banks, talking to your local churches and nonprofits … there are a patchwork of safety net options out there that can help you with the burden if you have to quit or get fired.

          2. I'm a Little Teapot*

            Great suggestion – I didn’t even think of that.

            This whole situation is one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read on AAM. The entire management, executive, and HR structure of this company needs to be fired and never hired for any position with any authority ever again.

            1. RVA Cat*

              Exactly. Plus this workplace is so toxic I wouldn’t put it past them to be *literally* toxic — if they’re going to give these tasks to an admin who isn’t trained for them I am sure they are cutting all kinds of corners all over the place. Somebody needs to know about this before the whole place goes KABOOM.

        13. cat food lion paw*

          It is very rare that I would seriously suggest going the legal route, but based on what you have written, I think you should try to find a lawyer – one who works on a contingency basis – and file suit against the company. This sounds like an egregiously hostile workplace. You might even be able to file a slander suit directly against Fergus – slander and libel law has changed in the past couple of decades, but in some states merely the public insinuation that Dale is your child’s father was good for statutory damages. I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know. But what both shocks me and makes me think that a lawsuit might be appropriate here is what sounds like an excessively large number of witnesses, at many different levels of the corporate hierarchy.

          I wish you the best on this, however you choose to deal with it.

          1. Cari*

            Could even get Dale in on that slander suit, since such a false insinuation could be damaging to both OP and Dale…

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            And all that BS they talked to you about will be so obvious to any judge since it just magically became an issue after you filed the complaint

          3. fposte*

            I think you’re right on the hostile workplace thing, but that has to go through the EEOC first. She can absolutely talk to a lawyer, but don’t do it instead of going to the EEOC, because the window of opportunity is so tight. (And slander suits are really expensive.)

        14. Rebecca*

          Ugh, I’m so sorry! I hope you (or your husband) can find something better very soon. That sounds like a nightmare. Can you file an EEOC complaint?

        15. UKJo*

          I don’t think I’ve ever felt so angry on an OP’s behalf. I’m relatively recently returned to work from mat leave myself and this sounds devastating while you are also adjusting to life with a new bub. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this scumbag and a company of collaborating scumsupporters.

        16. AGirlCalledFriday*


          So, I’m going to tell a story. I was a teacher at a male-dominated school in a sexist society. The founders promoted me to Vice Principal because I was so damn good at what I was doing, and because I was doing way more than just teaching at that point (developing procedures and plans for the school, running meetings, mentoring other teachers). The principal was a man who didn’t have the experience and education that I did, but who had been there from the beginning.

          The principal hired his brother. I was asked to assist as I had been assisting the other teachers. I gave a few suggestions, the guy was an awful teacher, and I didn’t say anything about it because the principal was in his brother’s room the whole time and knew what was up. HOWEVER, the brother had the idea that anytime I said anything negative about anything, I was secretly talking about him. Then the brother would stew over it (because saying that all the students should learn to walk in a line for an event outdoors was CLEARLY all about him) and talk to the principal about it, and stew even more. Then the principal began reading into everything I said as well. Some of the stuff would be like – “you said something in the meeting and then looked at *brother*”, “*brother* is having trouble with this thing you mentioned and you knew that”. No, no I didn’t, because I’m busy with my own students and responsibilities. Also, I look at EVERYONE in meetings.

          One day, the brother cornered me after a meeting and started shouting and swearing at me. I don’t even know what about. I’m 5’1” and have an abusive past – this guy was over 6 feet and shouting IN MY FACE. I brought it up to the main female founder and she made the principal ‘talk’ to his brother, but of course I was the one who got the worst of it and then he made me apologize…even though I had done nothing. And yeah, the brother took the time to yell at me more during that apology. This brother would go out drinking with everyone after hours and make sexual comments/grope the female coworkers, who felt like they couldn’t say anything. Then the brother did it to me. When I asked him to stop, he got so mad at me that he had to be physically dragged from the bar, fighting my coworkers and screaming obscenities at me. He was fired soon after because he proved a problem to other coworkers and the founders realized it and bypassed the principal. The principal STILL invited his brother out with us, and I asked the principal not to, specifically because of the sexual comments/groping. And the principal flipped his lid. He complained to the founders, he told his brother who came after me at a function after work, the brother threatened to sue the school, and it was this horrible mess. Of course the founders knew what was up, but the principal spent every moment trying to ruin my career there. When I was on vacation, he reassigned the Vice Principal position to his buddy – who had no education and little experience – and constantly micromanaged and yelled at me. I was lucky enough that the founders offered me the principalship of the secondary school, but I turned it down and eventually went back to America.

