Thursday, January 29, 2009

President Obama Signs the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009

I am including this update because it is relevant to the workplace and because pay discrimination can be based on gender, race, gender AND race (intersectional discrimination), etc.

On January 29, 2009, with the new law's namesake Lilly Ledbetter there to witness, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- legislation to fight pay discrimination and ensure fundamental fairness to American workers. This bill rectifies a Supreme Court decision, which made it harder for workers to sue their employers for pay discrimination compensation. For the full text of the act, visit:
From the web site of the Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca):

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, H.R. 2831. This bill is key for women and other workers – restoring a basic protection against pay discrimination, by rectifying the May 2007 Ledbetter v Goodyear Supreme Court decision that overturned precedent and made it much more difficult for workers to pursue pay discrimination claims. The bill simply restores the longstanding interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and other discrimination statutes, thereby protecting women and other workers. The House passed this bill on July 31, 2007.


On July 31, 2007, the House passed H.R. 2831, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This is a critical bill for women, rectifying the Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear that made it much harder for women and other workers to pursue pay discrimination claims.

In May 2007, the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision, Ledbetter v. Goodyear, which tosses aside longstanding prior law and makes it much harder for women and other workers to pursue pay discrimination claims. On May 29, 2007, the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 ruling that would make it significantly harder for women and other workers to sue their employers for discrimination in pay. The Court ruled that since Lilly Ledbetter, a long-time employee of Goodyear, had not filed her charge of pay discrimination within 180 days of her employer’s initial decision to pay her less, she could not receive any relief.

By its ruling, the Supreme Court stripped Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of much of its potency. As a New York Times editorial (5/31/07) pointed out, “The Supreme Court struck a blow for discrimination this week by stripping a key civil rights law of much of its potency. The majority opinion … forced an unreasonable reading of the law, and tossed aside longstanding precedents to rule in favor of an Alabama employer that had underpaid a female employee for years.”

In overturning the Supreme Court, this bill simply restores the longstanding interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Supreme Court ruling overturned longstanding precedent. Under longstanding precedent and the interpretation of the EEOC, every paycheck resulting from an earlier discriminatory pay decision is considered a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and other key anti-discrimination statutes. Therefore, as long as a worker files within 180 days of a discriminatory paycheck, their charges are considered as timely. The legislation would also clarify that, once a worker files a charge, he or she needs not keep filing new charges with each new paycheck.

Lilly Ledbetter’s case was a clear case of pay discrimination on the basis of sex. Lilly Ledbetter worked for nearly 20 years as a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company facility in Alabama. She sued the company after learning that she was paid less than her male counterparts at the facility, despite having more experience than several of them. A jury found that her employer had unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of sex. However, the Supreme Court ruled that Ledbetter had waited too long to sue, despite the fact that she filed a charge with the EEOC as soon as she received an anonymous note alerting her to pay discrimination. The court ruled that, since Ledbetter did not raise a claim within 180 days of the employer’s initial decision to pay her less, she could not receive any relief. Employees in Ledbetter’s position would be forced to live with discriminatory paychecks for the rest of their careers under this Supreme Court decision.

This Supreme Court decision ignores the realities of the workplace. The majority in this decision failed to take into account the realities of the workplace. Employees generally do not know enough about what their co-workers earn, or how pay decisions are made, to file a complaint precisely when discrimination first occurs. Indeed, in a large proportion of American companies, salaries are confidential. The court’s new rules would make it extraordinarily difficult for women and other victims of pay discrimination to sue under Title VII.

In her dissent, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg urged Congress to quickly pass a law correcting this damaging decision. As the New York Times (5/30/07) reported, “In a vigorous dissenting opinion that she read from the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the majority opinion ‘overlooks common characteristics of pay discrimination.’ She said that given the secrecy in most workplaces about salaries, many employees would have no idea within 180 days that they had received a lower raise than others. … Justice Ginsburg noted that even a small differential ‘will expand exponentially over an employee’s working life if raises are set as a percentage of prior pay.’” In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg invited Congress to correct the Court’s misinterpretation of Title VII: “[t]he ball is in Congress’ court … the Legislature may act to correct this Court’s parsimonious reading of Title VII.”

Finally, the bill maintains the law’s current statute of limitations and limits on back pay recovery. Contrary to opponents’ claims, the bill does not eliminate the statute of limitations. Under this bill, an employee must still file a charge within the statutory filing period after receiving a discriminatory paycheck. Moreover, employees have no incentive to sit on their rights. The bill maintains Title VII’s limitation of two years for back pay recovery. The longer an employee waits, the more back pay is rendered unrecoverable.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The So-Called Equal Opportunity Abuser

I've worked with some executives, supervisors, and coworkers who were frequently or always offensive, hostile, abusive, rude, disrepectful, and nasty to just about everyone they came into contact with. And, while I can say that I've witnessed these folks being abusive to Whites, I can't say that they didn't have harsher reactions and even more increased negativity when dealing with minorities.

Dealing with the so-called equal opportunity abuser can make it extremely tricky to try to negotiate around this person and to change your work environment, should you complain about the person's behavior. "Oh, you know how he/she is!" or "That's just his/her way of working. He/She really gets things done!" or "He/she is like that WITH EVERYBODY!" might be the types of responses you get, when complaining about working with this type of person.

Some people--legitimately or simply feigning ignorance--believe that this type of person just may be an alpha personality, who everyone just has to learn to tolerate because of their position/status at the company or because of their connection to higher-ups or because they work on lucrative or high profile projects. They'd simply like everyone to get "tougher skin" or to "be the bigger person," not realizing that in some cases there really may be a serious problem lurking that violates federal statutes.

I worked with a VP, who was routinely nasty to staff and managers. However, when I was dealing with her--after she first joined the company--I was one of the few that she liked. She joked around with me on the phone (she worked out of state opening up a new office) and was generally pleasant. She thought I was reliable and I was assigned as her liaison with our office.

