“The Breast Massage Will Happen”: Inside the Culture of Sexual Harassment at the Marijuana Policy Project
For 15 years, Rob Kampia has served as executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a nonprofit group dedicated to the reform of marijuana laws. In that capacity, Kampia, 41, has pursued two goals. One is the steady advancement of the organization, which he founded out of his Adams Morgan home in 1995. And the other is cultivating an office environment suited to his sexual appetite. A brief inventory of Kampia’s knack for mixing business with pleasure:
- In 2008, Kampia dated a 19-year-old MPP intern.
- “How was the NORML Conference?” a staffer asked Kampia one year. Kampia replied, “I got laid.”
- At a staff happy hour, Kampia guessed a female employee’s breast size and told her that she would be “hotter with a boob job.” (Kampia denies the conversation occurred).
- Kampia made it known that a female employee’s dress had “made an impression on him.” Later, he directed her to leave some room in his schedule for “bone-girl,” a woman he was “trying to bone.” He also repeatedly informed her of his intentions to perform a “breast massage” on another woman.
- At the conclusion of a staff happy hour last August, Kampia escorted a subordinate back to his home. The woman was so upset by what happened next that she refused to return to work at MPP ever again.
As office creeps go, in other words, Kampia can lay claim to being king of the water cooler. Kampia’s office politics hit the headlines this month with the announcement that he’d be stepping down to take at least a 90-day leave of absence in order to undergo therapy. “I just think I’m hypersexualized,” Kampia told the Washington Post. The coverage, accordingly, has focused on Kampia’s hands-on management techniques.
Less has been said about Kampia’s deputy, Alison Green. When Green, a longtime friend of Kampia’s, joined the organization six years ago, she brought along some serious management bona fides. Green, 36, writes a weekly online column about workplace issues at U.S. News & World Report. She started a blog called “Ask a Manager,” where she doles out workplace solutions to HR reps and low-level staffers alike. And she co-authored a book called Managing to Change the World, which MPP department heads were required to read in order to bring the organization in line with her philosophy.
How did a manager like Green deal with Kampia’s office conduct? By cleaning up after him.
Case in point: In fall 2008, MPP’s director of membership, Salem Pearce, was rifling through some back e-mails of a recently fired female employee when she happened upon a past office flirtation: Kampia had sent an e-mail to the employee asking for her private e-mail address. “I discovered they had gone on a date and maybe more than one,” Pearce says. “I had known about how Rob acted toward women for a long time, but this is one instance where I had proof that he did it.” Pearce approached Green about the situation and told her it was a “problem,” and Green agreed to take the issue to Kampia.
Kampia and Pearce met. “You’re abusing your power,” Pearce recalls telling Kampia, adding that the 20-or-so females working at MPP are the only women “in the world that you can’t date.” In Pearce’s recollection, Kampia disagreed with that position. As for Green, Kampia’s input on the matter settled things. “Alison would always go and try to convince Rob,” says Pearce. “She did realize that it could be a problem, but she didn’t have the power to stop Rob’s libido.”
In Green’s view, Pearce’s concerns didn’t rise to the level of a “complaint” against Kampia. “I would not characterize that conversation as a complaint,” Green says. In fact, Green claims that she never received any complaints about Kampia’s sexual comments or behavior. “It was openly acknowledged in the office that many people on staff, including Rob, used crude sexual language in the office,” says Green. In her time at MPP, “I got some eye-rolling about Rob and others, but I never received a formal complaint.” As for Kampia’s pursuit of employees? “I call that terrible judgment,” Green says.
A formal complaint was hardly necessary to bring Kampia’s behavior to Green’s attention. The sexually loaded chatter—from Kampia as well as other MPPers—was hard to miss. “She was aware of it, for sure. Everyone was,” says Kampia. “You’d have to be blind and deaf not to notice it.” Green says that she approached Kampia with concerns about the inappropriate office environment “multiple times every year over six years,” but that Kampia “disagreed that it was something that required changing.” At one point, Kampia and Green even discussed instituting a sexual harassment policy at MPP, but Kampia ruled the possibility out. “I did discuss it with Alison,” says Kampia. “I thought it would be a bad idea at the time, because if we had a policy, two-thirds of the staff would have been in violation of it for their language and dating practices.” As executive director, Kampia was responsible for them all.