“The Breast Massage Will Happen”: Inside the Culture of Sexual Harassment at the Marijuana Policy Project
In an office that abided sexual harassment, informal remedies developed. Pearce says that Green and Kampia’s rejections of her concerns forced her to insulate her employees against Kampia’s advances. “I began to tell women that I hired, ‘Rob is probably going to hit on you. You do not have to do what he says,’” says Pearce.
Green was also tasked with prepping new employees for the organization’s work environment. Last May, a new female staffer joined MPP. “By the first or second day, it was clear that something wasn’t quite right there,” the new hire says. That’s when Green sat her down for a session of so-called “Rob Training.” Green delivered a lecture apprising the new employee of Kampia’s professional quirks. “Part of the ‘Rob Training’ was to inform me that Rob tells inappropriate jokes, and that he likes to get drunk with staff members and say offensive things,” says the staffer. “The message was that this was normal there, and I should just accept it.” Green denies that her introductory spiel was “in any way specific to issues of sex or harassment.” And Kampia, for his part, denies that his “hypersexual” office culture was in any way compulsory. “There were people who chose not to [make sexual comments]. It wasn’t something that people had to do,” says Kampia. Everyone, however, was forced to listen to inappropriate sexual comments from Kampia: “I used inappropriate language to nearly everyone on staff,” he says.
MPP does have a record of taking action against the sexual harassment of at least one employee: Rob Kampia. At one office happy hour, a new employee asked Kampia if he had been raped during the three months he served in prison for, according to the MPP Web site, “growing his own marijuana for personal use.” Kampia, who says he was not raped in prison, “grimaced” at the remark. He later informed the employee’s supervisor of the inappropriate question. “I told him that he needs to tone it down a bit,” Kampia says. “I don’t think he ever brought up me being raped in prison again.”
Last summer, Green was forced to step up her time-tested technique for handling complaints against Kampia. At an Aug. 6 MPP happy hour at Union Pub on Capitol Hill, Kampia focused his attentions on one female staffer who’d just split with her boyfriend, an MPP co-worker. “There was no secret that Rob was interested in her sexually the entire time she was [working at MPP], even though she was dating an employee,” says former MMPer Dan Bernath. “Rob’s behavior—and the single-minded way in which he approached that situation—was predatory in every sense of the word. She was days out of a serious long-term relationship. She was vulnerable. Everyone was drinking,” he says.
Kampia denies that he had been waiting for the right moment to pounce on the employee. “I was interested in her for that night,” Kampia says. And at the end of that night, the employee drove away from the bar with Kampia in the passenger’s seat. In the middle of the ride, Kampia asked to take the wheel, worried that his employee was too drunk to drive. Then, he steered her back to his purple Columbia Heights mansion with a rooftop hot tub.
What happened at Kampia’s home is a matter of competing accounts. But according to Kampia’s version of events—the only one that has been related publicly—the evening concluded with “consensual sex” between himself and the female subordinate.
This episode sent shockwaves through the organization. Within days, the incident had inspired the resignation of four staffers, including Bernath, the female subordinate, and her ex-boyfriend.
The following week, Kampia sent a memo to staff attempting to prevent any more institutional bleeding. “I’m very sad to let everyone know that we’ll be losing four great people over the next couple of weeks,” he wrote. “Their decisions are due to something that happened outside the office a few days ago involving me.…I take this situation very seriously. This is not something that will happen again.” He continued: “we should move forward as best we can so that the important work we’re all doing is negatively impacted as little as possible.”
Staffers then scrambled to figure out what exactly Kampia was never going to do again. Pearce met with Green to get the run-down on the situation. “Alison told me that what happened on the night of Aug. 6 was an entirely consensual sexual encounter between Rob and a female subordinate,” Pearce says. “I began to have my doubts when Rob himself told me his account of the story,” Pearce continues. “He asked me, ‘Are you aware that I haven’t violated any written policies of MPP?’ Which I thought was a really strange thing to say,” says Pearce. “Yes, you haven’t violated any policies, but you deliberately kept those policies from being in place.” Despite the policy defense, Kampia says he immediately and openly regretted the incident. “If I had a different attitude toward sex—if I had a more healthy attitude toward sex—I would not have hooked up with her that night,” he says.
Over the next few days, Kampia says he met individually with about 20 staffers in order to explain his version of what happened on the night of Aug. 6. Green, too, continued to promote Kampia’s story, even though she later conceded that she was aware of another interpretation of the evening. The alternate account “has all the signs of a false accusation,” Green wrote in a discussion with a former staffer. In the
exchange, Green insisted that the events of Aug. 6 were “not cut-and-dry, and that therefore it’s pretty dangerous to proceed as if it is.” Green’s official HR perspective on the incident? “It was terrible judgment—on behalf of both of them.”
Despite Kampia and Green’s efforts to contain staff outrage, MPP’s department heads formed a coalition to lobby the board for Kampia to step down. True to form, Green took the managers’ recommendation seriously. On Aug. 13, Green sent an e-mail to staff members saying that she would be meeting with Kampia at 4:30 p.m. to “discuss the recommendation of the department heads and me that Rob move out of a position of power in the organization.” Privately, Green admitted that she had tired of acting as Kampia’s janitor. “I said that I was no longer interested in cleaning up Rob’s mess,” she says.
At 4:49 p.m., Green updated the staff: “As we expected, Rob wasn’t particularly receptive to the idea.” Insurance titan and marijuana advocate Peter Lewis’ contributions to MPP “would leave with him,” she wrote, “which would have a crippling effect of its own (presumably causing layoffs in numbers that would equal or exceed the number of people who would leave if he stays),” she wrote. “I feel obligated to say that having had that discussion, I’m no longer sure where I personally stand on the department heads’ recommendation, but I am certainly committed to passing it along to the board, whether or not it ultimately has my backing.”
Lewis, the chairman of MPP’s board of directors, denies sending down the ultimatum. “The issue of Rob being forced out by his staff never came to my attention,” says Lewis. “I did offer a reaction to the idea of his not being here—I may have said something about how that might drive me out.…But that didn’t end up being the outcome.”
Even without an explicit threat from Lewis, Green cemented her support of Kampia by Aug. 17. “Unlike a couple of days there last week, I no longer believe it’s in the best interest of MPP for Rob to step down,” she wrote to staffers in an e-mail. “I won’t go into my reasoning here to avoid lobbying anyone, although if anyone wants to talk, please tell me.”
Three hours later, Green forwarded a message to the staff from Lewis. Lewis reported that the board had “heard complete reports about the situation from Rob and Alison and believe that Rob understands how important it is to make changes in the behavior and language being used at MPP, and for him personally to lead the change in himself and the rest of the staff.” Lewis added: “We want to know your point of view and experiences.” And another thing: Any staff complaints about “the culture of MPP” would first need to be filtered through Green.