In February of 2016 I was faced with a decision that should have been a no-brainer. As a server and bartender for more than a decade, I wanted to transition to a local brewery. In my inbox sat an offer to join the taproom staff at the soon-to-open Modist Brewing Company. They hadn’t started making beer yet, but I found myself pulled to their philosophy. And after my interview, I knew I would be disappointed if I didn’t get the offer. But when I received it, my initial giddiness was met with an underlying gut punch—would I be putting myself back on his radar?
In 2009, I never expected to find myself in graduate school. A friend recommended the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program at Hamline University, and when I started reading about it there was no looking back. I exited my corporate job and folded my khakis one last time in order to go back to serving so I could work while taking a full-time graduate class load. I took one of the first offers I received from a restaurant. That decision changed the course of many months—and years—to come.
Driving to work one day in 2010, I hoped to be a victim in a car crash. Maybe a semi-truck would jackknife and pin me under it. Not kill me, though. I didn’t want to die. I wanted to be injured enough that I wouldn’t have go to work. The short drive on I-35 was curvy, and I hoped each time I drove around one of the curves that I’d be met by an inattentive driver. Thankfully, it never happened.
Katie Muggli is the On-Premise Sales Manager at Modist Brewing Company in Minneapolis, MN.
I’m standing with my waitress apron on, waiting for my only table’s food to receive its final garnishes so I can deliver it. The manager for the evening, let’s call him Mark, is an odd-looking, heavier-set, middle-aged man with the voice of a rejected Jim Henson muppet. He comes up next to me and puts his arm around my shoulders. The hinge of his elbow folds next to my neck.
“I think tonight should be pick-on-Katie night,” he proclaims loudly into my ear, his face mere inches from mine. His crooked smile and devious laugh start up. A sympathetic coworker sets my food up on the line and looks me in the eye with the understanding that he would say something, but Mark is his manager, too. I acknowledge and thank my coworker silently, grab my food, and slink out from under Mark’s arm, wondering how long it would be until my shift was over so that I could start drinking Rumpleminze in hopes of forgetting that night. This was just one of many evenings I wanted to lash out in a rage at this man.
Twenty minutes later, my table is done with their meal and I'm delivering the dirty dishes to the sink. I throw the silverware in its proper place and start cleaning the plates off. As I rinse a mountain of ketchup off the plate Mark swings around behind me, grabs a pen out of my apron, and pulls on the ties in the back so the apron falls to my feet. I fight the urge to break a plate on his head, instead throwing it with force onto the dish rack. Without looking at him, I grab my apron off the floor and storm out of the kitchen to the bar area. Behind the bar was a slightly—though not much—safer place than anywhere else in the restaurant simply because there were always customers there.
“Katie, you’re such a stick in the mud tonight,” he mocks as I glare at him. After months of being followed around by this creep, I was finally beginning to wear down. I could no longer ignore him or look the other way. Instead, I began fixating on it. Letting it get under my skin, letting it piss me off. Having to pretend that I had respect for someone who is so blatantly disrespectful and disgusting was draining.
Later that evening, I was standing at the server station waiting for a beer to be poured. Mark crept up behind me, putting his left hand on my left shoulder, and using his right hand to try and tickle me under my right armpit. This happened several times during each shift I worked with him. For some reason, that night, I decided something had to be done.
I went through all of the proper avenues—those that are supposed to make sure that treatment like I endured doesn’t happen. I spoke with the general manager a month or so after starting my job there, unsure as to whether or not it was just me. “No, it’s not just you. We’ve noticed that he really likes you,” she told me.
None of the other women I worked with seemed to have an issue with him. Poking and pulling on apron strings or putting his arm around you was a normal thing there. No one paid any mind. I questioned myself for a number of months. I’ve never thought of myself as hyper-sensitive. As an undergraduate, I worked at a small bar where the owner was a complete chauvinistic pig, and while he may have been an idiot, he was never stupid enough to lay a hand on me. For a few months, I tried to act like the other women I worked with. And for a few months, it worked.
After several meetings with the owner and general manager, I agreed to sit down and have a meeting with Mark. After all, aside from him, I loved working at this place. I didn’t want to leave. I was making decent and consistent money, and everyone I worked with was great—except for the fact that they all put up with this man treating them with no respect. Strong and sweet women pursed their lips instead of calling him out. Hilarious and caring men looked the other way. My coworkers did nothing to stand up for themselves—or each other—for fear of losing their jobs and their livelihoods.
The meeting with all four of us led to nothing resolved, no action taken. Nothing. It ended with the conclusion that we should try to get along. When I confronted him about his behavior, his only response was, “That’s how I was raised.”
I was raised with a backbone. The next morning I put in my notice.
I took a new job bartending instead of serving. The gig was working out well for me, especially since I wasn’t being constantly touched and picked on by a manager. I was able to take closing shifts since the semester was over, and I didn’t have to worry about the night shift conflicting with my evening classes.