          So that was a long story, but my point is this:

          1. No one here is going to fight for you.
          2. The jerk is not going to be disciplined/fired.
          3. There is no way you can get anyone else involved without getting retaliated against.
          4. This job is going to kill your spirit, and
          5. There is no way out of it except to move on and get another job, no matter what.

          I told my story because I wanted to show clearly that when people have it in for you/don’t trust you, there’s nothing you can do. It’s not about YOU, it’s about them. Why Fergus hates you is not relevant. He could hate women, he could hate the way you dress, he could think you smell, he could hate that you whistle Sesame Street on Tuesdays and it wouldn’t matter at all, it’s not your problem. I had the founders of the school on my side, but even so the entire workplace was becoming toxic – the founders didn’t want to fire either me or the principal, all of our coworkers were uncomfortable. There was a lot of tension. When I turned down the secondary principal job, they hired someone great – and the principal and some of his coworker buddies IMMEDIATELY tried to turn him against me. The new secondary principal realized what had been going on and we had a great working relationship, but I was lucky enough to have people rooting for me, which you do not have.

          You need to do whatever it takes to leave this job, before it gets so bad that your reputation and career are sabotaged completely.

          1. AGirlCalledFriday*

            Oh, now I remember what he was shouting about. He said I was a know-it-all too. Haha, OP, I think some of this is just a pathetic person feeling very, very threatened by you and getting resentful about it.

          2. AlyInSebby*

            This! A thousand times this.

            I have been through similar situations including the military, and while I was never physically touched or accosted, I have PTSD from the insanity, ridiculouslness and realization that 9 times out of 10 all the laws, personnel rules and codes etc. help a person like you or me, zero.

            Alison I would be very interested to see more info. about this aspect, that SO often laws rules and codes protect no one.

            AGalCalledFriday, I especially appreciate your list that includes self care and walking away.

            I was so idealistic, when people told me there were laws and codes to protect me I thought all I had to do was engage the proper process when things got crazy.

            It is literally crazyCRAZY making often, to fight because all of a sudden everything you believe (and that their personnel training taught you) is thrown out the window and you are vulnerable when you should have safety.

            I sincerely believe if I have to go to a manager or HR that an invisble sign saying “Abandon hope ye who enter here.” is above the door as I enter.

            If I had known how unlikely help was I could have let go sooner and not had to deal with significant long term emotional trauma.

            OP find anyway you can to to let go of the rope.

            I understand you can’t quit and you have to try to ride it out as long as possible. But find a way to not give any emotion or thought to the crap they are chucking.

            In my last situation what helped was secretly saying horrible things to them in my head while they were talking – “Yeah your wife is prolly as disappointed in your manhood as I am…” I know it’s silly and petty and can feel like stooping to their level but, take the venom out of the the stings and barbs any way you can.

            You can’t fix this, they are morally corrupt, but you can save you.

            Best wishes, we’re all rooting for you!

            (Btw-in my business I am Gal Friday :)

            1. Ruffingit*

              In my last situation what helped was secretly saying horrible things to them in my head while they were talking – “Yeah your wife is prolly as disappointed in your manhood as I am…” I know it’s silly and petty and can feel like stooping to their level but, take the venom out of the the stings and barbs any way you can.

              I do this. All the time. It’s a sanity saver.

        17. Ad Astra*

          I doubt a lawsuit would be an easy situation for you with everything on your plate right now, but I hope you find a way to sue this company out of existence. And I hope I read about it in the news.

        18. AnonyMiss*

          Hey OP… while I know that EEOC may be more than what you can handle, it may be a good option on your way out, once you are ready to leave. It’s not like you’re burning any bridges they didn’t burn first…

          Also, depending on your state, you may have similar state agencies, and potentially even stronger rules on conduct. I can only speak for California, but we have the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), and under a recent amendment to labor laws, any sort of bullying/harassing conduct is illegal.

