UPDATE: An order of protection has been granted in this case. Get the latest updates on TikTok here. See the bottom of this article for links to other news sources reporting these events.
A woman was fired for fighting against harassment she experienced at the hands of a co-worker
Recently, I ran across a woman named Cortney Kotzian who exposed a story of threats she allegedly received from a co-worker. She fought with Human Resources at Charles Schwab for over a year. Her daily life in the office was overshadowed by this creepy co-worker's existence after he allegedly threatened to come to her home, undress her, and make her wear a hoodie on "hoodie day" at work. He didn't like her snide remarks back to him, so the threats continued, as did her complaints about him until SHE was fired, not him.
Here's an excerpt of that fateful day:
Human Resources departments are designed to protect employers more than employees
The moniker can be misleading: Human Resources (HR). Yes, there's a bevy of resources to be had for employees when they work for corporations required to adhere to certain benefit standards, but the HR departments give off an air of protection to employees. It's a marketing message to gain employee trust.
- Trust to report the bad behaviors of co-workers or bosses
- Trust to handle harassment or abuse
- Trust to report on-the-job injuries
- Trust that they're looking out for the greater good of their internal community
More often than not, these trust lines are used to build airtight cases to protect the employer, not the employee, in cases that go awry.
HR as compared to HIPAA
Similar to how HIPAA laws work, HR protections are marketed as being for the employees, but in reality, the company looks out for itself first.
HIPAA protections are tossed around in speeches these days to highlight patient privacy regarding medical records and care, but these laws were not created from a humanitarian need to protect patients. They were developed to protect hospitals and caregivers from professional liability (AKA medical malpractice) lawsuits. Sure, there are protections for patients' privacy in these agreements. It's part of the full package.
Again, it's a marketing message that makes patients feel like their privacy is the main focus, but rest assured that this portion of the law is being used to get people to sign the paper.
This video explains why HIPAA was created in the first place.
Human Resources departments have 6 main functions:
- Recruit candidates for employment
- Screen candidates with background checks, check references, and conduct social media reviews
- Filter job applicants for open positions and start the interviewing process
- Coordinate payroll and benefits in accordance with the laws of their jurisdiction
- Handle initial job training, if applicable
- Keep files on employees and handle employee relations
Responsibilities can vary from one company to another, but this list is a good, general representation.
Discrimination laws to protect women began with the 1964 Civil Rights Act
With new laws on the books in 1964, no cases were actually brought to court until the mid-1970s. The Supreme Court didn't hear a single case, however, until the 1980s. By the time I was working in the corporate world in the 1990s, policy surrounding sexual harassment was being implemented with training for employees put on by human resources departments.
To understand how significant these laws were over time, they led to precedent-making cases around discrimination, such as:
- firing women for becoming pregnant,
- punishing women due to medical issues around pregnancy and childbirth, and eventually,
- asking for sexual favors or being harassed in the workplace.
During George HW Bush's presidency, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 was established that opened up the rights of employees to sue their employers for being negligent in the handling of sexual harassment reports. This came on the heels of the well-known case of Anita Hill's accusations against Clarence Thomas during the hearings to place him on the most prestigious panel in the US for judges, the U.S. Supreme Court.
I remember this time vividly, as the corporation I worked for started training and education around sexual harassment in the workplace. As soon as their liabilities were wide-open for lawsuits of this nature, corporate policy was being established to protect bottom lines. This job was mostly given to human resources departments across the country.
Like anything, it takes time for laws, precedent-setting cases, and policies to do what they're supposed to do, but are these laws protecting employees or protecting employers?
Companies often sweep harassment under the rug in hopes of waiting out the statute of limitations
The statute of limitations to file suit regarding sexual harassment in the workplace is federally 180 days. A few states extend the time limit to 300 days. In Ms. Kotzian's case, the initial incident occurred the day before Thanksgiving in 2019. She filed a claim with the EEOC within the 180-day statute, and she thought her job would be protected. Now after nearly two years of no acceptable resolution of this case, she is exposing her story on TikTok, including the call she had with Amanda Moreno, head of employee relations at Charles Schwab.
The cast of characters:
- Cortney Kotzian, former employee at TD Ameritrade Institutional, AKA the complainant
- The former co-worker of Cortney's, AKA the accused harasser
- Amanda Moreno, head of employee relations at Charles Schwab
- Kevin Will, director of self-directed plan services at Charles Schwab
- Kate Sierra, team manager at Charles Schwab
The calls with Amanda in HR:
Part 1 - Charles Schwab HR regarding finding a path forward after many complaints
Part 2 - Investigated to death, Cortney's dad being in HR, how she loved her job, how it hasn't been resolved in over a year
Part 3 - Worried about her job, the stress of all this, fighting this so hard, can't escape this situation at work, victim-blaming for the hostility.
Part 4 - Didn't want to leave, didn't cause problems just pointed them out, applying for jobs.
Part 5 - On do not hire list because of this, regardless of references and being known in other departments with a manager she wanted to work for. Her track record in training others, etc.
Part 6 - Valued employee, she wants away from her boss, Kevin Will, boss of the man who harassed her. Told by Kate not to apply for jobs on the Schwab website. Screenshot Slack convos around what she was told about applying for jobs. Smoke and mirrors from Amanda. Naive to trust HR.
Part 7 - Amanda found Cortney a job, but it was within Kevin Will's realm, not Kate's, but it's still Kevin who had her harasser seated next to her. She'd be away from her harasser but not away from Kevin.