Then, she makes her first visit to our state and her mouth dropped when she saw me. I knew her reaction was based on my race. Someone pointed me out--because she asked where to find me because she couldn't wait to me in person--and her mouth dropped. As I smiled at her and approached, seeing she was looking for me, she turned and went the other way.

From that day forward, I was treated worse than those she was already targeting and butting heads with. I received offensive and hostile emails and voicemails and I was suddenly being accused of not being dependable and of not being able to follow instructions. I was told that she was sending work and requests to other staff because she wanted to make sure things got done properly and she couldn't trust me to do it. This is the rumor that was being spread about me by a VP.

When I complained of her behavior and that it correlated to her seeing me in person (details of how she reactd to me), I was told:

--It's not race. She's like that with everybody!
--You know how she is!
--You won't believe what she said/did to so and so! It's everybody--not just you!


They were so busy trying to ignore the potential racial component of what was happening that they were actually admitting that a VP was being abusive and hostile with EVERYBODY! Is that an acceptable defense? Don't complain because everyone is a target?

The question is...was everyone being targeted for the same reasons? It's one thing to just be a nasty b*tch. It's another thing to target people because you're a nasty b*tch and because they're Black, Hispanic or Asian. Just because a person supposedly spreads around their wrath and attacks to all races, doesn't mean that specific races aren't being targeted by this person due more to the color of their skin (or partially because of color) than just based on simple alpha personality syndrome.

Despite all the protests, a Black secretary came and confided to me that her boss (a White, male director) told her that the VP's problem with me was "this." When he said "this" he ran his fingers over his cheek to refer to my skin color. She also told me that the President/CEO was aware that it was "this" in my case and with some other staff, including Hispanics.

The male Director told his secretary that the VP was told she had to change or she would lose her job. There was no requirement for diversity or sensitivity training, no apologies, etc. Behind the scenes, she was told it was unacceptable and to our faces we were told that we were crazy. It was everybody! She didn't stop her behavior, so I went about DOCUMENTING EVERYTHING.

--I forwarded nasty voicemail messages to her supervisor with remarks that I would not tolerate anyone speaking to me in that fashion.
--I forwarded offensive and abusive email to her supervisor with a cc: to Human Resources stating that I wouldn't tolerate anyone writing me such nasty emails and blaming me for things I had not done.
--I took notes during any phone calls with her to document any nasty and offensive comments she made on the calls.
--I kept a log of any other negative incidences, such as coworkers telling me negatives things she'd said about me behind my back to slander me to my cowokers.

Within 2 weeks, upon seeing the documentation and complaint record I had created, I was no longer the liaison and had nothing to do with this VP for quite some time. Other staff in her office worked with me on their budgets, etc. On rare occassions I had to deal directly with her. When writing emails, the sentences from both of us were short and professional.

To this day, this was one of the more difficult situations to deal with because the company kept trying to push this argument that she was an equal opportunity offender, when that was only partially true. She did have race-based issues and this was understood by everyone in the power structure. Of course, they wanted to avoid liability for race-based harassment, so they created this story that she was "just rude" or "was stressed" from opening a new office" or "was like that with everybody."

When I looked at her issues with me and other minorities and her issues with White workers and managers, there were differences. The level of accusations and the language she used escalated in negativity and hostility. The insults fell into stereotyping with minorities and the attacks were reputation destroyers and personal. Words like "stupid" and "lack of trust" and "incompetent" were her favorites with minorities--to their faces and behind their backs.

With Whites it was more about being demanding and having an "I want it yesterday--do it now" type pressure. She was extremely rude and often verbally offensive, but she wasn't talking about "trust" or intelligence or competence.

Equal opporuntity abusers aren't always equal opportunity abusers. You do yourself a great service by really looking at the individual incidences and speaking to other staff to get an idea of the types of problems, language, abuse they are receiving from the abuser and then comparing that to your own treatment.

You may find a pattern of negative behavior that is specific to minority workers. You have to do your due dillegence and investigate what's going on. DOCUMENT EVERYTHING!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Stay Away From Workplace Troublemakers!

Here's one tip that can be used by workers of all races...stay away from the troublemakers and instigators at your job.

Some troublemakers can be really "cool," despite the fact that they always find themselves in the middle of things, including spreading people's business around the office. However, the coolness factor is usually part of their modus operandi. It's how they manage to stay involved in drama. It's why they always know what's going on. It's how they can spread rumors and have people give them an ear. It's how they can wield information like a sledgehammer and go on the attack against anyone they don't like, are jealous of, etc.

If there are folks on your job that always seem to be somehow connected to crisis and drama, keep your distance from them. It's just not worth forming a relationship with them because it's only a matter of time before you get caught up in something. It also may only be a matter of time before they turn their evil gaze upon you!

If you have a falling out with a troublemaker and/or you have something they want and/or they need a scapegoat for something they're involved in, etc. you can end up on the wrong side of this person and involved in some serious stuff at work.

Don't think that a troublemaker won't go after you and that they'll just do it to other folks. No! A real troublemaker and/or instigator can go after anyone under the right circumstances.

Stay clear of people that can end up forcing you to be called into meetings or who can go around spreading rumors about you based on a work relationship and personal conversations. Don't hang around someone with a loose tongue because you can have things attributed to you that were said by them! You don't want to end up with enemies of someone else's making!

If you have to work with a troublemaker and/or instigator, that's fine. Deal with them for business. You can even be friendly during required interactions. But, keep it business. Don't become lunch buddies and don't become the go-to person for someone that is always involved in trouble or who you've seen causing trouble for others.

It's bad enough that there are some folks who are so slick with their troublemaking and drama creation that we don't even know who they are or what drama they've caused. So, we don't have to compound the problem of having unknown troublemakers in our work lives by inviting known troublemakers into our inner circle of work buddies.