One dinner rush started with me recognizing a couple that ordered drinks from me at the bar. “How do I know them?” I wondered. “They look so familiar.” I realized it was Mark’s brother who used to come in to the restaurant with his wife to visit. We’d been introduced a handful of times, as I was always the one to wait on them when they visited since I was Mark’s “favorite.”
I tried to be polite and make small talk as they recognized me too. They could tell that my smile diminished when they told me that Mark was on his way. On his way to the new job he knew I had. By the time he showed up, his brother and brother’s wife were sitting at a table in the bar area. Mark didn’t say hello or talk to me—for which I was grateful. Instead, he sat at that table and watched me bartend for a few hours. They could have sat anywhere else in the restaurant, but they conveniently sat in the perfect position from which he could watch me.
All the while, I was shaking. I felt violated. I was disgusted by the fact that, of all of the restaurants in the Twin Cities area, he came to mine. I left the situation, but the situation wouldn’t leave me. The manager at my new job saw how upset I was and told me to take a break. I sat on a milk crate behind the restaurant shaking as I smoked a cigarette. Something had to be done.
The following few days were incredibly difficult. I felt as though there was no escape from him. I felt completely helpless, wondering what would happen next. Would he follow me home? He was a manager and had access to my address. My paranoia at seeing him everywhere I went was starting to eat away at me. Then came the note.
A few days after he had sat and watched me bartend I found a piece of paper under my windshield wiper that read, “Your tattoo is fucking ugly, get some [sic] done.” The previous year, I had gotten a piece by one of my favorite artists tattooed on my upper right arm, to which Mark’s reaction was, “That’s one of the stupidest fucking things I have ever seen. Why would you do that to yourself?” I have no way of proving that he left the note, and will probably never know if it was him who wrote it.
The next day I went to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and filed two charges—one against him, and one against the restaurant at which I had previously worked. The further removed I became from that place, the more I realized how terrible the situation was there. And, unfortunately, how normal it seemed when I had first started there. There’s no reason that anyone should ever be treated that way. There was no reason that the other women who were still working there should have to deal with that treatment.
Since I wasn’t seeking monetary damages, I never heard back from several lawyers around the area that I had tried to get in contact with. The ones I had contacted showed great interest initially, but when they found out my only goal was to get ownership to get rid of Mark, they all but laughed. I didn’t want money, I just wanted the people that I had worked with, and any future employees, to be free of what this man was doing.
I spent the entire summer looking over my shoulder, wondering what would be next. I had looked into filing an order for protection or a restraining order, but found out that without a “direct” threat, you can’t obtain a harassment restraining order. If I couldn’t convince the business that I was being harassed, would it be worth my while to try and convince a judge?
My charges through the Department of Human Rights were about as useful as talking to restaurant management about the issue. The case was eventually thrown out after being buried by the restaurant’s lawyer. They had money—I did not. Their lawyer noted and brought up several times that I had never actually said the words “sexual harassment” when speaking with the owner and GM. I didn’t realize that I had to. I figured that if they were smart enough to own a business they would be smart enough to realize that when a female employee is made uncomfortable and disturbed by the way in which a male manager tickles and touches her that “sexual harassment” was the obvious conclusion.
For someone who consistently fears random attacks, to have such lingering subtle threats was suffocating and nearly debilitating. The summer after these events took place, this fear transferred to those around me. My boyfriend at the time and I were getting ready for bed in the new house that he had just bought. It was a warm evening and the upstairs windows were open. We crawled into bed, turned off the lights, and chatted. We’d been hyperaware of locking doors and ground-floor windows—it was right after the charges had been served to both the restaurant and Mark, and I was scared that there would be some sort of retaliation.
He and I both heard a noise that sounded like it was coming from downstairs. I was paralyzed, scared to move, but heard my boyfriend jump up out of bed. I then heard a noise that was familiar only because of the heightened sound of it in action movies—the unsheathing of a knife. He slowly walked downstairs, machete in hand, as I laid in bed with my phone in my hand ready to call 911. In case he was in the house. My boyfriend returned and said there was nothing down there, but I could tell he was distraught. Until then, I had figured it was a decorative machete, his only souvenir from his time spent in South America. My fear was starting to take hold of him. I rolled over and silently cried myself to sleep as I did many nights that summer.
Every last fear of being attacked seemed so close to reality. It seemed inevitable, like it was just a matter of time. The uncomfortable interactions that I had with him all revolved around a show of his power, his strength. Grabbing for food on the kitchen line or a beer in the server window would be met with his fat fingers clasping on to my forearm. All of his actions seemed to me a warning that, so long as he is around to wrap his arm around my neck, and his hands around my wrist, I am not in control.
