Monday, August 4, 2008

UAB Resorts to Pretzel Logic, Part II

In a previous post, we noted the twisted logic UAB human resources director Cheryl Locke uses in trying to justify upholding my termination--even though her own employee grievance committee had recommended that I be reinstated.

Let's spend a little time deconstructing Locke's letter. This exercise should show us that even an otherwise bright person with an Ivy League degree (as Locke has) can resort to putrid rhetorical tactics when attempting to justify the unjustifiable.

Cheryl Locke: "On April 15, 2008, you were issued a written warning for exhibiting inappropriate and unprofessional behavior during a verbal counseling session. Terms used in the written warning to describe your behavior included 'extremely hostile and threatening.'"

Legal Schnauzer: Who used these terms to describe my behavior? Pam Powell, my supervisor and the person to whom I had written an e-mail on January 15, providing written proof that she had made multiple false statements in December 2007 about my job performance. UAB's grievance hearing showed that Powell reacted to my January 15 e-mail by, five days later, ordering an investigation of my computer usage. Let me repeat: Powell ordered an investigation of my computer usage just five days after I had let her know via e-mail that I had caught her in multiple lies regarding my job performance. Can we say retaliation? Powell also is the supervisor who had been harassing me for about four months before I finally complained to her superior, Dale Turnbough (who told me she would talk to Powell and take care of it), and then filed a formal grievance against Powell with Locke's own department. UAB policy says that an employee is to use the grievance process without fear of reprisal or penalty. But after I filed my grievance, I was placed on administrative leave and then fired. Locke conveniently leaves this out of her letter, just as she leaves out Powell's clearly retaliatory actions over a four-month period of time.

CL: "Shortly thereafter, investigation results revealed that after being cautioned you continued spending an inordinate amount of time on personal matters on your UAB computer and doing other activities related to work. On May 19th, your employment was terminated for insubordination and neglect of duty."

LS: Locke has a major problem here: I was at the grievance hearing, and she wasn't. Here's what the hearing showed: (1) Pam Powell repeatedly was asked to document her claims that she had warned me regarding computer usage. She could not provide any; (2) The investigation actually showed that I had never touched the first keystroke on my blog while at work, which is exactly what I told Employee Relations director Anita Bonasera when I was placed on administrative leave; (3) The investigation did not show I was spending an inordinate amount of time on personal matters on my UAB computers. First of all, "inordinate" is a comparative term, and it means nothing without having something with which to compare my computer use. But UAB didn't have that because it singled me out. Was anyone else in my office checked for their computer use? Nope. So how does Locke know my computer time on "personal matters" was inordinate? The answer: She doesn't. (4) The investigation showed that I was spending a modest amount of time checking articles related to Alabama news, as I was supposed to do according to my job description. Who determined that this work-related activity involved "personal matters." Why, Pam Powell, of course--who, as we've already shown, was orchestrating a harassment campaign against me because I had caught her making false statements about my job performance. (5) Actually, UAB trumped up three charges against me--insubordination, neglect of duty, and falsification of time records. Zero evidence of insubordination or falsification of time records was presented at the hearing, and the committee members spent almost no time asking about them. In my most recent meeting with her, Locke said the committee's report focused only on neglect of duty. By her own words, the committee dismissed the other two charges.

CL: "The committee, after reviewing the documents and interviewing all relevant parties, unanimously agreed that your behavior on April 15 was inappropriate and unprofessional but not hostile and threatening."

LS: To quote the great sportscaster Keith Jackson, "Whoa, Nellie!" Pam Powell, my supervisor, was the one who threw around all of these buzzwords: "hostile," "threatening," "unprofessional," etc. Locke is saying that the committee found Powell had no credibility regarding her use of the words "hostile" and "threatening." But they found that she did have credibility with the use of the words "unprofessional" and "inappropriate?" That doesn't make a lick of sense.

CL: "The committee also unanimously agreed that you abused UAB time by doing non-work related activity on your computer. Although the committee agreed that your conduct in both instances was improper, it did not agree with the decision to terminate your employment. It believed that a second warning was more appropriate."

LS: Let me get this straight: The committee has just found that Pam Powell was not credible in her charges of hostile and threatening behavior on my part. But they believe her charges regarding non-work related (NWR) activity on my computer, even though she didn't investigate any of her other employees? This charge regarding NWR comes totally from Powell, and when asked in the hearing to present documentation regarding NWR, she couldn't do it. The committee already has said it didn't believe major portions of her story. But they believe this business about NWR? Again, makes not a lick of sense.

CL: "Accordingly, the committee recommended that the original written warning remain with modified language, and that in lieu of termination, you be reinstated to employment with a second written warning for excessive Internet usage for non-work related purposes."

LS: I'm sorry, but I actually laughed out loud when I read this. The committee is apparently saying that the original written warning was so off target that it's language had to be modified, but they recommended that it be upheld? Again, I sat through the entire hearing, and I saw no sign that the committee members were stupid. In fact, I was impressed with the seriousness and fairness they seemed to bring to the occasion. So why should I believe that this was actually their recommendation? The committee supposedly made a written report, and Locke has made sure that I haven't seen a copy of it. If the committee actually recommended this, it makes me think the whole process was fixed by management from the outset. Again, I was impressed with the committee members, and I find it hard to believe they would make a nonsensical recommendation like this. Evidence at the hearing showed that Pam Powell could not document anything, her own witnesses did not support her story, and I should not have been disciplined in any way. Tape recordings of the hearings exist, and if UAB doesn't destroy them, the tapes clearly will show that the hearing was about as one-sided, in my favor, as you can imagine. If it had been a baseball game, the final score would have been something like 19-0.