Watch people. See how they get down. Cut and choose folks in a way that suits your professional well-being and reflects who you are.

Remember, dirty water seeks its own level. Don't sink to the level of workplace troublemakers or give them any credibility by wasting your good reputation on them! Someone's bad reputation can unjustly impact how others view you. Remember that!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Proving Retaliation

If you are under attack at work, it’s critical that you have a complete and thorough record of every action taken against you by a supervisor, manager, coworkers or your employers--as a whole. You should also have a record of performance evaluations and other performance-related feedback, policies contained in the personnel manual, and other information.

When it comes to compiling evidence that supports your claims of workplace mistreatment and abuse, you should think in terms of direct vs. circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence is the best evidence to have because it is the most blatant and undeniable form of proof. An example of direct evidence is being told that you are not being promoted because you are Black or having your boss give you a memo stating that you won’t be given an opportunity to manage other staff because of your race. Direct evidence involves someone making it blatantly clear that your race is one of the factors or the sole factor in how they are treating you in the workplace.

Most people are too savvy to provide a target with direct evidence of discrimination, harassment or retaliation. But, it does happen. More often than not, a racist will simply find other ways to hide the racially motivated reasons for their actions. For that reason, it’s more likely that you will have circumstantial evidence of race-related discrimination, harassment, retaliation, etc.

Let’s look at how you might prove a circumstantial case of retaliation (retaliation for complaining about race-based abuses at work). According to the EEOC, a violation is established if there is circumstantial evidence raising an inference of retaliation, if your employer fails to produce evidence of a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the challenged action (firing, demotions, suspension, transfer to a hard to reach location, being stripped of assignments, harassment, retaliation, etc.) or if the reason provided by your employer is simply a pretext to hide the retaliatory motive.

If you file a complaint against your employer, internally or externally, alleging discriminatory practices, retaliation, etc. and you suddenly become targeted with adverse actions like increased surveillance and heightened scrutiny, unjustified negative performance evaluations, denial of a promotion, suspension or other negative actions, you can link the timing of when you filed your complaint with the onslaught of abuse by your supervisor, coworker or employer.

Circumstantial evidence can come in many forms, but as you gather information that proves your point/position, you also want to collect evidence that disproves/refutes the case being made by your employer. Your employer has likely given you reasons for taking certain actions with regard to your employment. For instance, unjustly demoting you, denying you a promotion or firing you. You need to show that the reasons given by your employer are nothing but a pretext/excuse to hide their true motives, which you believe are racially-based.

You need to do two things: (1) Prove your case with an avalanche of circumstantial evidence or direct evidence; and (2) Prove that the justification provided by your employer is nothing more than a misrepresentation of facts and/or outright lies to hide their race-related motivations!

You have to be strategic. You have to think about all of the evidence that would prove, to a complete stranger, that your position is valid. Pretend that you will have to speak to a two-year old. Don’t assume someone is going to have an instant understanding of your position. Keep your arguments simple and break down all of the relevant points.

Remember, you are looking to highlight actions that directly or indirectly show potentially illegal mistreatment. Keep the word "inference" in mind because circumstantial evidence provides an inference of illegal behavior.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Identify the Full Scope of the Discrimination

Intersectional discrimination is the discrimination of a person or classification of people because they are a member of two or more protected classes. Equal employment opportunity statutes prohibit this type of discrimination. Intersectional discrimination can involve more than one EEO statute, e.g., discrimination based on age and disability, or based on sex and age, or discrimination based on race and sex, etc.

So, as you consider what's going on around you at work, look at the bigger picture as to what is going on. If you are a Black woman, maybe the issues you are facing are not simply due to your race. Perhaps, you are also being targeted by a particular manager, for instance, because you are a woman. Try to determine if the person or people you are dealing with have patterns of targeting specific classifications of staff. Maybe they target Black workers or maybe they target Black and Hispanic workers or maybe they target Black and Hispanic workers AND homosexual employees.

The point is, there may be a larger problem than you realize and there could be more federal statutes being violated than you realize. I worked for an employer that targeted Black women. We began to be targeted and labeled with the same stereotypes. Amazingly, our employer argued that they managed to hire Black women that--to a person--were angry, defensive, rude, couldn't take constructive criticism, were mean, "not nice," and "snooty." Within 2 months, 5 Black women--out of 10 Black female employees--resigned from the company. Every person left immediately before or immediately after our yearly performance reviews. I was the 6th Black female to leave.

Intersectional discrimination. Remember the term.

If you are targeted because of your race AND your age or your race AND your gender or your race AND your sexual orientation or your race AND a disability, you should argue the full scope of the discrimination you are being subjected to and you should hold your employer fully accountable/liable for the totality of their actions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Make Immediate Copies of Important Docs and Emails

When you're being targeted at work, there are going to be times when you may receive an email, memo or other important documents that:

--contain false allegations about you (personally and/or professionally);

--contain new/surprise allegations that differ from previous allegations being made against you;

--promise certain actions/next steps to deal with your issues;

--inform you that there will or won't be an investigation into any complaints you've made;

--contain offensive and/or hostile language and/or threats against your job;

--provide any sort of evidence--no matter how small--that supports your complaint;

--contain your written description of issues, requests for clarification, explainations of incidents at work, etc.

Anytime you get important information in writing, you've got to get hard copies made and electronic copies saved to ensure that you will not lose your evidence/proof.

My former employer made all sorts of surprise and wild claims about me on my year-end performance review. As I sat in the meeting, I shot holes through everything they wrote and shot holes in their verbal defense of those written comments. Sensing that I had bested them, the HR representative raced to her office and made a number of changes to that performance evaluation. She deleted many of the wild accusations and softened the other accusations that were being made against me.