          Also, if you ever want to sue the pants off of these people (as they would deserve), you would normally be required to go through the appropriate administrative agency first (EEOC or your state’s DFEH-type agency) – courts may reject your case if you have not yet exhausted all administrative remedies.

  8. alter_ego*

    God, and I though it was bad when one of my co-workers congratulated another coworker’s newly stay-at-home-mother wife on becoming a member of the bonbon club at our company Christmas party. Into a mic. In front of everyone.

      1. Jake*

        A club of people (stereotypically women) who sit at home eating bonbons all day.

        It is not a positive term.

        1. Snork Maiden*

          Oh dear. I didn’t know what it was either. Initially I thought it was something similar to Duck Club. Snack! Snack!

          1. alter_ego*

            ugh, not the duck club, but during the same event, while in control of the mic, he did ask his wife if they’d be having sex later.

          2. Anonsie*

            Haaahahahah oh my god

            Yeah this is a running dig at stay at home parents/homemakers (though almost always women, stay at home men tend to get different types of insults) implying that they’re lazy and do nothing but sit around luxuriously pampering themselves while their spouse works hard.

        2. fluffy*

          It’s also the name of a well-known club for swingers. So Duck Club may not be entirely inappropriate

      2. alter_ego*

        The implication is that once someone becomes a stay-at-home mother, all they do is sit around the house, eating bon bons.

      3. Melissa*

        I think it refers to the stereotype/”joke” that stay-at-home mothers stay at home, lounge on chaises and eat bonbons.

      4. Mpls*

        The club mothers join when they have children. The one where childcare is super easy and you just lounge around the house eating bonbons and relaxing, instead of working.

      5. Musician - Not a Dancer*

        I not only sat at home eating bonbons, but also watched soaps and read War and Peace – in the original Russian of course. (NOT)

    1. fposte*

      What amuses me is that nobody these days has even seen a bonbon or mentions them in any other context. They’re like cooties–an imaginary thing that’s become completely divorced from their factual origin.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        I just think about the bonbon wrapping assembly line on that old I Love Lucy episode.

      2. alter_ego*

        I was thinking that as I was writing it. Like, I totally got what he meant (and was pissed, even if everyone else was laughing), but why did I know what he meant? Who even eats bon bons any more?

        1. fposte*

          They’re lice. So the cootie shots I received on the playground as a child were totally ineffectual.

      3. Natalie*

        I always pictured truffles, but according to the interwebs that was wrong. And it’s also the word for “candy” in French, so it could mean all kinds of things there.

          1. Koko*

            I always think of Peggy on Married with Children! Those were little bite-sized chocolate covered ice creams.

        1. Cari*

          Bonbons are a chewy candy ball with a thin crisp sugar shell covered in a dusting of fine powdered sugar here in the UK. Usually sold in Strawberry or lemon flavour. They are so yummy!

        2. Anonsie*

          I’m pretty sure it’s a bit of a generic term that just means some type of bite-sized coated candies of some kind, and in different places it has different implications as to what candy that would be.

      4. KJR*

        Unless by “bon bons” they mean hastily eaten leftover chicken nuggets off your two year old’s plate standing over the sink praying that they’ll sleep for five more minutes!!!

      5. zora*

        i had a hilarious female manager who used to reference bonbons all the time and it cracked me up. Every time anyone wasn’t at work, including herself, she’d say sarcastic things like “well clearly you spent all day reading magazines and eating bonbons, so why didn’t you get the laundry done, too?” I loved picturing her in a fancy Paris apartment lying on a chaise lounge eating bonbons.

        In other news: Trader Joe’s DOES have bonbons!!! They are frozen treats, balls of ice cream covered in chocolate in the frozen section. The chocolate ice-cream ones were amazing and I ate them all the time, but they discontinued them and only have vanilla ice-cream now which I just can’t get behind. Plus, eating them reminds me of my awesome manager.

      6. Elsajeni*

        I’ve eaten a bonbon! Well, I’ve eaten something that my family calls a bonbon, anyway — a type of cookie that my grandmother makes. They’ve got cherries in the middle and as a child I thought they were extremely fancy and sophisticated.