Part 8 - Kevin Will had retaliated against her several times, so this wasn't a solution. Realization that she would not be treated fairly ever. Decided she won't work for Kevin Will, more of the same.
Part 9 - Stories of misogyny at TDA Ameritrade. Behavior never stopped. Kate told women in the office of stories about other women in the office.
Part 10 - Happy hour talk about sexual harassment was common. Amanda decides to not go forward with the conversation, pulls herself away as saying her role was to find her another position.
Part 11 - Amanda passed the buck back to the offending department.
Cortney was fired a few weeks later.
Cortney reads her email to Amanda Moreno in the HR department:
After nothing was ever resolved in this case, an email was sent to Amanda in HR expressing her disappointment in how her case had been handled:
Transcript of the email that was sent
One more thing, on a personal note. I’m sure that you and all of the HR women I have spoken will justify the illegal behavior of the business under the impression that you are not harming anything or anyone, it’s just business, it is a job, it is how you feed your family, and how you provide for that 10 month old baby of yours. She’s a girl, if I am remembering correctly. My dad thought that way too. I asked him at 13 years old, in the mid-90s why he only hired women in HR and he told me because women in the workplace is the reason companies need HR departments. He taught me that HR was a good alternative to unions, that they provided necessary services like payroll and benefits, however, the vast majority of the claims that he handled dealt with men using their power to terrorize the women in the organization. He figured out that if the victim is interviewed by a another women, they were more likely to tell the truth, and that helps the company protect themselves better against the victims.
I was raised to believe this was all ok. The first time I was sexually harassed at work, my dad started to feel differently. My sister experienced these things too. He decided that after earning millions of dollars on the backs of corporate victims- he was going to turn a new leaf, sent me to culinary school and we were going to move to Colorado so he could live out his hippie dreams of being a THC mogul in the early days of legalization and I was going to help on the scientific side of consumables, it was a pipedream, and never happened. The stress of the job got to him, he died at 55. He never had the opportunity for redemption.
I hate what he did for a living. I hate the pain he caused women. He believed that since he himself never harassed women morally, he was ok, it was a job- I disagree, we are creators in this world and the work we do matters. It forms the culture that our children will live in. You might think it is someone else’s job to change things, that by the time your daughter gets to the work place that she will be safe. I can tell you from experience that is not true, my dad believed that and if he were right Amanda, you and I would have never met. If people like me do not stand up to people like you, your daughter will absolutely be forced to live in the world my dad created, the world you are creating right now for her. You know as well as I do that the odds of me changing anything in this world are slim to none. That is by design, to keep terrible people safe from the consequences of their own actions. You get paid to maintain that environment.
My dad died 5 weeks after his first grandson, my now 13 year old son, was born. I challenge you to imagine that you never get to retire, and this- THIS job is all you have given the world, all that you personally have created in the world that your daughter then has to live in- all the values and morals and life lessons you teach her at home only go so far. Imagine, because no one ever stopped him, your daughters first job is under Samuel Kimbril. He has worked for decades unchallenged. He likes pretty young women, and you’re attractive, I am sure your daughter will be too. How would that make you feel? Proud? Excited for her new career? Do you think that she can handle herself gracefully, or does that make you uncomfortable? Knowing she is absolutely a sitting duck. You taught her that these things are of the past, but you know better… will she be secure enough to say no to the sexual advances? How will you raise her? Will she be smart enough not to report it? I was smart enough not to report- but not smart enough not to talk about it with girl friends who reported it for me… Maybe that is what you should teach her- when this happens to her, and as long as you are out there doing a good job Amanda, this WILL happen to her eventually, that she needs to never tell a soul. That she should internalize all of it and let it eat away at her self-esteem and self-worth quietly, that as a woman her job is to make men feel comfortable no matter how that makes her feel. Women are not allowed to feel uncomfortable at work- that is “playing victim,” you are not going to raise a victim are you? No. You will not raise a victim. That is how she will survive in business. That is how women become successful. We all know it, but it is just too painful of a thought to teach that to your daughter isn’t it?
Well, ironically, that is how I was raised. I was raised with the brutal truth and was told not to speak up. Never become a victim, it didn’t protect me, because it is an impossible goal to never become a victim at work, the system is set up to victimize. I hope you find a better resolution to how to raise a girl when you know what HR does to them if they are pretty…. Or, maybe, start creating a better world now. But that is hard, it takes courage. And you are just one person who can’t get one woman moved away from a bad situation, your hands are tied, funny, that is what Samuel threatened to do to me, tie my hands, not poetically, no his threat was a lot more menacing.
Good Luck to you, raising children is not easy, especially when you have to deal with jobs like this one…”
The case is still not resolved
As of the publication of this article, the case is still not resolved, and Cortney is still unemployed. However, Schwab’s CEO, Walt Bettinger said “harassment is unacceptable” as the investigation continues. Charles Schwab acquired TD Ameritrade after the initial incident occurred, which is why Schwab’s HR team got involved in the first place.
Personally, I believe she seems like the perfect candidate for a company to hire to teach employees and employers what NOT to do in these situations.
The story is still floating out there with the alleged, threatening co-worker being fired from his latest job on November 1, 2021. He is suing Ms. Kotzian for "defamation, slander, libel and invasion of privacy in county court in Nebraska", according to the Financial Advisor IQ.