My employer had a process set up where reviews were posted on the company intranet prior to the meeting. So, everything discussed was out there for me to access, print, save, etc. 10 minutes after that review meeting, my evaluation was modified to look less retaliatory and to delete some of the worst false allegations being made against me!

The problem was, I raced to my office and made 10 copies of my original review, I emailed it to myself, and I saved it to disk. So, I wouldn't have to worry about losing my proof that my employer was going to great lengths to create a hostile environment for me and that they had no issues with lies and exaggerations of fact.
Had I waited, I would not have had any proof of the accusations being made because 10minutes later the review was changed. I would only have had the watered down review, which my employer could have argued wasn't retaliatory or offensive.

In the case of a friend (I was her primary witness at work), our employer would have people go through both of our computers and desks looking for evidence in her complaint against the company. Our chairs would be moved, the mouse of our computers would be in different locations from where we left them, our computers would be on or our computers would be on screens we didn't normally access, etc.

Don't think your employer won't rifle through your desk for any clue about information/evidence you're compiling and don't think they won't go in and read your emails and other documents. My coworker had files disappear from her computer and there was a sudden need for her department to "clean up" their electronic filing system and move files to a central location.

If you get anything relevant to your complaint, make sure to preserve your evidence. In this age of technology, it's still important to maintain a hard copy of evidence in case your electronic files become corrupt, you lose a disk, CD-Rom or flash drive, etc.

You will need to present a complete batch of evidence to any investigator or lawyer, so be sure that you maintain important records of what's happening at work and the personal and professional impact you're experiencing (hostile behavior, increased surveillance, health issues/excessive leave taken at work due to stress of harassment and abuse, etc.)

You must document everything. But, you must also maintain a copy of everything. Getting things in writing--once--isn't enough. If you move, lose a file, etc. you will not have any proof of wrongdoing. Keep multiple copies of important documents and save them in several places.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


As President-elect Barack Obama is poised to be sworn in as President, at noon (EST) today and one day after we celebrated Dr. MLK Day, we should all remember that we have much work to do.

Today is historic, as our first Black President is sworn in. However, it can't be about this one man. It also has to be about the man next to you!

The civil rights struggle did not end with Obama's election to the presidency and it will not end after he is officially sworn in as President. The fight for human and civil rights and workplace rights will continue.

If we can carry the good will forward and press on with the calls for real change and the hopes for a better future--that were a major part of the Obama campaign-- maybe, just maybe, we can continue to see race-based hurdles and obstacles fade away.

Hopefully, our younger generation will decide to do things differently than we've done them and will decide to be better people than some of us have been. Hopefully, youth will not follow the example of those among us who've decided they can be the judge, jury, and executioner of their fellow Americans by denying them homes, jobs, promotions, etc. based on racial biases. Hopefully, our youth will pave their own way and will show us a thing or to about how to be American. Better yet, maybe they can show us a thing or two about being human and humane.

Racism will never die. But, maybe, just maybe, it can diminish. That takes work. And, part of that work has been done on this historic day. Today shows that the content of a man's character should mean and can mean more than the color of that man's skin.

We need many more todays and have much more work to do to ensure true equality for all Americans. We must continue to keep our eyes on the prize and continue the struggle for our rights.

Let's enjoy the moment and feel the pride of having our first Black president. And, then, let's get back to the fight! We can make positive changes in this country and, I pray, we will!! We can only do that by carrying this moment forward!

What are your thoughts on the inauguration and the struggle for civil rights? Post a comment!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Performance Reviews

Thought I'd repost this about performance reviews, since my current job is calling folks in for their evaluations and my previous job did performance reviews in February. If you've got an upcoming review, this post is for you!


At most companies, employees sit down with their supervisor/manager and they discuss that employee’s goals and objectives for a specific performance period. This is done so that employees know the company’s expectations for them and so that the employee can be proactive in working towards the agreed upon goals and objectives. Everyone understands that it would be unfair to have someone working blind. In other words, it would be the fault of supervisors or company management, if employees do not understand what the exact expectations are for their performance and behavior or if they don’t understand the criteria that will be used to evaluate their performance during the employee review period.

If you have a supervisor or manager that hasn’t explained the goals and objectives that you will be and are being judged against, you should initiate a meeting to discuss performance expectations and how you are meeting those standards. The last thing you should want is to walk into a performance evaluation and be blind-sided by surprise commentary regarding performance-related issues that you did not know existed or to be surprised by criteria/standards that you did not know would be applied to you in your capacity on the job.

While part of the onus for knowing standards and expectations resides with each employee, clearly the bulk of the responsibility is with supervisors/managers. These are the individuals that are monitoring and guiding many of the day-to-day activities of workers. And, these are often the members of management that will conduct or oversee the performance evaluations for their department, unit, etc.

During the course of a performance review period, supervisors/managers should:

-- Keep employees on track with goals and objectives that have been predefined, discussed, and agreed upon by each employee—based on their individual job;

--Provide employees with assignments that help them work towards the defined goals and objectives;

--Provide employees with opportunities to learn new skills and increase their knowledge in their job/field;

--Keep thorough notes on the performance of each person they supervisor or manage;

--Solicit feedback (positive and negative) from those who work closely with each employee and maintain notes on those comments. Supervisors and managers need to ensure they are KNOWLEDGEABLE INFORMANTS about their subordinates. They should not make assumptions or listen to hearsay. It is their job to have an accurate idea of how each employee is performing their duties;

--Discuss performance goals, objectives, and coworker feedback—formally or informally—several times per year with each subordinate;

--Provide negative feedback to employees with enough time for the employee to show improvement during the performance period. If the negative feedback happens near the end of the performance period, it may be too late for the employee to make adjustments. However, if the behavior is atypical, the supervisor or manager should not write about any negative behaviors or incidents as though they were the standard way the employee performed or behaved during the review period;

--Avoid surprising subordinates with negative comments and accusations that were NEVER made during the review period. Something that was an issue during the first 3 months of the review period, but was never raised as an issue, should not be thrown out during a performance review because the employee was not allowed an opportunity to refute any allegations or to know there was some performance or behavioral deficiency that required adjustments in behavior; and

--Avoid making performance judgments based on the employee’s personality, race, education level, etc.