      7. The IT Manager*

        I was about to comment: “what the heck is a bon bon?” Apparently something housewives sit around eating all day. It’s a very old idiom that’s also an insult.

  9. TheExchequer*

    I think the only acceptable response is that all time etiquette favorite: Wow.

    This guy would make a great candidate for Skull Island, an evil lair where bad management comes to thrive!

    1. Bekx*

      I’m so glad that I learned about “Wow.” from here. I’ve used it so many times in the past year, and every time it’s been effective within seconds.

  10. YandO*

    “I returned from maternity leave about two months ago. Since I left on leave, I have heard from several shared employees that this manager has begun referring to me as “baby mama.” He asks my coworkers how “the baby mama” or “Dale’s baby mama” is doing. (Dale is a coworker this manager also dislikes, and Dale is not my child’s father or my husband.)”

    What the %^$^&&%$#& %^$% $%^&?


    1. SnowWhite*

      Seriously, how old is this guy?? And where did this jerk even get the link between the OP and Dale… such a strange, sad, childish bully.

      1. Nichole*

        I’m guessing that OP and Dale are his office “enemies,” therefore they must be in cahoots (and therefore *obviously* sleeping together) in their plot to get him fired/make him look bad/whatever else they’re doing in his mind to justify his ridiculous behavior.

        1. OP, aka The "Baby Mama"*

          Nichole, you hit the nail on the head. Fergus dislikes both us us, and with the “Dale’s baby mama” comment he can hit 2 people with one swing.

          1. SnowWhite*

            Urghh did he study Regina George in Mean Girls or something?

            You shouldn’t be treated this way and your company sucks for allowing this to happen, and actively covering for this guy.

          2. the floor in the red ochre corridor*

            For some reason I’m having trouble Replying to AAM today; I don’t know if this will make it, but – wow, “Dale’s baby mama” – he said that in public? More than once? And you’re married to the child’s father, who is not Dale?

            I’m not a lawyer, but in some states that would be considered defamation per se.

        2. Arbynka*

          That made me think of Sheldon and his list of mortal enemies. “You just made it off the list. Do you want back on it ?”

          Anyways, I hope things works out for OP. This really is WTF.

    1. nona*


      He asks my coworkers how “the baby mama” or “Dale’s baby mama” is doing. (Dale is a coworker this manager also dislikes, and Dale is not my child’s father or my husband.)

    2. Chinook*

      “I feel this is sexual harassment in a way.”

      The only way I could see it as sexual harassment (the only thing missing on his jerk bingo card) is that he was secretly jealous and wanted to the baby daddy.

      1. kt (lowercase)*

        His motivations are not relevant to whether or not this is sexual harassment. (It sure as hell smells like it to me since 1, it’s harassment and 2, it’s sexual, but IANAL. I am, however, pretty confident that his motivations are legally irrelevant.)

  11. AMG*

    OP, we are absolutely going need at least one update on this! Hang on to your hat and don’t back down!sending you prayers and positive vibes!

    1. Malissa*

      I’m hoping the update goes something like this:

      I got with the EEOC, sued the company. I got enough money that I now own most of the company and Fergus is unemployed and so is my former boss.

  12. Jake*

    The baby momma comment on its own without the back story could be explained by a guy trying to joke around without totally understanding the phrases he is using.

    However, in the current I’d say you are way less offended than you’do be justified in being. Way way way less. This has easily crossed a line in an ethical sense, and if you’re the only woman he deals with,a legal sense too.

    I often come to the defense of men acting out of ignorance instead of malice, but this is clearly wrong in a huge way. Like if he worked for me fired with no warning (assuming my investigation backed up the accusations of course) type huge.

    1. Erin*

      Agreed. I almost always give people the benefit of the doubt, and on this blog have defended stupid people making stupid comments (because they’re just that: stupid, not malicious) but this dude has no leg to stand on.

      1. Allison*

        Exactly, I try to believe that most people are good and just make mistakes, because I’m far from perfect myself and I’ve probably hurt and angered people without any bad intentions, but I can’t find a single defense for this guy’s behavior. And I’d be shocked if someone did come here and play devil’s advocate.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Oh, for god’s sake, stop. Stop giving the benefit of the doubt to grown-ass adults behaving badly and then pretending they just didn’t KNOW it was uncool to give one of the few women in their workplace crap in a gendered and sexualized way. “But he didn’t MEEEEEEAAAAN it, why can’t you give him some slack” is a grown-up version of “just ignore the bullies and they’ll leave you alone”, and about as effective.

