Fighting Sexual Harassment at Samsung: Part 1

( Source )

Extremely important for its ramifications for Korean workplaces, frankly I’m amazed that I’ve been unable to google any English-language sources on the following sexual-harassment case at Samsung. Perhaps the Korean English-language media still feels intimated by the company, let alone the Korean-language one?

Either way, it deserves to be much more widely known, and if I’d realized that when commenter “previouslyafter” first passed it on, I certainly wouldn’t have had a month’s break from blogging immediately thereafter! My apologies for the delay then, and to make the long article from Sisain more readable, I’ve decided to split it into 3 parts, especially as there are some important questions raised by the first. Which for the sake of accuracy and context, I would really appreciate readers’ help with answering before continuing translating Part 2:

삼성에 맞선 ‘만년 이 대리’의 기적 같은 승리

A Miracle-like Victory in a Long-time Deputy Section Chief Lee’s Stand Against Samsung

by Jang Il-ho (장일호), 28/04/10

뒷목과 머리카락으로 부서장의 손이 오고갔다. 브래지어 끈을 만지작거리는 날도 있었다. 해외 출장을 갔던 2005년의 어느 날, 부서장 박아무개씨는 엉덩이를 치면서 “상사를 잘 모시라”는 말을 하기도 했다. 삼성전기 전자영업팀에 근무하던 이은의 대리(36)는 지금도 그날의 수치를 잊지 못한다.

2005년 6월, 이은의씨는 더 이상 견딜 수 없어 부서장 박아무개씨한테 당한 성희롱 피해를 회사 인사팀에 알렸다. 그러나 돌아온 것은 부서장이 아닌 자신의 대기발령이었고, 부서전환, 그리고 왕따였다.

Park, the department head, would quickly touch the hair on her back of her neck with his hand. One day, he fondled the strap of her bra. And once while on a business trip in 2005, he stroked her buttocks while telling her “You should obey your superiors”. Deputy Section Chief Lee Eun-eui (36), who worked for Samsung’s electronic appliances’ sales team, still can’t lose the sense of shame and disgrace she felt on that day.

In June 2005, she decided she could stand no more from Park, and so informed the personnel department. Rather than Park being punished however, instead Lee was put on extended leave. Eventually she was brought back to work and transferred to a different department, but was generally ostracized in the company (source, right).

지 루한 법적공방이 이어졌다. 골리앗 삼성을 상대로 싸운 다는 게 어떤 것인지 그녀는 온몸으로 깨달았다. 실어증과 우울증을 앓았다. 자살까지 생각했다. 그러나 지난 4월15일 수원지방법원 성남지원 민사합의1부(재판장 황현찬)는 이씨의 손을 들어줬다. 회사 내에서 발생한 성희롱 사건과 관련해 가해자는 물론 회사도 책임이 있다는 판결이었다. 재판부는 판결문에서 “삼성전기는 원고가 직장 내 성희롱 피해를 당하였음에도 불구하고 그에 대한 적절한 조치를 취하지 않았고, 오히려 불이익한 조치까지 취하였으며 이로 인하여 원고가 정신적 고통을 입게 되었음은 경험칙상 명백하다. 가해자 박씨는 250만원, 삼성전기 3750만원, 모두 4천만원을 이씨에게 배상하라”고 밝혔다. 이씨는 판결문을 읽고 또 읽으면서 “엉엉 울었다”라고 말했다.

A tedious legal battle ensued, and Lee realized just how much of her it would take to fight a goliath like Samsung, eventually suffering from aphasia, depression, and even considering suicide. However, in a civil trial in the Songnam branch of the Suwon district court, Judge Hwang Hyeon-chan awarded damages to Lee on the 15th of April, and it was ruled that in addition to the perpetrator, clearly Samsung also had a responsibility for sexual harassment within the company. According to the judge’s ruling, “Despite the incidents, Samsung Electronics did not take measures to deal with the problem of sexual harassment within the company, but rather decided to disadvantage Lee instead, which clearly caused her great mental anguish”. Accordingly, perpetrator Park was ordered to pay her 2.5 million won in damages, while Samsung Electronics was ordered to pay 37.5 million won, for a total of 40 million won.  The judge also noted that Lee wept loudly as the ruling was being read.

지난 4월22일 서울 강남에서 이은의씨를 만났다. 이씨는 지금도 삼성에서 일하고 있다. 지난 1998년 삼성전기 경영지원팀 입사해 2003년부터 전자영업팀 해외 업무를 담당해 왔다. 성희롱 피해 사실을 알린 이후 7개월간 대기발령을 받았고, 기획팀을 거쳐 2007년부터는 인사팀 총무보안그룹 사회봉사단에서 결연후원을 모집하는 일을 하고 있다.