Many supervisors and managers, even those that give employee goals and objectives, do not keep thorough notes on employee performance throughout the year. Instead, they wait until they must draft/write performance evaluations before they get into deep Q&A sessions with those who have managed or worked alongside their subordinates.

Therefore, it’s important to:

--Maintain your own record of your accomplishments and achievements;

--Keep all congratulatory emails and cards from internal and external clients;

--Outline how you have met each goal and objective agreed upon with your supervisor/manager;

--Keep a log of any publications, awards, presentations, etc. that occurred during the performance period;

--Maintain a list of new skills you’ve added to your repertoire at work; and

--Keep a list showing the impact of your contributions at work (e.g., you brought in new clients, saved money by streamlining procedures, etc.)

You can do a lot to make your performance evaluation truly reflect your contributions to the company. Make your supervisor and manager have huge hurdles to jump, should they decide to give into the temptation of discriminating against you by intentionally marginalizing your contributions to the work force or by making false claims about your performance in order to deliberately stifle your career.

Show that you have been keeping track of your performance and can PROVE you have a strong work ethic, produce high quality work, are professional, and that you are and should be valued as an employee.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Job Hunting in 2009

People make all kinds of New Year's resolutions. One of the most popular ones is to find a new job during the year. While some people will be looking for a new job because they've outgrown their current job/no job growth or because of any variety of negative isses at work, others will be hunting for a job because many companies are struggling to keep their doors open and their workers employed. The result will be more terminations and lay-offs in 2009.

Regardless of the reason for job hunting, here are some things to keep in mind:

--Update your resume. Make sure you are capturing all of your marketable skills on your resume. Show yourself as a well-rounded employee with the ability to multi-task and to bring an array of job skills to the table.

--Don't lie on your resume about your title, job skills, and/or your level of responsibility. References are checked these days. Chances are extremely high that your lies will come to light. The only way you could possibly get away with fudging your job duties is if your employer only confirms your dates of employment and job title on employment references. I worked for an employer, who did just that. They absolutely would not reveal one detail about duties, attendance, personality, professionalism, etc. Still, it's best to tell the truth. You will likely be revealed as a fake, if you get hired and can't do what you said you could do. It's so not worth it!

--Don't lie about your education. This will also be checked, since so many people--of all races--have fake degrees and/or simply lie about degrees, certifications, etc.

--Go back to school. If you feel pretty much unemployable, enhance your education to make yourself more marketable. Look at a field that won't likely be impacted by layoffs to increase your chances. For instance, right after the stock market crumbled, accounting and investment majors were stressed--and continue to be stressed out--about employment opportunities in the near-term. Of course, they didn't know the market would collapse, when they chose a major. But, they now also don't know what Wall Street will be like for years, as far as job opportunities and the money that can be made. Look at the field you're going in and make sure it's something that you can count on being around and thriving. Ask about the viability of the company on job interviews and do independent research to see if the company may be considering layoffs in the next few years.

--Don't submit any resumes without editing your Facebook and/or Myspace pages. Many employers are checking to see if applicants have these accounts and they're looking at what you've put on these sites to make a decision about hiring you. So, get rid of hardcore profanity, semi-pornographic photos of yourself, sex chatter, etc. prior to completing applications and submitting resumes. Don't set yourself up for failure.

--Use online resources to job hunt, such as job search engines (Monster, Hotjobs, Snag-a-job (part-time), etc.), as well as sites like LinkedIn.

--Be careful about using sites like CraigsList because there are some scammers out there, who prey on people to try to get their personal information. Keep your antenna up!

--Don't worry about being accused of nepotism. If you've got friends or family--or even a friend of a friend--who can hook you up with a job, go for it. Let people flap their jaws about how you got your job. The point got the job.

--Related to nepotism, really use that in-house referral. Make sure your connection on the inside spreads the word that you are looking for employment with their boss, HR, etc. Make sure that your connection gets your resume and passes it along for you. That is better than submitting your resume cold, along with dozens or hundreds of other applicants. It's fine to submit a cover letter saying that so-and-so is referring you for a job, but it's even better for "so-and-so" to submit your CV on your behalf.

--Be professional on job interviews. Dress and conduct yourself accordingly.

--Don't bad mouth your former employers. Don't complain about being railroaded, marginalized, etc. A potential employer doesn't want to bring on someone, who will potentially speak about them in those terms.

--Show up on time. Have another copy of your resume with you. Confirm the address and get directions (at the very least the day before an interview).

--Adapt your skills to the company you're applying at. Show how you will fit in. Be ready to have examples that relate to the work you would be doing for this employer.

--Be positive. Smile. Make eye contact, but not too much (potential cultural issues). Don't fidget.

--Don't gesticulate too much because some people are not fans of continuous arm movements and read negatively into that behavior.

--Be honest about your salary requirements. Decide--in advance--if you are flexible with the salary you require. If not, stand your ground and justify your salary requirements based on your education, experience, the market, etc.

--Be ready for the question, "Do you have any questions for me (us)?"

--Be ready for the statement, "Tell me about yourself."

Of course, your resume should have been proofed and shouldn't contain typos, etc.

Okay, time for me to get ready for work, so that's it for today.

Good Luck on your job hunt in 2009!

Anymore job tips? Post a comment.

Monday, January 12, 2009

It's Just That Easy...

Here's proof of how easy it is for a race-based issue to crop up at work--as the story was relayed to me by two different individuals (both Black, for the record)...

