A Reader's Open Letter to the EEOC
TO: OPEN LETTER TO THE US EEOC
FROM: A VICTIM OF RACIAL ANIMUS IN THE WORKPLACE
SUBJECT: DEHUMANIZING ASPECTS OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION
Dear Sirs and Mesdames:
I will try to be brief but please take the time to read this letter because I wish to convey the feelings that so many live with due to racial animus, profiling and discrimination in the working environment. I have not signed my name because I have an open complaint with your office and I don’t wish to create a bias for or against the outcome. Instead, this is just an honest view of the feelings of hopelessness I’ve experienced since being wrongly accused and targeted because of my race.
I have always been an exemplary employee, yet I have been lied on, falsely accused of improprieties, falsely accused of fighting in the workplace, of being rude and physically intimidating, and suddenly characterized by the stereotypes that are so often used in the media, etc. to depict Black women. The accusations made no sense on their face and the manager and the human resource representative only had to look past the nose on their respective faces to realize this. The new manager was aware of my prior protected activity and made comments to that effect. 30 days later my position was inexplicably terminated. The reasons given were “You roll your eyes at everyone, a sudden lack of work, behavior issues, and performance issues that occurred several and many years ago.”
As stated previously, I have always been an exemplary employee; I never received a negative performance evaluation, I was always lauded as being a great communicator with the ability to foster teamwork and maintain a team-oriented environment. Yet, less than one week into the tenure of a new department manager, I received a negative performance evaluation of “Poor,” was informed that I was confused about who I was, labeled as having communication problems, being antagonistic, hostile, offensive, angry, rude, unprofessional and told that I physically harass and intimidate everyone. I was accused by a coworker and judged guilty without investigation or explanation. The fact that two white women confirmed the false accusations sealed my fate. A defamatory memo was placed in my personnel file to prevent me from transferring out of the department and shortly thereafter I was terminated. This manager allowed coworkers to read the defamatory memo that was placed in my personnel file in case they wanted anything added. So much for reprimanding an employee in a confidential manner.
Coworkers accused me of being rude and hating my job because I refused to “look the other way” each time they attempted to ignore the Federal Travel Regulations, specifically those related to hotel and meal per diem rates, and receipts for taxi services. One employee would request a travel advance in excess of $500, utilize her personal and inexpensive time share type package for company-related business, and then argue about having to reimburse the contract for the additional monies she received for hotel expenses. According to her this was free money, everybody did it, and since I was Black I should know all about cheating the government. I explained this to the new manager and was told that if I wanted to stay employed I was to ignore the Federal Travel Regulations and never question anything that an employee submitted regarding reimbursement of travel costs. I was to submit each employee’s expense report for reimbursement without question, I was not to verify or confirm the expenses.
I am angry, frustrated, hurt, offended, humiliated, and confused. I have bouts of shame yet I have done absolutely nothing wrong. Although normally I am very calm, lately I have mood swings and can’t seem to muster the energy to leave the house. I’m sad, anxious and depressed. I know right now I would benefit from speaking with a mental health professional. But due to the loss of employment, I no longer have health insurance. Besides the loss of income that is associated with job loss, health insurance benefits, sick and vacation leave, pension plan and other company benefits are lost. And, the time and years spent earning an exemplary employment record are also lost.
Employment discrimination continues to exist because employers have become wise in how to effectively discriminate without appearing to do so. This can be accomplished via job classification, i.e., inexplicably a large number of minorities are categorized as administrative support. Using stereotypes, character assassination, personality attacks and lies doesn’t require a lot of written documentation, instead these things travel by word of mouth. Accusing someone of being a poor communicator or having communication issues or being unprofessional can be just as detrimental to an employee’s career, serves the same purpose in denying him/her employment opportunities and on its face, is not illegal.
This is exactly what occurred in my case and I would bet in numerous cases across the country. Employers have learned how to discriminate without admitting to doing so because the employer controls the work environment: institutes the policies and procedures, manages the recordkeeping and the personnel files. Although I believe I write clearly, at times when I speak about my ill treatment my emotions are raw, unmanaged and in the forefront. That’s when I worry about my ability to communicate just how much this has impacted my life in such a negative and wrongful manner. And, I am always concerned about other victims of discrimination who may not be articulate or composed enough to convey the harassing work environment that was suddenly or gradually thrust upon them.
In my case, the former employer instituted a lay-off that disproportionately penalized members of a protected class and claimed extenuating circumstances in order to avoid culpability. Performance problems were fabricated in order to show documentation of performance issues, company policies were ignored and although the company had a policy established for progressive discipline and corrective actions, I received severe discipline and the only corrective action came in the form of the company terminating me.
I would like to know why any person in a managerial position feels they have the right to deny me a promotion, advancement opportunities, mentoring, a salary upgrade, etc. merely because I am Black? Yet, the rogue managers in my situation have done exactly that and have bragged about doing so. One manager informed me that she ran the department and did not give a damn about rules, regulations or the EEOC. With this type of authoritative figure what hope does the average employee have? Because I am trying to maintain professionalism in this letter, I will refer to the managers in my case as people, but other, more euphemistic terms certainly come to mind.
This manager conveyed her shock that I was “so articulate,” but in the next breath said “look at me and look at you, who’s going to believe you? She also informed me that I was not a good employee and would be terminated because she did not want to offend the sensibilities of the organization because I was the “typical Black girl . . . you know you uh roll eyes and suck your teeth uh, oh and you smack your lips and chew gum loudly, you know like other Black girls.”Aside from the fact that I am a grown woman, mother and grandmother and therefore not a “girl,” I don’t chew gum, loudly or otherwise. Nor do I smack my lips, roll my eyes or suck my teeth in everyday conversation, so why pray tell would I behave this way in the workplace? Yet these offenses were put in writing and placed in my personnel file.
I once read an excerpt called “Cages,” which seemed to serve as a metaphor for racial discrimination. For me, the confines of the bird cage sum up the confines of a workplace that is fraught with racial hostility. Who or where do you turn when you are treated unfairly because you are a member of a protected group? Because of an employee’s divergent culture, he/she is subjected to ridicule, harassment, retaliation, humiliation, isolation. Management resents you raising the issue and suddenly your significance and plausibility is in question. Coworkers who are aware of your mistreatment close their eyes and their ears, not realizing that what negatively impacts me today, may negatively impact them tomorrow. Far too often managers bring their biases and prejudices to work, the siblings of racial discrimination into the office. Employment discrimination is offensive, it is insulting, it is meant to categorize, to separate, to exclude. Discrimination makes it too easy for others to take symbolisms, words, and/or beliefs and make them conform to the biases of those in positions of power to discriminate. It is designed to make us all uncomfortable with each other.
There are far too many victims of employment discrimination and far, far too many stories that need to be told. In spite of my trials and tribulations, and the tears that never seem to stop falling, I have never and will never ask “Why me?” or “Why did this happen to me?”
The prevailing question for me has always and will always be “Why anyone?”
A VICTIM OF RACIAL ANIMUS IN THE WORKPLACE