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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Some Strange Wheels Are Spinning at UAB

The point person for my unlawful termination at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) apparently has herself been shown the door.

Pam Powell, who was my supervisor for 12 years in the UAB Office of Periodicals, now is listed as retired (effective July 2, 2o09) at the university's online directory.

Has my tormentor been demoted and forced into retirement? Sure looks that way. Why has that happened? Beats me.

Powell waged a five-month harassment campaign against me, which got so alarming in April 2008 that I went to her superior, associate vice president Dale Turnbough, and complained about age discrimination and other concerns. I filed a formal grievance against Powell in UAB Employee Relations on the same day I spoke with Turnbough. Roughly two weeks after filing the grievance, I was placed on administrative leave and then fired on May 18, after 19 years on the job.

It's hard to imagine a more glaring example of workplace retaliation.

Doug Gillett, one of three Office of Periodicals employees who recently was laid off, writes on his Hey, Jenny Slater blog that Powell had been demoted in the months leading up to his dismissal. Gillett writes:

On Friday I got laid off from my job at UAB, where I'd worked for nearly seven years, easily the longest stretch I've ever worked at any one job. On the one hand, it was kind of liberating, given that honestly, I'd pretty much fucking hated my job for the past few months. Without naming names or digging too much into the soap-operatic office politics that have taken over at my former place of employment, I received several signs over the past couple months, the most important of them being the careless (and callous) demotion of my beloved department head who had faithfully served the school for more than three decades, that indicated to me that none of us were particularly respected or valued anyway; so in that sense, my being removed from that situation is a good thing.

I like Gillett and considered him an excellent coworker, but I'm going to have to take him to task here:

* Doug, I've got to penalize you 15 yards for brown nosing. In fact, you might have to be ejected from the blogosphere for a few days for flagrant brown nosing. "Beloved?" Try talking to the three employees Powell has supervised who were around the age of 50. Two were fired and one was almost hospitalized due to work-related stress. (Her words, not mine.) Those folks probably would use a number of descriptive terms related to Powell--and some of them might start with "b"--but "beloved" would not be among them.

* You just realized that you weren't valued or respected when Powell got demoted? Do you recall a certain 19-year employee (me) who vanished into the good night without an explanation, who was treated like a criminal and not even allowed to return to his desk and gather his personal items? Do you know why this 19-year employee (me) was treated that way? Because I had the audacity to start a blog--just as you had--and exercise my First Amendment rights, to tell the truth about political and judicial corruption in Alabama and beyond.

Did you know that my computer usage at work was "investigated" for roughly a month in early 2008, apparently in an effort to determine if I was writing my blog at work? Were any of the other three bloggers in our office--including you--investigated in this manner? Nope. And guess what? UAB's own information-technology sleuth testified at my grievance hearing that I never typed the first word on my blog while at work.

UAB then resorted to vague allegations that I was "researching" my blog at work--whatever that means. As you know, part of our job description was, in our free moments, to use the Web to keep up with news events that could turn into story ideas for our publications. I did that. As you also know, various forms of new media had become a hot topic in our office, and we were instructed (in our free moments) to learn how blogs, social-networking sites, and audio/visual sites worked. I did that, and several of my suggestions based on that research were used with our clients. In other words, Doug, I got fired for doing my frickin' job!

Yep, all of those things Powell told us to do in our free moments? When she wanted to bump me off, she suddenly decided those were "non-work related activity." So what happened to me? My boss told me to do something, I did it, then she fired me because what she told me to do was "non-work related activity." And you think things just started getting weird with Powell's demotion? Heck, Powell played a big part in creating the weirdness.

And get this, Doug: UAB's own grievance committee determined that I should not have been terminated, but President Carol Garrison upheld my termination anyway. You want to know where the soap opera begins? Look toward the 10th floor of the Administration Building (where Garrison resides)--and the Board of Trustees' comfy digs in Tuscaloosa. It goes right to the top.