A group of Black guys were sitting in the break room talking about rap artists and singing some songs. A Hispanic guy comes in and inserts himself into what's going on by announcing that he can't stand rap music because he finds rappers to be ignorant, stupid, and that they don't ever say anything that makes sense.

So, the response from the Black guys was "Who asked you? You ain't even a part of this conversation." They continued their conversation and the Hispanic guy keeps talking. By the time the back and forth finishes, the Hispanic guy has announced to a room--primarily filled with Blacks folks--that he doesn't like Black people and that's why he doesn't like rap. He thinks that most Black people are just like rappers, ignorant and not making any sense. He adds that the employers are "lucky" he even "lowers himself" to work with Black people because we are "beneath" him.

This escalated things, especially with one Black guy. This guy gets into the Hispanic guy's face and is like, "Are you crazy?" When it ends, the Black guy taps the Hispanic guy on his chest and says something like, "You need think about what you saying to people."

The Hispanic guy goes to management and says that the Black guy was engaged in a racist conversation and that the Black guy hit him--hard! Even though not a single witness confirmed that version of the story, the Black guy got fired ON THE SPOT! He was fired, not for defending Black people or confronting the guy, but allegedly for being violent!

It was just that easy!

So, now you've got a Black employee thinking about getting a lawyer for a wrongful termination suit. And, you've got a Hispanic employee, who can't look anybody Black in the eyes right now.

So, there are simmering racial tensions based on one person not being able to suppress his racial biases. However, he still has his job.

It's just that easy for employers to make a hasty decision that makes it look like they condone racial animosity in the workplace. While they would likely arue it was the so-called physical aspect of the exchange between the workers that led to the termination, they would be hard pressed to answer why the Hispanic worker was not suspended or terminated for spewing racial venom and offending a room filled with Black workers.

Anyway, I'd like to know what's the most ridiculous incident that happened at your workplace (past or present) that led to a race-based argument or racial tensions on the job? Post a comment!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Fighting False Documentation

I’ve seen my fair share of false and malicious workplace statements--especially false statements from coworkers. For instance, I’ve read statements written by members of management that were signed by the coworkers of a person being targeted for harassment or retaliation by an employer. The collusion being engaged in by management and the employees would always end up being far reaching with all parties willing to swear on a stack of Bibles that the statements were true and were provided without any amount of pressure from the company.

Yet, behind the scenes, money often changed hands. I’m not talking about hundred dollar bills literally being passed from hand to hand under a conference room table. But, I am talking about special increases, unprecedented and unjustified bonuses, significant and unjustified yearly salary increases, awards, promotions/title changes, and unprecedented market reviews (salary comparisons) that resulted in certain employees (those making false statements) being found to be paid less than the market dictated--and, thus, getting salary bumps.

You’d be surprised how many coworkers are willing to put themselves in the middle of illegal corporate misconduct in order to assist an employer in taking down an innocent employee. I guess that’s one way to show loyalty to the boss and one way to get your hands on money you haven’t earned through your work performance.

In addition to false statements by coworkers, I’ve also read false statements written by employers about an employee. In some cases the false statements were written about my Black coworkers and in other cases the false statements were written about me. I’ve noticed many similarities, when White employers decide to falsely target Black employees. Much of what is written about Black employees, when it comes to false documentation, falls into stereotyping the employee, character assassination and personality attacks, and an overreliance on blanket statements that have no supporting documentation or other evidence to back up the claims. For instance:

-- A Black employee may be labeled as a behavior problem that falls into stereotypes of African Americans (e.g., being angry, defensive or unprofessional);
-- A Black employee may be labeled as having communication issues (e.g. being rude, negative, argumentative, hypersensitive, etc.);
-- A Black employee may be labeled as insubordinate;
-- A Black employee may be labeled as being disliked by a number of people or many people in their office, department, team, at the company, etc.; and/or
-- A Black employee may be accused of problems they didn’t directly cause or of performance deficiencies that do not exist.

Sometimes people really need to be written up and sometimes the write up is just a load of bullsh*t!

When it comes to race and racism in the workplace, many Black employees may find themselves falsely documented for any variety of reasons. Regardless of the reason for being documented by a supervisor, manager, coworker or the company—as a whole—I’d like to provide you with these tips. When it comes to reading and addressing a false written statements:

1. Always be as anal as you possibly can, when reading the statement. Analyze every word that is written. If you have been provided with a false statement, you should remember that great care has gone into preparing the document. Each word was chosen for a reason—on a conscious or subconscious level.

2. Analyze the wording in the documentation and attack, wherever you see an opening. For example, if someone writes that you “appeared” to be angry or you were “perceived” to be argumentative, demand clarification. How exactly did you appear to be angry? The perception of anger is subjective, could be seen differently on a cultural level, etc. Similarly, you should find out what made the person label you as argumentative. How did the individual define that? The person writing the documentation should specifically outline how you supposedly manifested your anger or what specific behavior demonstrated that you were being argumentative or difficult.

3. Always use direct quotes from the false statement in your response and follow the direct quotes with a hard-hitting response that shows the quote to be false. You want to attack the credibility of the person writing the statement. One of the best ways to do that is to attack their basic believability by showing their words can’t be trusted, that they are careless with their words and judgments, and that they will commit things to writing that can’t be substantiated in fact.

4. Do not allow blank statements to go without response! Ask for specifics about questionable or vague accusations—in writing. Make the individual commit to details. Always keep in mind that asking questions often forces people (even very educated people) to commit to telling even more lies. The more lies they tell, the harder it is to continue to keep the story straight. Therefore, it could become easier to refute their claims about you because they’ve strayed from their initial talking points and lies.

5. Provide written evidence that contradicts the false claims in the statement. For instance, if you’re accused of being disliked by coworkers, produce emails from coworkers thanking you for being pleasant to work with and a great team player. If you are being falsely blamed for problems on a project, even though you followed the instructions you were given, provide a copy of the instructions and show how you adhered to those procedures.

