After a lonely battle against her employer Samsung, sexual abuse victim, Lee Eun-eui began to build a new career as a lawyer to help other South Korean women with sex abuse cases.

Lee Eun-eui who used to be a Samsung employee and is currently a lawyer, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Seoul, South Korea on March 8, 2018
Lee Eun-eui who used to be a Samsung employee and is currently a lawyer, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Seoul, South Korea on March 8, 2018 (Reuters)

Almost a decade ago, Lee Eun-eui was thrust into a lonely battle against her employer Samsung after she reported unwelcome touching by a superior.

Shamed by her supervisors and sidelined by her colleagues, Lee’s career as an international sales representative at the company stagnated.

“No one will be on your side,” Lee says her boss told her.

After two years, Lee won a lawsuit against her employer Samsung Electro-Mechanics Co Ltd , prevailing against part of a conglomerate so large and powerful in South Korea that the country is often referred to as the “Republic of Samsung.”

Lee has since built a new career as a lawyer helping other South Korean women with sex abuse cases.

Haunted by her colleagues’ silence, Lee hopes the #MeToo movement now sweeping the country will inspire more people to stand up for women who might otherwise experience the shame and silence she faced.

“What people need to think about now amid the #MeToo movement is emphasising with those #MeToo stories that are not personally related to them,” Lee said.

Women attend a protest as a part of the #MeToo movement on International Women's Day in Seoul, South Korea, March 8, 2018.
Women attend a protest as a part of the #MeToo movement on International Women's Day in Seoul, South Korea, March 8, 2018. (Reuters)

Long legal battle

After sluggish start, the global #MeToo movement has gathered pace in South Korea, leading to accusations in recent weeks of sexual assault and harassment against prominent politicians, entertainers and religious figures.

Seoul has since vowed to strengthen laws against sexual assault and implement measures to reduce harassment.

Lee’s personal battle began in 2005 when she reported the abuse to her human resources department, only to be ostracised.

In desperation, she filed a complaint to Samsung’s chairman Lee Kun-hee. Lee says the Samsung chairman did not respond.

“If I was a little bit weaker mentally, I would have jumped off the building at Taepyung Street,” Lee said of Samsung’s then-headquarters.

In 2008, Lee filed a civil lawsuit alleging her employer did not do enough to protect her while inflicting mental pain on her.

The Suwon District Court ruled in her favor in 2010 and ordered Samsung Electro-Mechanics to pay her around $37,460 (40 million won) in damages.

“Although the plaintiff was sexually harassed at work, the defendant Samsung Electro-Mechanics did not take an appropriate measure and even put her at a disadvantage. Therefore, it is clear that this inflicted mental pain on the plaintiff,” the court verdict said.

Samsung Electro-Mechanics did not comment after the case and declined comment .

Lee thinks her case did lead to needed reforms at Samsung, which did not appeal the verdict and has since treated sex abuse cases more fairly, according to Lee, citing feedback from her former colleagues.

“Samsung is very sensitive about problems they have experienced,” she said. “I think we have both grown up by confronting each other.”

Source: Reuters