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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pitfalls and Politics in the Workplace

Having been cheated out of my job a few months ago, I've become keenly interested in the landmines that can lie just beneath the surface in many workplaces.

I was fired after 19 years of service at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for a couple of reasons--one that is fairly obvious and one that UAB is trying to keep hidden away.

The obvious reason is that I had complained, both to my immediate supervisor and her superior, about age-based harassment and discrimination that I had experienced over a period of some five months or more.

I filed a formal grievance in UAB Human Resources, a process employees are supposed to use without fear of reprisal. But roughly two weeks after filing the grievance, I was placed on administrative leave. And 12 days after that, I was terminated.

Can we say retaliation?

The hidden reason I was fired has to do with Alabama politics and the fact I was producing citizen journalism on this blog that caused discomfort for certain folks affiliated with the Republican Party. And a number of GOP types exert both political and financial power over UAB.

I was exercising my First Amendment right to report on, and comment about, matters of public interest--primarily that Alabama state courts are a corrupt mess and the Bush administration has used the U.S. Justice Department as a political weapon.

Someone wanted to shut me up, and they apparently thought costing me my job would do the trick.

Can we say violation of constitutional rights?

When your antennae are tuned in the right direction, it's amazing how much news you will find about various shenanigans in the workplace.

Here in the Birmingham area we have a case in the suburb of Helena, where a female police officer named Jan McDuff has filed a discrimination lawsuit in federal court.

McDuff has been a police officer since July 2000 and applied for a position as a K-9 officer. Her lawsuit claims the job went to a lesser qualified male officer. In fact, the officer who got the job failed to make it through K-9 school, so the city gave the job to an even less qualified male officer.

When McDuff sent an e-mail to her superiors to express concern about the situation, noting that she is the only female among 21 full-time officers, she was disciplined with a written warning.

Hmmm, this sounds familiar.

Regular folks like Jan McDuff and I aren't the only ones to step on workplace landmines. Some cases gain national attention and some involve people of considerable fame:

* Elizabeth Reyes, an attorney in the Texas Secretary of State Office, filed a lawsuit last year claiming that Karl Rove had her fired after she had commented for a Washington Post story. We posted about the Reyes case
here. In checking the Web and various Texas newspaper sites, I did not find any stories updating the status of the Reyes lawsuit. But it is undisputed that Rove called her boss after the story appeared. And it is undisputed that Reyes lost her job soon after that conversation took place.

* Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather lost his job not long after reporting about George W. Bush's military records. CBS official initially said Rather's lawsuit would be summarily dismissed. But a recent New York Times article shows that discovery in the lawsuit indicates CBS indeed initiated an investigation of Rather partly to quell Republican criticism of the network.

I see no evidence that politics played a role in the Jan McDuff case. But it clearly played a role in the Reyes, Rather, and Legal Schnauzer cases.

Can we all hope for a brighter day, when people can do their jobs without worrying so much about stepping on landmines?

I think there is reason to have hope. But first, we must shine light on cases of injustice in the workplace. I applaud Dan Rather's efforts to get at the truth in his case.

And we are trying to follow his lead in our own Legal Schnauzer case. I've started the litigation process by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That is a step that must be taken before a lawsuit is filed.

I've also unearthed quite a bit of evidence about what really caused me to be terminated at UAB. We will be presenting that information in detail in the coming weeks here at Legal Schnauzer.

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