6. Point out anyone referenced in the statement, who has an axe to grind or is in some other way falsely accusing you of performance issues. Provide specifics that refute what this person is saying about you.

7. Prepare a response that refutes the false statement against you line-by-line. It is much more powerful to attack your attacker following their warped logic and lies. This also allows a third party to essentially hold the two pieces of documentation (the false statement and your response) side-by-by and to make a judgment on the credibility of the arguments.

8. If you haven’t already done so, DOCUMENT EVERYTHING from the moment you realize you’ve become a target. If someone is willing to put lies to paper and to place an employer at risk, by engaging in illegal behavior, they will likely not let up until they succeed at their goal (forcing you to resign, getting you fired or demoted, etc.) Once it’s been established that you are a target, start thinking of covering your butt and saving all the evidence you need to seek an internal or external remedy to your problems.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Make Sure Your Issue is Race-Based Before Making the Allegation!

Sometimes problems at work are race-based and sometimes problems and issues arise just because of business. It's important to really look at your situation and decide where your issues fall. Is the problem business or is it race? The reason I ask is that I'm working with a group of folks who are always screaming race or favoritism, even with me. I don't play those games at work and certainly wouldn't go around wrongfully/fraudulently making allegations against Black workers. When I've spoken to workers, regardless of race, any issues I've brought up have always been about business. There was never anything personal or racial.

Sometimes it takes a bit of maturity and honesty to identify what type of situation we're in, when problems creep up in the workplace. Most of us will come up with issues at work at some point because we're dealing with humans. Confusion, ignorance, malice, unintentional harm, etc. are all going to be taking place on any job.

For Black workers, those common workplace experiences at work are sometimes elevated by the realities of racism in American society. Racism can escalate a so-called typical workplace experience into a problem that can result into significant legal and financial liability for employers.

Sometimes Black workers are blind-sided by wildly and openly racist words and actions. But, more often than not, Black workers are forced to deal with very subtle forms of racism, including the use of racial code words and the use of race-neutral language that is being twisted for evil purposes. When dealing with subtle racism, there are usually many layers of bullsh*t, I mean pretexts to weed through, such as cover stories and false allegations designed to hide racially-based motivations.

Not only is racism usually pretty covert these days, but the people causing the issues at work often live in some alternate universe where they have convinced themselves that they don’t have a racist bone in their bodies. They will take great umbrage to the mere idea that they may have said or done something, which was racially offensive. Some of them may even cry at the notion that someone believes they have race-based biases, which they’ve acted upon.

Some people just do not have the ability to censor themselves and to keep their personal biases at home. And, some people have truly convinced themselves that they are open-minded and accepting of diversity, even though that may not be the truth. As a result, these people may be sending out signals, using racially coded language and engaging in actions that they perceive to be harmless and unbiased, when they are not. For instance, a person may have convinced themselves that they are denying a Black worker a promotion for legitimate cause, but their words (emails, memos, meetings, etc.) may raise questions about their motivation based on any number of factors, including:

--the language they’ve used to justify what they are doing;

--double-standards they may be applying to a Black worker, which is the supporting reason for the decision they’ve made;

--rules that have been changed to justify a decision, even a slight change in rules; and

--the person may have shown a disregard for written policies, practices, and precedence that should have applied to your situation.

In essence, while this person may have said one thing (and may stand by what they’ve said), their words and actions may have told a story which raises questions about their decision-making process and personal biases.

The reality is the average Black worker has no interest in getting into a racially-charged issue at work. It’s just not worth it on a professional or personal level. However, we are sometimes forced to question whether race is a factor for us at our jobs based on circumstances and based on incidences that are so egregious they simply can’t be ignored. This may happen with the baseless denial of a promotion or through some other action. Regardless of the cause, we are forced to ask ourselves, “Is this happening because I’m Black?”

Well, here are some tips and things to consider, if you find yourself questioning the motivation of employment actions at work:

1. Take a step back from the situation and try to look at the situation from other perspectives. Are any of the issues, which you perceive as race-based, possibly caused by other legitimate reasons? Write down the basis for your position of on-the-job racism. You should list specific examples of inequitable treatment, a racially-hostile environment, etc. You can’t just make a claim of racism. You have to be able to back it up with details (directives, quotes from staff and managers, emails, memos, etc.).

2. Ask yourself if any actions taken against you have a legitimate basis in reality to justify what has transpired. If you can’t find a real reason for a decision, start probing more deeply into the reasons being used to justify any employment actions. This includes requesting meetings with your supervisor/manager and HR, if it is necessary to clarify corporate policies and procedures. Always document anything you’ve been told.

3. Ask around. Find out if you are the only Black worker impacted by a decision or action, when there may be other similarly situated employees (same title, level, etc.) who should have also been impacted by a decision. Were you as a Black worker (or were you and other Black workers) singled out for certain personnel actions?

4. Talk to other minority to find out if they share your perspective. Start taking notes. Try to determine how significant the suspected problem on your job may be. Ask staff what you can do--as a group--to address the problem, if that’s what you collectively, or even individually, decide to do.

5. Keep thorough notes and put your concerns in writing. Force people to respond to you in writing. If you send an email and get a call in return, shoot off an email when you get off the phone to summarize what was discussed. Be sure to include any new allegations of wrongdoing or any new lines of defense being offered by a supervisor/manager, etc.

6. Decide if you are ready to confront the issue, openly and honestly. Think about what you want to say, how you want to say it, and if the person you need to speak to will be receptive to that message. Even if they will not be, you may decide that you need to address the situation anyway. Do so! If you are shut down, consider contacting HR for assistance.