CL: "In a meeting on July 1, 2008, I advised you of the committee's recommendation and my intent to return you to work with the two written warnings in your personnel file. I also informed you that you would return to work in a yet to be determined comparable position at the same rate of pay in a different department. I told you that my staff and I would work to make your return successful and encouraged you to give thought to areas that might interest you. We agreed you would take some time to consider these terms."

LS: Again, notice that Locke talks about the committee's recommendation, but she doesn't actually show me their report. Also notice that even she doesn't try to lay the business about me returning to a different department on the committee. No, that's apparently a UAB management special. Locke makes no mention of why this apparently is so important to UAB management. But I can tell you where this comes from. UAB has had leadership problems for about 12 to 15 years, but a lot of terrific people work at the university. In my general area, I worked with a bunch of smart, dedicated folks, and they know I was cheated out of my job. They know I wasn't neglecting my work, and several of them know quite a few details about the legal mess I've experienced. Some of them also have a general idea about the wrongdoing I've exposed on my blog. UAB doesn't want me back around those folks again, because most of my former coworkers are too smart to buy the crock of steaming feces UAB is trying to sell. In other words, UAB is doing its darnedest to suppress the truth--just the kind of thing a public research university should be doing, isn't it?

Let me make just a couple of additional points:

* In her letter, Locke seems shockingly unfamiliar with UAB's policies. In fact, I've not come across a manager in the whole place who seems to have a clue about what UAB policy actually says. Locke gives the impression that written warnings can be handed out like Halloween candy. UAB policy says the first step in most disciplinary actions should be oral warning. A first-time written warning is to be given only for major misconduct or a major offense. (See You & UAB Handbook, page 58.) UAB's own committee has admitted I didn't exhibit major misconduct or commit a major offense (or any offense at all, for that matter), but yet I'm supposed to have two written warnings?

Locke gives the impression that it is A-OK for an employee to be immediately discharged, without warning (as I was), for most any old thing. But UAB policy presents a list of the type of offenses that call for immediate discharge. (See You & UAB Handbook, page 61.) These include offenses such as fighting, conviction for a felony, possessing firearms or knives at work, appearing at work while drunk or under the influence of illegal drugs. Offenses alleged in my case did not come close to this standard. But I, a 19-year employee, was immediately discharged.

When Locke proposes that I return to work with two written warnings in my file, she conveniently fails to mention that UAB policy says any employee who gets three written warnings in an 18-month period of time is automatically discharged. (See You & UAB Handbook, page 58.) When I raised this issue with Locke and stated that her proposal looked like a bad-faith effort to set me up to be fired all over again, she (to her credit) made no attempt to deny it. What if I got a third written warning, perhaps for wearing the wrong color of socks, from some unspecified manager? "That would be up to your supervisor," Locke said. So much for her commitment to my return being successful.

Finally, Locke gives the impression that an employee grievance committee has all kinds of power--they can generate new written warnings that didn't exist before, they can edit existing written warnings to make them more palatable. Gosh, I guess they can even cure the heartbreak of psoriasis. But UAB's actual policies tell a different story. (See You & UAB Handbook, pages 64-66.) Issues that can be heard by a grievance committee are outlined. And it appears that a committee is to give an "up or down" recommendation on the grievance before it--and nothing else. The issue before the committee in my case was a termination. That's what they were supposed to consider, and they did, issuing a recommendation that I be reinstated. But Cheryl Locke, without any evidence to back it up, tells me the committee also issued all kinds of provisos that are way beyond their authority. Good grief, maybe we should let a UAB grievance committee edit the Magna Carta or the Old Testament.

* One final point about my former co-workers, who as I mentioned earlier, are a gem dandy bunch of folks. An irony in all of this is that I never would have thought of writing a blog if two of my coworkers didn't have blogs. I've written many times that Legal Schnauzer is inspired by Murphy (1993-2004), our wonderful miniature schnauzer who helped us survive the worst of our legal nightmare.

But I probably wouldn't have even known what a blog was if two of my 20-something coworkers, Doug Gillett and Stanley Holditch, hadn't been active bloggers. In fact, they both are on my blogroll. Doug is the creative force behind Hey, Jenny Slater, which focuses largely on University of Georgia football and a French broadcaster who is an incredible babe. (I forget her name, but Doug has her picture all over his cubicle, and she truly is a showstopper. Several times I've been talking with Doug about some important topic--probably the latest Georgia game--and I will catch a glimpse of the French babe--and I totally lose track of what I was saying.) Stanley is the maestro behind Fleabomb, which focuses on Birmingham's eclectic cultural scene, with some progressive politics thrown in for good measure. I encourage Legal Schnauzer readers to check out their blogs.

Doug and Stanley are smart, interesting, funny, creative types--the kind of people you delight in calling co-workers. (In fact, all of my former co-workers are great folks--if you exclude a few management types. Why do the insecure, self-absorbed, narcissistic, ethically challenged types always gravitate toward the top? Never figured that one out.) I guess you could say that Doug and Stanley inspired me to think about doing a blog. And my wife, and Murphy's memory, inspired me to actually write one.

Interestingly, my case is not the first time the issue of blogging and work has come up in my former office. And I think you will find it interesting to see how UAB handled an earlier situation, compared with out how it handled mine. That is coming soon.

No comments: