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Friday, October 25, 2013

Workplace Bullying - It Happened to Me - Don't Let It Happen to You

I am privileged to work for a Government Contractor (“GC”) with a zero tolerance regarding Work Place Bullying, but that was not always the case.

I was in fact a victim to this indentured servant fad when I worked for another GC that supported a large government agency who required a television crew for their studio headquartered in Washington, DC.
This agency can fly people to the moon but did not want a black woman Supervising Producer working in their studio!

The point of contact, government employee, Mr. Brown told our Program Manager not to hire black women, and he so arrogantly defied the federal law, that he walked into an interview with one of the candidates (at the government site) and immediately retreated without so much as a hello.
The candidate, of course, called me immediately to ask if Mr. Brown had an issue with women, and because he is also African American, she did not consider the possibility that his issue was also her skin color.

The Human Resource Manager (now HR Director) and I advised the President of the company about the flagrant discrimination that our PM shared with us in a proposal meeting.  The President told me (in private), however, that there was a misunderstanding; even though, the entire proposal team heard the remarkable fiasco.
I began to feel the consequence of trying to protect the company from any lawsuit caused by the government.

During this same timeframe, that same GC underwent an investigation with the Department of Labor (“DOL”). 
Management’s answer was to “get rid of the problem” per the HR Manager, so she began an “investigation” where she was both harassing and belligerent to the employees questioned. 

The problem was not the people they wanted to terminate, but management itself, so I told both employees what to do – write what happened and get email backup.  The one who listened kept his job – until they got rid of me.  The other, they fired immediately. 
Soon after, the IT Manager was on the chopping block.  This I knew because I was tasked with finding his replacement.  He came to me for help. 

I did not confirm nor deny my colleague’s questions, but I did tell him to speak with the President because I witnessed the HR Manager's disgraceful interrogation in there “fact finding” meeting that the employee scheduled to submit a harassment / discrimination claim.
That’s when management decided to turn up the workplace bullying!

The HR Manager began to yell at me in meetings for no good reason, and she did this to no one else.  She began to mark my time in and out and threatened to write me up, even though, I was not the one who was always late in the department.
Employees became replete with anxiety and continued to ask for my advice, but now I was afraid to give it.  I’d already complained enough:

1.       The IT Director only wanted Indians in his department – no Asians and no Muslims

2.       The Engineering Director didn’t want to hire a black candidate who was qualified because “We couldn’t put someone with dreadlocks in front of the client.”

3.       The CTE didn’t want to hire a fully qualified black candidate with a CCNP because “we have to think about him being in front of the client,” and he didn’t want to hire a Spanish candidate with a CCIO – highest CISCO certification because “he had an accent.”

When I brought up these injustices, which caused me enormous stress and induced depression, the bullying only got worse, and a co-worker advised me to lay low because I was now on the chopping block. 
The President started calling impromptu meetings and expressed his irritation that I had not filled positions, for which I later learned, where not even approved or funded.  It didn’t matter that I found qualified candidates within a substantially low salary range, and that his management staff was the cause for the delay in hiring due to their own prejudices. 

The President even bashed me for not doing someone else’s job – requesting a contract modification of the Aerospace contract.
That’s when I got a harebrained idea to write a review and post it to Glassdoor.  Lesson learned!  This would later be used against me in a mediation session with the Human Rights Commission (“HRC”).

The day had finally come when I knew enough was enough. 
I called out sick the day after my boss showed her ranging-maniac side.  That day she sent an email to tell me if I was sick then I “didn’t need to be working from home,” and that she wanted to talk to me about taking off the next day every time we had a disagreement. 

I’m a grown woman and to have another grown woman yelling at me like she lost her mind was too much!  But that’s not why I took off.  I was sick and entitled to take sick leave, which is what I emailed her, adding that I thought it was ridiculous for her to harass me about taking a day off.
Well, I ended up taking a week off, as I was sick as a dog, and when I came back to work, my boss said that she wanted to meet with me. 

She was irate regarding the email I sent her and even more displeased that I “almost hired a Greencard” when she specifically told me not to.
Telling my boss that I never interviewed the candidate, but I asked for a background check because the candidate told me some personal information, and I didn’t want to illegally disqualify him, was probably not the smartest thing I’ve done.

Telling her that the President of the company and the IT Director assured me that the Web Developer would be working on house projects and would not need a clearance, so I could hire someone with a Greencard, wasn’t bright either.
But telling her that she knew it was against the law to discriminate on the grounds of national origin was far worse.

After five years of receiving exceptional performance raises, bonuses and great evaluations, I got my walking papers. 
A few weeks later, I received a phone call from the Fairfax County Police Department about the return of the GC’s computer, even after, I’d repeatedly asked the HR Manager (via email) for the company to ship a prepaid box.

I told the officer what happened and that I emailed requests to the HR Manager for a box.  Needless to say, I received a pre-paid box.  Even after I left, they harassed me!

I filed a complaint with every agency I could think of. 
HRC had the case the longest, almost an entire year, and the investigator Ms. Betz said today, “We’re backlogged and won’t get to the case until sometime next year.”

I filed a complaint with the Aerospace agency, and was told by the EEOC attorney, Ms. Danette Mincey that “It is not our practice nor is it appropriate for us to provide a status on the progress of an investigation.”
How on earth can there be justice if there’s not enough staff to research the claims!

Needless to say, the GC (still) won the re-compete,  and the government employee is still at the agency.
A few weeks after I left, the GC got rid of many of the people that I was protecting when I was there.  Together we filed a complaint with the Department of Labor, but I have not heard a single peep from them.

I went to an attorney who said I had a case – Wrongful Termination and Retaliation.  I’d begun to do the legwork and research but fell into a greater depression from all the awful memories and blatant injustice the GC caused me, so I had to simply walk away.
A year later, I’m finally getting back on my feet emotionally, and it’s my hope that in another year, I’ll be finally stable and will be vindicated with justice.  But, I expect nothing of course. 

I read an article about Workplace Bullying and the memories came flooding back.  Though, I’m afraid of what this story will do to my career, this is the way that I am freeing myself from an ugly nightmare.
Learn from my mistakes and don’t let workplace bullying happen to you.

In conclusion, I want to express my sincere apologies to: Mahdy, Carlton, Geroge and Faisal.  I apologize for the retaliation you experienced because of me.
Please feel free to comment or post your story regarding Workplace Bullying.  Please also freely post suggestions on how to deter workplace bullying.