Lee Eun-eui has won around $34,000 in damages from Samsung in a landmark sexual harassment case for South Korea.
However, the case has not been covered by English-language media. The Grand Narrative, a blog which usually is concerned with analysing gender in Korean advertising, spotted this gap and has translated this interview with Lee Eun-eui to help fill that gap. Talking about the fact she didn’t receive the amount of damages she originally was suing for, she says:
Even if I’d received the full 500 million won, that wouldn’t have been enough to satisfy my anger, but then the amount isn’t the important thing anyway. I thought that the judge was very brave with his final decision, and I wept as it was read out, I was so thankful to him for showing everyone that what I’d said was true. And while to him this was surely just one case out of many, I think it will have a huge effect on women workers. I have received many messages like “Thank you for your victory” and “I applaud you with a warm heart” and so on, and have also been asked for advice from other women experiencing similar problems at their own companies. While their numbers aren’t great, I think that it is very important, and 40 million won can’t compare to that. And if Samsung doesn’t appeal, then I won’t either: I want this judgment to stick.
“Was it really so difficult for them to say sorry”? Lee Eun-eui asked. And she adds that if the offender or the company had simply apologized, then she probably wouldn’t have gone so far as to file a lawsuit against them.
Samsung does have a global code of conduct, which explicitly mentions a “zero-tolerance” attitude to sexual harassment:
The Company has zero tolerance for any type of behavior that may offend or
cause unpleasantness to other employees. Such behavior includes, but is not
limited to sexual harassment, as well as all other forms of harassment, physical
assault, or any personal request or conduct that conflicts with national, state or
local law, or the Company’s policies and procedures.
However, Lee Enu-eui’s experiences suggest that this policy is not carried out in practice – for example:
As nothing was done within the company about my accusations, in 2007 I informed the Human Rights Commission, and they made an official recommendation to Samsung that the company needed to institute measures to prevent such sexual harassment from occurring again. Rather than following that recommendation however, Samsung sued the Human Rights Commission to have that recommendation withdrawn!
Painting by Chosun Ilbo, click through from (Korean-language) posts and illustrations on sexual harassment in the workplace. Via Grand Narrative.