      Joking around with a co-worker by suggesting her child is the product of a workplace affair? Who even cares if it’s ignorance or malice?

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        “However, in the current I’d say you are way less offended than you’do be justified in being.”

        Jake is saying he often does the bad-behavior didn’t-understand-it explaining thing, but even he wouldn’t do so in this case. In other words, even benefit-of-doubt givers agree that this kind of joking is totally unacceptable.

        1. neverjaunty*

          I got that. I’m just keyboard-to-foreheading about the massive benefit-of-the-doubt-giving in general.

      2. Clouds in my coffee*

        Seriously. This is some “boys will be boys!” bull. Just because someone does something out of ignorance rather than malice doesn’t mean that their words/actions/whatever don’t cause harm.

        1. Jake*

          So I should be vilified for saying that people need to be told what they are doing is stupid and giving them a chance to change instead of just jumping to the conclusion that they are intentionally being hurtful.

          Duly noted.

          1. Amanda*

            No one is saying that and PLEASE, with the “vilifying” nonsense.

            But when you are regularly the voice chiming in with the “BUT HE DIDN’T MEEEEEAN IT”, it’s tiresome. You regularly explain away crappy things that often men say in the workplace and it’s dismissive and is also derailing.

            When someone is asking for advice on a course of action, you assuming that the person DIDN’T MEEEEAN IT is 1) totally unhelpful and 2) totally irrelevant.

            You also seem, from comments I have seen on a number of posts, to do this regularly. You get called out on it regularly and do not change anything about how you are approaching these situations.

              1. Amanda*

                You’re right! I’m sorry Jake. I looked back through the thread and honestly confused male first names and thought you were a different commenter. My apologies.

                Long story short, I agree with neverjaunty above.

                1. Jake*

                  I appreciate the apology, but I’m disengaging from this thread, as it is clear that I am inadequately explaining my point, and even if I were to adequately explain, I think several people already have made up their mind about this particular discussion.

        2. Chinook*

          “This is some “boys will be boys!” bull.”

          I hate the “boys will be boys” bull too but I sort of see how it sometimes happens. Calling someone a “baby momma” and insinuating she is cheating on her husband with a coworker is not “boys will be boys.” It is pure “mean girl.”

      3. LBK*

        I think in this specific instance, those should be obviously inappropriate comments, but I think a lot of people are genuinely unaware of some concepts like gendered/racialized language, microaggressions, etc. I’m always hesitant to say that ignorance isn’t an excuse; I’ve been educated right on this blog about things I truly hadn’t even thought about or understood before, for instance the racialized use of the term “thug”.

        That’s not to say that you ever owe someone the benefit of the doubt, and if they don’t seem to be genuinely interested in understanding why what they’re doing is problematic then eff ’em, for sure. It’s also by no means anyone’s obligation to educate others, but I don’t know that never giving people the benefit of the doubt is a good way to make progress.

        1. Bekx*

          I agree. I know I’ve said some stupid things in the past that were really just me being ignorant, young, or immature. And I’ve been thankful (and mortified) when someone has kindly corrected me that what I said may be offensive to someone.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        I think in some cases, when someone is just being ignorant, you can say, “Hey, Cow-irker, I’m sure you didn’t mean to be offensive, but you should know that [insert crap phrase here] is actually offensive because [reasons]. You might not want to say it anymore because [HR/boss/legal].” You’re giving the benefit of the doubt while educating them at the same time. I know for a fact there are people here who have no idea what they’re saying. I actually called someone on saying “gypped” once and they were clueless.

        On the other hand, Fergus and his ilk know they are being asses and they don’t care. So no slack.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Yes. I’ve never called someone a baby mama, but I also didn’t know it was a racist term. We’re not born knowing which words and phrases are problematic, and as long as we’re willing to listen and learn, it’s good that there are people out there willing to speak up and teach.

          (And this comment has nothing to do with Fergus, because he’s not in the ‘willing to listen and learn’ camp.)