이씨는 “남미와 유렵 등에 부품을 판매하는 해외 영업을 해왔는데 성희롱 덕분에 졸지에 좋은 일 하는 부서로 옮겨졌다…벌써 8년째 대리다. 내 이름은 이은의가 아니라 ‘이 대리’다”라며 웃었다. 사건 이후 그의 인사고과는 늘 ‘C-‘, 그의 동료들은 벌써 과장 직함을 달았다.

( Source )

I met Ms. Lee Eun-eui on the 22nd of April in Gangnam in Seoul. She is still working for Samsung. She originally joined the company in 1998, first working for the management and support team. In 2003, she joined the electrical appliances’ sales team, where she focused on overseas affairs. And informing the personnel department of the sexual harassment, she was placed on 7 months leave, first joining the planning team and then from 2007 working the social welfare service group within the personnel department itself, helping to collect funds to be donated to charities.

Lee says “I used to deal with selling parts to overseas companies in South America and Europe and so on, but because of the sexual harassment I was very suddenly transferred to the social welfare service group…I’ve already been a deputy section chief for 8 years. My name isn’t ‘Lee Eun-eui,’ but ‘Deputy Section Chief Lee'” she laughed. And after she told the personnel department about the sexual harassment, they gave her an evaluation of ‘C-‘, whereas most of her colleagues have already been promoted to section chiefs.

And Jang Il-ho’s interview will continue in Part 2. But first, there is the question of the exact English meaning of 대기발령 mentioned in paragraph 2, and then 대기발령을받다 mentioned in paragraph 5, as after a great deal of debate with my (Korean) wife…we realized that we really had no idea. According to my cheap electronic dictionary however, 대기하다 means to “wait for a chance; be on alert; be on standby”, whereas according to Naver 대기발령 means to “be placed on the waiting list”, and 대기발령을받다 to “wait to be assigned or placed in”. Hence we plumped for to “be put on extended leave” in the end, but I would appreciate it if any readers could confirm that, and regardless it raises the additional questions of if it was unpaid, how common it is at Korean workplaces, and/or if it is only ever done to punish employees?

My original second question was much more important, but I’ve since been able to answer it through a report on the judge’s ruling on SBS News on the 21st of April, which unfortunately I’ve been unable to embed nor to download. If you fast-forward to 1:40 however, you’ll see that it leads with the headline above that “Companies also have responsibility for sexual harassment” and indeed the newscaster says that this is actually the very first time that such a judgment has been made; a notion I find simply bizarre on the one hand, and yet all too explicable in light of Korea having the “most unfriendly work conditions for women in OECD” on the other.

But am I misguided though, in believing that in cases of sexual harassment in the workplace in Western countries, it is generally employers rather than individual perpetrators that are considered liable?

Regardless, I’m sure you’ll agree that an important precedent has been set, and now I’m really looking forward to learning more about it in Part 2, which you can expect to be be up on Thursday Friday!


9 thoughts on “Fighting Sexual Harassment at Samsung: Part 1

    1. By coincidence, invoked The Pickwick Papers to my wife when discussing it. Savvier than they look, all these Charleses…

      Seriously though, dwelling too much about about the ultimate length of required translations has previously left pages and pages of otherwise fascinating Korean articles lying around my study for months, sometimes years. At least this way they’ll all finally get done.

      By the way, was about to go to Facebook to pass on this article about issues of translation from Korean to English which I’d thought you’d like, but seeing as I’m typing this and about to go to bed will do so here instead. Enjoy!


    1. Thanks. But on a slightly less serious side-note, constantly having to refer to her as “Deputy Section Chief Lee” gave me a healthy reminder of just how pedantic and hierarchical most Korean workplaces really are, which I’d happily completely forgotten about after 4 months of exclusively using English and only dealing with the secretary at my latest job.


  1. 대기발령 is “extended leave” in this context. It is very encouraging to read about Section Chief Lee’s successful struggle against sexual harassment at a powerful jaebeol.


    1. Thanks also. And it’s probably safe to assume that Lee’s was unpaid, right?

      Hmmm…but if so, then I wonder if the 7 months’ lost earnings was included in the damages awarded? Will find out tomorrow!


      1. Usually in 대기발령 you’re given something called a 베이직인컴 (basic income), the amount of which is different depending on the job. It’s known that living on a “basic income” makes it pretty hard to make ends meet, though.


        1. Thanks for letting me know, and like I suspected it may indeed prove to be more important than it sounds. Because in Part 2, it emerges that Samsung at first denied [in a separate suit against the Human Rights Commission] that Lee Eun-eui had been placed on extended leave at all, whereas if she was paid after all then surely there were tax records and bank account statements and so on that proved it?

          But hell, even not being paid proves that something was up too. Pretty arrogant and audacious for Samsung to claim that she continued working as per normal then…


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