I expected the outcome of my grievance hearing to be straightforward.
Based on what Employee Relations representative Bobby Barnes said after the hearing, and based on what I read about the PRP procedure in the You & UAB Handbook, I thought the committee would either recommend that the termination be upheld or overturned. And I thought HR director Cheryl Locke would either accept or reject their written recommendation.
Sounds simple. But evidently, someone in the UAB chain of command did not want my case to be simple.
During the July 1 meeting, Locke quickly told me that the committee had recommended that my termination be overturned. Ah, good news.
But that was not all--not by a long shot.
Locke said that I would have to accept having two written warnings in my personnel file as a result of this episode. And I would not be able to return to my old job; I would have to accept an unspecified job, with an unspecified supervisor, with unspecified pay. For good measure, she also told me that I would not be able to blog, period, should I return to UAB. She said she was concerned about my "representation" of UAB.
Given my vague familiarity with this thing we call the First Amendment, this last proviso certainly gave me cause. In fact, the whole thing gave me pause, so I said I needed to think this over, and we rescheduled a second meeting for July 11.
I received nothing in writing at the July 1 meeting, so I thought it would be wise to check back with Locke--to make sure I heard what she said correctly.
The following e-mail was transmitted her way on July 3:
I needed to check with on a couple of issues regarding the July 1 meeting I had with you (and Anita Bonasera and Bobby Barnes) about my PRP hearing:
* I need to discuss issues from that meeting with a couple of people, and due to the July 4 holiday, those folks are out of pocket. I need to reschedule our followup meeting, which we had set for July 7, to no earlier than July 9 (Wednesday). Most any time that day, or on July 10 or 11, will work for me.
* I was given nothing in writing at the July 1 meeting, so I want to make sure I understand the statements you made in that meeting. I understand the following:
(1) That the employee PRP committee recommended that my termination be overturned;
(2) If I return to UAB, it will be with two written warnings--one from April 2008 and one from June 2008--in my personnel file;
(3) I will not be reinstated to my old job in UAB Publications. If I return to UAB, it would be in an unspecified position, with an unspecified supervisor, at unspecified pay;
(4) No reason was given as to why I could not return to my old job, and I was not informed as to who made that determination;
(5) If I return to UAB, I would not be allowed to continue writing my blog, Legal Schnauzer. I gather I would not be allowed to write any blog at all.
Please confirm that these were the main points presented to me in our July 1 meeting. If you need to add to, or subtract from, any of these, please let me know.
Here is the reply I received from Ms. Locke on July 3:
I understand you wanting to carefully weigh all factors. How about we reschedule the meeting for July 11th at 11:00am? Again I’ve asked Anita and Bobby to be present. Please allow me to provide clarification to your bullet statements:
1. The committee recommended that you be reinstated. The rationale behind their recommendation was simply that they believe that you should be given a written warning in lieu of termination for neglect of duty.
2. You will have two written warnings upon return to UAB.
3. You will be returned to UAB with the same former pay. Based on your two written warnings, my intent is to work with you to provide you with the best opportunity to succeed which is why I have solicited your input on this matter.
4. See #3 above.
5. I did not say that you would not be allowed to write on your personal blog during personal time.
I look forward to talking with you again on July 11th.
Cheryl E.H. Locke
This raised my Schnauzer hackles a tad. So I responded with this:
Thanks for your reply. I've got the new meeting time on my schedule.
Just one note regarding item No. 5. My writing on my blog has been totally on my personal time already. The IT representative who monitored my computer usage testified to that at the hearing. He was asked multiple times, "Did Roger write on his blog, using his UAB computer." Answer: No.
Just for the record, there is no evidence that I conducted research for my blog on UAB time or equipment either. I've not even seen a definition in UAB policy of what constitutes "research" on the Web.
Consider this: If an employee uses his work computer to check the Weather Channel site for the next day's forecast, sees that it's going to be cold, and then wears a coat the next day, is that "research" for his "personal use?" If an employee uses her work computer to check the Target site to see their prices on a possible birthday gift for her daughter, and then goes to the store to buy the gift, is that "research" for her "personal use?"
Should these employees be fired? What percentage of the UAB workforce would be fired under this scenario--80 to 90 percent?
One final thing: While I respect the committee's diligence during the hearing, I wholeheartedly disagree with their apparent finding regarding neglect of duty. In fact, it's not a matter of opinion. I sat through the whole hearing, and there was zero evidence to support a finding that I had neglected my duty. Pam Powell was asked several times to present documentation to support that claim, and I didn't see her provide any. And that's because there isn't any. I know the status of all of my projects, and the day I was placed on administrative leave, they all were on track to be printed on time.
Also, I've heard references to my supposed excessive NWR (non-work related) activity. First of all, how would anyone know whether it was excessive or not when you have a sample size of one? No one else in our group was checked, and those are the people who have similar job descriptions to mine. I wouldn't be surprised if my "NWR" was the lowest in the group. But nobody bothered to check that because I was singled out for investigation and dismissal. Two, the person who made the determination that something was NWR (a term I've never seen defined in any UAB policy) was the same person I had filed a grievance against. Does anyone seriously think she could make an objective determination in this situation?
One final point (I promise): Several references were made in our July 1 meeting to the contents of UAB policy. For example, you noted that the university has a policy that deals specifically with computer use. (I still haven't been able to find that, by the way.) But I think we all can agree on one thing: UAB policy says, in as clear a language as possible, that a UAB employee is to use the grievance process without fear of penalty or reprisal. It's undisputed that I filed a grievance against Pam Powell on April 23. (I think that's the correct date.) Subsequent to that, I suffered the worst penalty a UAB employee can suffer--I was fired. If we are to take the UAB employee as law within our workplace, then by law, I could not be disciplined or terminated once I had filed a grievance against Pam Powell. Therefore, all of the issues involved in my termination (neglect of duty, etc.) could not go before the PRP committee--by law.
The fact that those issues did go before the committee--and the fact I was fired even though I had filed a grievance against the very supervisor who fired me--is a gross abuse of UAB policy. Does UAB policy matter or not? Are UAB employees governed by policy and procedure or the whims of supervisors?
As you can tell, I get wound up on this subject. But I thought it was important for me to share these thoughts.
With that on the table, we proceeded to the July 11 meeting
(To be continued)