    3. SnowWhite*

      There has just been a tribunal case ruling in the UK, similar to this (not as awful, where it has made clear – it doesn’t matter if he is joking it was still said, is offensive and discriminatory and is not acceptable.

  13. Dana*

    The lack of professionalism and decency from this guy is appalling. I’m so sorry, OP. What happened to “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”? He’s entitled to not like whoever he wants, but this behavior is disgusting.

  14. KT*

    I have nothing to add (except I also am saddened there isn’t a “set on fire” option), just OP, I am so so sorry you have to deal with this.

  15. Allison*

    This is a big, steaming bucket of NOPE!

    This guy probably thinks he’s sooooo funny, but y’all need to get HR involved because this needs to be shut down yesterday.

    This isn’t a grey area situation, there’s no miscommunication, there’s no way he means well, and this certainly isn’t a matter of the “PC police” shutting down a relatively harmless joke. This is definitely not a thing you do at work ever.

  16. TotesMaGoats*

    I’m wondering if the reason that OP hasn’t pursued option #3 is that it might be at least partially outing the people telling her these things. If this guy treats OP this way then I imagine he’s would be pretty nasty to the people he would guess had gotten him in trouble.

    1. Sarah Nicole*

      I agree. I would be worried that if I said something, he would figure out who told me and make their lives suck. I feel like I would just go to my manager or HR (or both, whatever makes sense), and let them know that I found out through friends that i didn’t want to see retaliated against.

      Also, I know the real butthead is the guy making the comments, but her “friends” in the office that are rude to her when he’s around….what’s up with that? I’d be hurt and sort of pissed off at them. I know they’re doing it to stay on that guy’s good side, but it must make OP’s work life a total drag any time this other manager comes around. I don’t really know what the right answer is, but I suspect it starts with SOMEONE getting this guy in line somehow.

        1. Sarah Nicole*

          Yeah, I totally understand it, and I know they must be in a tough place. But I just feel so bad for OP because any time this manager comes in, several people are against her, even if some of them are just pretending. I think that would drive me nuts and really hurt, even if I knew they weren’t really feeling that way toward me.

    2. fposte*

      And in fact without them it’s easy for him to deny it, since he’s never said it to the OP herself. To be honest, if I were TPTB I wouldn’t fire a guy just on the basis of “I’ve heard that he’s saying [thing].”

  17. Musician - Not a Dancer*

    Would have been nice if one of her co-workers could have stood up to him though I understand that it’s not always possible. “Who are you talking about? Baby mama? You DO know how offensive that is, right? You are aware that it could be considered harassment?”

  18. GOG11*

    This guy is nuts.

    On a bit of a selfish note, I felt a bit sad at use of the name “Fergus.” I bought a sloth plush toy from the zoo for my Birthday this past year and named him Fergus, after seeing the name used on AAM.

    I have to put Fergus out of reach of my cat (not an easy thing to do) because whenever he gets hold of it, he violently drags it around the house. Now I know why!

    1. Poohbear McGriddles*

      I rarely disagree with AAM, but the honor of having the pseudonym Fergus should be reserved for more noble players. It’s pretty much second only to Wakeen.
      This guy sounds more like a Horace. Or Dick.

      1. Liane*

        After reading about a recent Game of Thrones episode, I nominate Stannis as our new nom de jerk.

        (For the record – I have long had some doubts as to whether using the term D-bag, & variants thereof, is okay or polite. This post has officially convinced me that it is.)

    2. kt (lowercase)*

      Do the pseudonyms have origin stories? I am curious!

      Also I think we need more female ones. Too many Janes (with the occasional Lucinda)

        1. Corby*

          Imogen and Fergus made me think it was a reference to the gooseberry and cinnamon yogurt posh mom sketch from The Catherine Tate Show.

  19. Colorado*

    I would confront this guy and tell him what an asshat he is, in a public forum nonetheless, but I can be a feisty b*tch when the situation requires it. I also work in a male dominated industry and that has made my tolerance level pretty high but this would be too much for me.
    Go to HR, go now.

  20. Rebecca*

    Wow, slander comes to mind, especially when you are calling a married woman “baby mama” and implying she had a child with a coworker, not her husband. If HR or the manager won’t do anything to stop this, I think civil action would be called for.

