“The Breast Massage Will Happen”: Inside the Culture of Sexual Harassment at the Marijuana Policy Project
Lewis’ memo touched off a couple of concerns. How could a workplace womanizer and his No. 2 provide “complete reports” to anyone about an alleged incident of sexual misconduct? And how could staff members honestly air their complaints about Kampia and Green when Green would be relaying them to the board? After all, Green was the very HR head who had failed to curb Kampia’s behavior for so long. “We were informed that all information had to go through her, and that she would summarize it for us,” says Sarah Hench, an MPP employee who resigned following the Aug. 6 incident. “I thought that was completely ridiculous.” Nevertheless, Hench agreed to submit her gripes with Kampia to Green.
Here’s one of them: In a meeting, Kampia told Hench that a potential MPP donor had recently had a breast lift, and that he planned to give her a breast massage the next time he saw her. In an e-mail, Hench informed Kampia that she was uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation. “I indicated to Rob that I did NOT want to see personal e-mails to this person because of previous comments he had made about her,” Hench wrote in her complaint. Kampia then sent Hench another e-mail saying, “The breast massage will happen,” and also attempted to raise the topic again in a phone call. “He responded by deliberately trying to make me uncomfortable,” Hench wrote, “and then three days later sent me an e-mail with completely unnecessary sexual comments in it.” The exchange reveals Kampia’s commitment to keeping office banter sexually charged: Kampia made a sexual comment to Hench; Hench told Kampia she was uncomfortable with the sexual comment; Kampia responded to Hench’s discomfort with more sexual comments. (Kampia claims that he stopped referencing his masseuse duties when he became aware of Hench’s unease).
Green summarized the exchange in preparation for a board meeting: “Rob was communicating with a friend in NYC who said she was recovering from breast lift surgery. Rob told this friend he would give her a ‘breast massage” when they saw each other next, and she agreed. Rob shared this story with Sarah.” Hench says that Green’s retelling downplays Kampia’s persistent harassment. Green disagrees. “I thought that that account was horrifying. And I thought my description of the account was horrifying,” says Green. “I was horrified having to write it. I do not believe that my account of that situation lost anything in the retelling. That account is objectively disturbing.”
Bernath had this to say in his complaint to the board: In his role as executive director of MPP, Kampia had exhibited “sexual harassment, openly predatory behavior, and complete and possibly sociopathic disregard for the harmful effects his actions have had on his employees.”
Lewis says the board received a complete summation of complaints from Green—even though it did not include testimony from all of the staffers who had quit in the wake of the Aug. 6 incident. “I wasn’t concerned about that, because what we already knew [about Kampia’s behavior] was as bad as it could be,” Lewis says. “It couldn’t have been any worse than that.”
In late August, the board issued a resolution concerning Kampia’s misconduct. “We take seriously what we have learned about Rob’s and others’ words and actions, and we’re committed to bringing MPP’s standards and practices in line with those of other modern-day organizations,” the board decided. “Rob clearly understands, acknowledges and apologizes for having exhibited poor judgment and bad behavior, and having been an imperfect example. He has committed to us, and will to you soon, that his behavior is now changed and that he will obtain remedial sensitivity and behavior modification training ASAP.” MPP implemented a new sexual harassment policy and required its staffers to attend sexual harassment training. But their “imperfect example” was to stay on as head of MPP.
Which raises the question: Kampia’s harassment was “as bad as it could be,” in the words of Lewis, so what could Kampia possibly do to actually force his resignation? “I don’t know. Shoot somebody? Bring an unregistered gun into the office?” Lewis says. “Those are criminal behaviors. This was not appropriate behavior, but this was not criminal behavior.”
Five months after the board’s resolution to keep Kampia, the executive director announced his three-month hiatus. Green remains on board, ready to guide the organization through the crisis Kampia caused. “In my mind, she’s just another person who Rob has hurt. I don’t think he cares what happens to her,” says Bernath. “There’s a little bit of irony there to me, because Alison is not very sympathetic to women who put themselves in vulnerable positions. But that’s exactly what’s happened to her.”
Cover illustration by Brooke Hatfield; Kampia photograph by Bob Berg via Getty Images; home photograph by Darrow Montgomery