After filing my complaint with the Department of Human Rights, I agreed with my parents that I should seek counseling. I went a few times and discussed the charges, and the events that led up to the charges with a brilliant and empathetic counselor. However, that is all that I allowed myself to discuss—the charges, and the events that led up to them. The only capacity in which my fear was addressed was my acknowledgement that I was scared of retaliation. At that point, I would not even speak of my fear to a trained professional with whom I felt resonance and trust. That is how closely I have held my fear. Even in that moment I didn’t feel that it was the proper time or place to speak of it. At that moment the only thing that I had the capacity of trying to tackle was my fear of retaliation.
That summer I began to shut down. I was frantic, hysterical. Almost every day began with a phone call to my mother. She grew more and more frustrated, upset, and concerned. She could hear me slipping away on the other end of the phone. Listening as she did, I can only imagine that had I been near her she would have wrapped her hands around my shoulder, trying desperately to hold on to her daughter.
We would go back and forth for a while, and the conversation would end in me crying uncontrollably and assuring my mother that I would call her later in the day when I had settled down. I would hang up the phone, lie on the covers of my bed and sob.
Between the ways that he had treated me while I was working there, him coming in to my new job, and finding that note on my windshield, I felt as though I was in danger. That much seemed certain. Everything that I had ever feared, backseat murderers and thieves watching me while I sleep, now had a face, and it was his. I was sure that he was going to come after me after the charges were served. I was sure that he would retaliate. Now, I am not so sure. He still works for that same restaurant owner, I have no doubt he still treats women the same, and I’m willing to bet that the ownership is still doing nothing to stop him. From time to time I run into a guy I used to work with there.
“I’m really proud of what you did Katie,” he told me one time. “No one has ever stood up to them that way.”
“Thanks, man,” I replied. “I’m just happy to be out of there.”
My experience at the restaurant led me to examine fear as the topic for my graduate thesis. It was an effort to understand and grapple with what had happened. It was also to help try to make peace with the fact that, as a woman, I carry with me an inexplicable amount of fear. Fear of being attacked, of being raped, of being followed, of being wholly objectified. The title of my thesis was Nine Billion Names of Fear. It was a nod to a short sci-fi story by Arthur C. Clarke titled Nine Billion Names of God. In the story, a group of monks hire a computer company to help create an algorithm to list off every possible name of God with the end goal of ending the world. For me, my thesis was an attempt to list and give name to my fear in an effort to make it end. Or, at the very least, make it more palatable.
Years later, there I sat with a job offer at a brewery. I had a good feeling about it. I had put the harassment away in a box and buried it. Compartmentalized it. It was actually brought up in my interview at Modist. They asked if I would be comfortable bringing concerns to management. I smiled, and said I absolutely would. I told them that I had brought things up in the past that were incredibly important to me. When they asked what happened, I told them that changes weren’t made, I didn’t feel supported, and that resulted in my leaving that job.
Despite the fact that I was still harboring a lingering fear of having to see this man again by becoming so actively involved in the local beer scene, I stayed in Minneapolis and took the job at Modist. He had taken more than enough from me. The lingering pang in my stomach will undoubtedly follow me forever, but I won’t let it alter my decisions. A few months after the taproom opened, I jumped at the opportunity to start doing sales. It seemed the perfect marriage of my industry experience, and the fact that I was ready to be done with the 2am shifts.
I knew I’d be stepping into the possibility of encountering situations where I could be harassed or belittled. It’s worth saying that, for the most part, the local industry is respectful. On the occasions where I have dealt with disrespectful buyers, the ownership team has always stood by me 100%. They do not doubt or diminish my experience. In fact, an early experience involved a buyer who was messaging me late at night, getting salty if I didn’t respond. When I brought it up with my boss, he said they won’t carry our beer so long as he works there. It was that simple.
“But maybe I’m making a bigger deal out of it than I should,” I said, not used to this kind of support.
“Muggs, you shouldn’t have to put up with that bullshit,” he responded.
The simple power of that support was jarring and disorienting. It frustrated me to know how simple it was for a person, a boss, a business owner, to support and not question my experience. It made what happened at that restaurant sting all the more. Since then, I have had several conversations with my coworkers about what it means to be a woman in this industry. These conversations led to the idea of doing a blog post, and drawing a clear line of where we stand as a company, and as people aligned with the company.
The service industry and beer industry are male-dominated, and thus, there are a lot of women who have gone through similar—and worse—experiences at work. This isn’t just the workplace, either, it’s simply life as a woman. We should be able to speak up about harassment and be taken seriously.
If you are being harassed, say something. If you aren’t taken seriously, leave. It’s the sad reality that you have to fight for safe space. You have to work for it and build it and keep seeking it out. If you experience harassment, talk about it. If talking doesn’t work, yell about it. Do the same when you see it happening to someone else. It’s in silence that harassment is perpetuated. It’s in silence that all harassers hold their power.