    1. fposte*

      It sounds satisfying in the abstract, but 1) there would have to be damages, and they would need to be economically measurable and 2) slander cases cost tens of thousands of dollars to litigate. I don’t think this is an occasion where that’ll get her anywhere.

  21. A Jane*

    “He is always excessively polite to my face…” Gah! It really irks me when individuals are two-faced in these situations. If you’re going to be rude, at least be consistently rude. * end rant *

  22. tiana*

    This guy has a feeling for OP. why otherwise would he attack her gender or having remarks about her being somebody else’s woman. Why does he keep asking about her, yes in a derogative manner but I think it is to simply cover his interest in her, so that no one is suspicious. And her being married, he still tries to link her to another man who is not her husband, hmmm, I think it is those types of jerks that want something but because they can’t get it, they try to humiliate another person.

  23. Van Wilder*

    4. Find a lawyer for when HR does nothing and this guy gets even more hostile once he finds out you went to HR. #cynic

    1. AMG*

      And then HR freaks out because things have gotten legal and retaliates against OP. #beenthere

  24. asteramella*

    I only skimmed the comments but wanted to point out that pregnancy discrimination is a hot legal issue in the U.S. right now. This dingus is potentially exposing the employer to a lot of risk with the EEOC.

  25. OP, aka The "Baby Mama"*

    UPDATE: In answer to many of the questions in the comments, I’m Caucasian. Several of my coworkers tried to stand up to Fergus, and paid for it. 2 of them were fired.

    So, I went to HR about this once Fergus REALLY crossed the line (he called me a “know-it-all c*nt” at a work function). My manager and this jerk are friends, so going to my boss isn’t going to help.

    I was called in to a 1.5 hour meeting with local HR rep and the area manager after my complaint. They spent the first 5 minutes telling me that this “has been addressed” and will not happen again. The remaining hour and 20 minutes was spent reprimanding me for things I’ve been doing for the whole 3 years I’ve worked here that were never a problem, and have never been raised as an issue until now. It was all small things, and 99% of these things were done at my bosses’ request or with his written permission. (Example: Coming in to work early M-Th to make up for having to come in late Friday because of a prenatal appointment.) I protested when they gave me a formal write up, and asked to see any documentation that I was ever told any of these things were a problem. (Company policy requires a verbal reprimand before a written reprimand.) They were unable to present anything. Not only was I written up, but my job duties were so significantly decreased that I went from being an office manager to a receptionist.

    I took my case the the corporate VP of HR, claiming hostile work enviro., retaliation for filing HR complaint, sexual harassment, etc. She ignored me and my emails for 3 months and only responded when I threatened to get a lawyer involved. I was offered a job in a different state (I was looking to relocate anyway, but the offered job was not anywhere near where I was trying to move to), and pretty much told that I could either take the job, take 2 weeks severance, or quit my whining.

    Unfortunately, I now have a child and my husband recently lost his job, so I’m stuck in this nightmare workplace. Fergus no longer bothers me directly. He has my manager to that for him. But at least they are being smarter. Instead of direct harassment, they just assign me job tasks that I’m guaranteed to fail at (I’m an admin, and they have me doing environmental and maintenance tasks in a natural gas plant…). Fergus is still employed, and was never reprimanded.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I hope you are still looking. You need to get the living hell out of there. I’m really really angry at this company on your behalf. And I hope your husband finds a great job like, immediately. *crosses fingers and toes and sends good vibes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

    2. TheLazyB*

      There are no words for how horrified I am.

      So, so sorry you are having to deal with this.

    3. Amber Rose*

      As soon as your situation becomes stable, ie your husband finds work, consider a lawyer. And/or a media contact. This is so bad I feel like it’s got to be a human rights violation, and they dearly deserve to pay for it. :|

      1. Dasha*

        Yes, please get a lawyer. :-/ wishing you all the best OP you’ve made it this far so I know you can make it a little longer.

    4. Observer*

      Please go to the eeoc. If you have documentation of this, you have a pretty good case here.