7. Come up with possible solutions for any problems you’ve identified. It’s always better to have a suggestion for making things better, even when coming up with these ideas is not necessarily your responsibility. When it comes to something as important as earning a living and your work environment, think of things that can improve your situation. This includes asking if the company will provide sensitivity/diversity training, send out a reminder regarding the policy on harassment, conduct an investigation into the pattern behavior of a particular coworker or supervisor, etc.

Remember not to be too hasty, if you aren’t sure you’re dealing with a race issue at work. Sometimes it’s best to document anything causing you concern and waiting to watch how events unfold. If you become convinced there is an issue, you will have your documentation and evidence (emails, etc.) to support your position.

Just don’t go around making accusations you can’t prove. The minute the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, DOCUMENT EVERYTHING!!!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

IN THE NEWS: We're Often Only Too Willing To Participate In Causing Problems for Other Blacks

Let's make a post-New Year's Resolution to not be Roland Burris in 2009. Let's avoid doing things that intentionally make life difficult for other Blacks, including our Black coworkers. Let's make a resolution to not be crabs in a barrel for the New Year. Let's say no to the Roland Burris mentality!

Even if you've only been semi-following the news, you've probably heard the "scandal" of Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, nominating former State Attorney General, Roland Burris (Black), to fill President-Elect Barack Obama's senate seat.

It seems pretty clear that Blagojevich was simply trying to distract the media and country from his "pay to play" allegations, where he's accused of trying to sell Barack Obama's senate seat to the highest bidder. The backstory to this is that Obama was the only Black member of the Senate. So, Blagojevich saw this as an opportunity to cause some drama by nominating another Black man to fill the post.

The discussion isn't about Blagojevich being caught on tape talking about shaking down people to get money for Obama's seat. No, the discussion, from Roland Burris and his supporters, is about how Burris shouldn't be "hanged" or "lynched" for being nominated by a governor, who is under investigation.

Roland Burris decided to use racially-charged language to get a senate seat that he probably was never really in consideration for. He's daring Whites on Capitol Hill to oppose him by making this about White vs. Black. All the while, Burris is intentionally making "no drama Obama's" incoming administration look like one big soap opera. He's throwing around race to get Obama's senate seat and he's making false claims of racism against him in order to manipulate his way into Congress. He ill serves all Blacks, just as anyone else does who makes false claims of racism in the workplace.

It's been disappointing to see this Black man allow a White man to use him in a manner that causes problems and controversy for another Black person (Obama). But, Blacks are no different than anyone else. When it comes to professional ambition and climbing the ladder of success, many of us are just as tempted as members of any other race. Even if we must do something that poses problems for another Black person, some of us are willing to do whatever it takes in order to get that raise, promotion, high-profile assignment, etc.

We are often willing participants in our collective race-based issues at work. The Black workers who are willing to fight are often pitted against the Black workers, who are willing to keep the status quo going by signing company-written statements against a coworker or by making false allegations, such as lying about physical or verbal threats from a Black coworkers or fabricating stories about unprofessional behavior, etc.

For some of us, keeping our eyes on the prize involves taking out other Blacks in the process of attaining personal goals and financial reward. This is a huge reason why it is often more difficult for Black workers to prove cases of race-based discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. For every Black worker who is brave enough to fight the system--even if they eventually lose--there seem to be many more Black workers who are willing to back up the system that was also holding them down. That is, as long as they are getting something out of it!

As we look at issue of racism in the workplace, Blacks need to look in the mirror and assess how we feed into some of our problems. We need to be honest about how we often help our collective workplace abusers and decide to do something different.

We can make a difference. We just have to be willing to do what is right or, at the very least, to not be willing to help tear down falsely accused coworkers, subordinates, etc.

If we can stop intentionally making life difficult for one another by being stereotypical crabs in a barrel, we just might get somewhere!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Keep Track of Follow-up Correspondence

If you have to complain or have complained about racially based discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation--even if you haven't specifically used those words--it's important that you keep a record of all correspondence to follow-up on your complaint.

If you've met with a supervisor, director, VP, etc., you should document that face-to-face meeting, in writing, to get a record of what was said and any next steps that were promised.

But, more importantly, if you haven't had a satisfactory response to your complaint, you should send a follow-up message asking about the status of your complaint, issue, question, etc.

Never set yourself up to look like the issue that you brought up really wasn't a big deal and don't allow someone to test your commitment to get results, by seeing if they can just wait you out. Many supervisors and employers like to use stall tactics. It's one of the easiest ways to marginalize and ignore an employee. "We're looking into it" or "Business is so hectic right now, we haven't had time to check into things," are just two of the responses you can get. While these may be legit issues, they are also great ways to stall a complaining employee.

Many employees may feel uncomfortable if they continue to bring up questions about a sensitive issue. Employees may feel they are more likely to face some sort of retaliation if they "pester" someone in HR or a supervisor about a hot-button issue, such as anything involving race. So, stalling does work in many cases.

But, you have a right to follow-up about your issues. Should you need to file a formal internal or external complaint, you will want your follow-up attempts included as part of the package you submit to launch an investigation. Ignored follow-up correspondence (emails, memos, letters, etc.) can show that a serious issue was being marginalized and ignored and can show an employer may be tolerant of certain behavior, which may violate federal statutes.

If you've been promised certain next steps, you have a right to know if those steps have been completed. If you've been promised an employee will be suspended, sent to sensitivity training, etc., you have a right to know that these actions have taken place. If you are dealing with an internal or external investigator, you have a right to know the status of your complaint/status of the investigation.

Don't think of yourself as pestering someone. Investigations can take time, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be abreast of what's happening. Things can slip through the cracks. You want to make sure your complaint isn't one of those things.

Anytime you follow-up with someone about anything related to your complaint, make sure to maintain a record for your files. The information could be very important in the long-term. Ask questions and document everything!

Thursday, January 01, 2009


I hope everyone had a safe and happy time as they rang in the new year. I wish everyone the best of health, love, and luck for 2009!
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