* Doug, you say Powell's demotion was "careless and callous"? What would you call the "career execution" that I experienced? And Powell played a huge role in it. Did it ever occur to you that Powell got what was coming to her--that she brought it on herself? And you want to know about callous? Has one single person from UAB contacted my wife or me to see how we are doing, with me having been thrown out on the street--cheated out of my job--in the worst economy since the Great Depression? I'm still waiting for the first sign of concern from anyone at UAB--the place that's supposed to be known for its "caring touch" in health care. Does anyone at UAB give a rip what this has done to our health? Not that I can tell. Powell's treatment of me went way beyond callous--to corrupt, deceitful, vicious, and inhumane--so excuse me if I don't shed a tear for her.

* On the subject of non-work related activity, Doug, you know a little something about that. I'm sure you recall that you got into some hot water for actually blogging and conducting political activities at work, a clear violation of university policy and probably state law. My memory is that you were given some kind of warning and went on to work seven years at UAB, only losing your job because of budgetary constraints. I wasn't blogging at work, researching my blog at work, doing political stuff at work or any other form of non-work related activity. I was simply doing what I had been told to do--but I got fired. You see the difference in the way you (a 25-year-old at the time) and I (51 at the time) were treated? You see why your use of the term "beloved" in relation to Pam Powell makes me want to regurgitate.

* Doug, if you are lucky, you'll be 51 some day. If and when you get there, I hope you will take a moment to think of how Pam Powell treated me. I hope you take a moment to think about how it might feel to be cheated out of your job at that age--or any age, for that matter. I hope you will, at some point, reconsider your use of the term "beloved" regarding Pam Powell. You're a smart guy, with a good heart and keen powers of observation. Look back to the months before Pam Powell's demotion and consider when the crap really started and who, to a great extent, caused it.

Let me get out of rant mode with my guy Doug long enough to ask this question: Why was Pam Powell unceremoniously shown the exits, and did it have anything to do with her role in my unlawful termination?

I have filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and should be getting the go-ahead soon for filing a lawsuit against UAB (actually the University of Alabama Board of Trustees is the legal entity) and a number of folks in their individual capacities. Did that have something to do with Pam Powell's demotion and apparent forced retirement?

I can't begin to understand why UAB's current administration acts the way it does. The place, in its current state, has become so dysfunctional as to boggle the mind. Even Doug Gillett says it's filled with "soap-operatic office politics." But I have seen how UAB handled one discrimination case against it. And I see some possible parallels between that case and Pam Powell's ignominious exit.

Dr. Seema Gupta was one of several international medical residents to receive shabby treatment at the UAB School of Medicine's Huntsville Residency Program, and I mentioned her case in a recent post. UAB's mistreatment of medical residents from India and Pakistan already has received coverage in one of India's major newspapers.

UAB was found to have discriminated against Dr. Gupta on the basis of her Hindu religion, and the case has attracted the attention of several prominent political figures in India, a country where UAB is trying to form business alliances.

The Indian politicians have sent complaints to their American counterparts, including U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), who apparently proceeded to do nothing about the discrimination. The Gupta case is likely to attract international press coverage in the coming weeks, and we will be writing extensively about it here at Legal Schnauzer.

For now, let's make this point: A physician named Allan J. Wilke (along with Dr. Marcia Chesebro and Dr. Melissa Behringer, in the Gupta case) appears to have been at the heart of the problems with international medical residents at UAB's Huntsville residency program.

All of this took place under the "watchful" eye of Dr. Robert Centor, who is supposed to be overseeing the Huntsville program when he isn't busy writing a blog called Med Rants. Hmmm, wonder if Centor uses UAB equipment or time to write his blog.

What did UAB do not long after Wilke bumped Seema Gupta from her residency spot, after she had almost completed two years of the three-year program--and after UAB's own committee found that she should not have been non-renewed? The university demoted Wilke.

If you notice that the Seema Gupta case emits an ugly smell, similar to the one that surrounds my case, that's because it does. And we soon will begin filling you in on the details of how UAB accepts international medical graduates--and their tuition money--and then treats them like dirt.

Speaking of treating someone like dirt, that brings us back to Pam Powell. Did UAB pull a "Wilke" with her, showing her the door after she caused all kinds of human-resources problems? Our Schnauzer nose, and ears, will be looking for the answer to that question.

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