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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Is UAB Playing Games With My Termination?

A number of folks have asked about the outcome of the July 11 meeting Lindsey Beyerstein referenced near the end of her Raw Story article about my termination at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

The meeting was with Cheryl Locke, director of human resources at UAB, and it also included Anita Bonasera and Bobby Barnes, from UAB Employee Relations. I want to update readers on where my situation stands with UAB.

But first, a little background: UAB has what's called a Problem Resolution Procedure (PRP), which is administered by Employee Relations. A number of employment-related issues, such as a termination and a written warning, can be reviewed by a PRP committee.

My PRP hearing was held on June 25, and contrary to UAB policy, it included two grievances rolled into one. I filed my first grievance, on April 22, in response to a written warning I had received from my supervisor, Pam Powell. This complaint also included a number of instances of harassment I had experienced under Powell over about a five-month period, beginning in December 2007.

UAB policy clearly states that an employee is to use the PRP/grievance process without fear of penalty or reprisal. So by rule, my grievance hearing should have been held probably in early May, and I should not have been subject to any negative consequences from that point on--at least not regarding anything that happened in that five-month period.

Instead, UAB ignored its own policy and, while I had a pending grievance, placed me on administrative leave in early May and then fired me on May 19. Again ignoring its own policies, UAB folded my grievance regarding Powell's behavior into my grievance about my termination.

UAB's PRP procedure is not held in a court of law. But in legal terms, I was prejudiced in myriad ways by the university's refusal to follow its own policies. I clearly faced a penalty and reprisal (termination) subsequent to filing a grievance. And when it was time for my termination grievance to be heard, the waters were muddied by having another grievance included--one that should have been heard more than a month earlier.

Here's how the PRP procedure works: A panel of three fellow employees--I picked their names randomly by drawing pieces of paper out of an envelope--is chosen to hear the grievance. The grievant, the grievant's supervisor, and an Employee Relations representative are present throughout the hearing.

Pam Powell and I gave opening and closing statements, and we each faced some pretty intense questioning from the committee. The committee determines other witnesses that will be heard, and in my case, that included three people--Dale Turnbough, associate vice president over the Publiations Office and the person who signed my termination letter; Janice Ward, our departmental HR representative; and Sean Maher, a UAB information-technology specialist who had been asked to monitor my computer usage at work.

When the hearing was over, I was told that the committee would made a recommendation to Cheryl Locke, and she could either accept or reject it. If Locke ruled in my favor, the department would have no recourse. If Locke ruled against me, I could appeal to UAB president Carol Garrison, and her decision would be final.

I was told that I would receive written notice of Locke's decision in the mail, probably within about a week.

Instead, I received a phone call (I believe it was the day after the hearing) saying that Locke wanted to meet with me (with Bonasera and Barnes also present) on July 1.

That meeting proved to be a classic "good news-bad news" event. It also raised serious questions about UAB's motives in my case.

(To be continued)

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