    5. AMG*

      Time to go. On your way out, file a complaint with the EEOC and get that lawyer. But focus on leaving. I have been there/done that and you are not going to win this.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I’d like to interject a little hope here. My spouse had a work issue, not at all like this, where after being talked out of quitting, he went to HR, bosses above his boss, the company lawyers, and pretty much got the same ‘not a problem’ response. He kept doing a good job, reacting professionally, and trying to get someone to care. It seemed like no-one did. Nonetheless, in the last 5 years, everyone in the management chain above him, EVERYONE, has been moved or left or replaced. It took time and people who shouldn’t have a job do still have a job, but he no longer has to deal with them. So even in hopeless situations, like the OP’s, there might be hope. I hope so! :)

        1. Coach Devie*

          5 years…. I can’t imagine her having to stay in an environment like that for 5 years, or anyone!

    6. Dang*

      Oh. My. God.

      How are so many people implicit in this nightmare???

      I’m so sorry, OP. I hope you find something better really soon.

    7. tiana*

      whatttt? again what??? is this company in the United great states of America? How this can be even happening that VP of HR screw up so badly? no, I mean sorry but get the lawyer. You know what one of the lawyers told us at the training, that she can fight any case but not Retaliation case, because that one is the most complicated one. And these people are obviously retaliating

    8. neverjaunty*

      OP, it’s time for you to make good on that threat to get a lawyer.

      In the US, employment attorneys usually work on contingency, meaning they take their fees out of any recovery you get – you don’t have to pay them up front or pay by the hour. Also, they generally will meet with you for free or for a very small amount.

      YOU SHOULD TALK TO A LAWYER ASAP, because statutes of limitations can mean that if you wait too long to file a lawsuit, you lose the right to sue.

      Also, of course, make copies of everything relevant and keep them at home.

      1. fposte*

        And the SOL for discrimination cases is ridiculously tight, so seriously consider at least reaching out, especially if you have a state EEOC.

      2. Nerdling*

        Sadly, yes, on the statute of limitations. So if you do feel like you will want to pursue it, you have to get the ball rolling now. Get your resume out there, talk to a lawyer/EEOC, and restrain that urge to set fire to your office. I’m so sorry!

    9. TheExchequer*

      Oh, this is just all kinds of wrong. I am really really sorry you are in this situation and I empathize.

      Please let us know if there’s anything we can do.

    10. brighidg*

      Lawyer up. Even if you don’t plan on doing anything about it now, lawyer up because this douchebag is going to keep pushing and there will be other incidents. Start a paper trail now.

    11. Dulcinea*

      As a lawyer, I suggest you go see one to discuss this. Many offer a free constaton to assess whether you have a case. I if they take your case they can often collect their fee from the other side so you don’t have to pay. Even if you don’t want to rock the boat right now while your husband is out of work the lawyer can give you info about relevant deadlines/statutes of limitations as well as what specific records you should be keeping.

    12. E*

      Consult a lawyer or two if the first isn’t helpful. They should be able to advise you on your options, and most good ones will be able to take their fees out of your settlement. This is clear harassment.

  26. IvyGirl*

    Lawyer up. EEOC claims can vary by location, but in my state you have 180 days from the date of the last incident to report.

    Have all of your documentation ready. Sue their PANTS OFF.

  27. Ashcat*

    OP this is awful. And for what it’s worth it doesn’t matter if you’re married or not- he should refer to you and everyone else by their name ONLY. It kills me that people can be so blatantly shortsighted and then to make matters worse they go ahead and shine a light on their ignorance. This has far more to do with him than with you, but for whatever reason he’s focused on you. He doesn’t have to like you and you for da*n sure don’t have to like him. Nobody likes everybody they work with, that’s life. But he owes you respect and you or someone else should call him out on that ASAP and remind him that at work he needs to kick it kindergarten style- that if he doesn’t have anything nice to say, to not say anything at all.

  28. looking forward*

    Absolutely get a lawyer and involve the eeoc. You likely will get a settlement that you can use towards moving. Most companies will not want to take this on front of a jury. Good luck. This is as bad as it sounds…don’t continue to suffer.

  29. The Bimmer Guy*

    Wooooowwwwww. That is so far over the line, I don’t even know what to say. I’d have to stick up for my coworker in the moment if I heard someone calling her “baby mama”…

  30. Brian*

    The jerk in question is creating a hostile work environment and his behavior is unprofessional and unacceptable. Hopefully HR has a senior person in charge who is aware of the liability he represents.

Comments are closed.