Accused Boss of Creating a Hostile Environment

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about what to do after a negative investigation:

I worked for a Gov Agency for 26 years and worked my way up to County Director over the largest County in the state. We have approx. over 2000 cases to check at the end of the month to ensure timeliness on our cases. My team checks behind the supervisors to ensure they had not missed a case. On 4-30-19 I asked my Supervisor III where she was on checking end on the month report and I was told she hasn’t started checking hers. I then asked what was she working on now; she stated scanning information in. I told her that the clerks at the desk down the hall could be scanning and registering cases. She said, “OK, I will start on my report once I am completed with this. I said OK and went to walk off. She said, “Oh,” as I turned around and said bobbing her head, “I get off at 4:30”. I said that was fine but the reports better be checked before you leave. She said I don’t know if all of them will get checked. I didn’t say anything else.

She filed a grievance against me saying she is in a hostile work environment. I have worked in our main office in and out of my office, and all the time no one has ever reported anything like this of me, I held my staff accountable. I reported incident to my supervisor and spoke to 2 other levels above him in management and was told I did nothing wrong all I did was tell her to do her job. I was told she is one that would file a discrimination lawsuit against them.

An investigation was done and I was told they interviewed 12 people and 10 of the 12 said it was a hostile work environment. I was offered a demotion as I chose retirement since I had 25 years already with them as I wanted to work with them 28 years then retire. The next day a supervisor from that office contacted me and stated approx. 1 month ago the person who made the complaint against me went around and told others if asked to tell them they are in a hostile work environment.

On 12/27/18 I sent up a request for disciplinary action on a Supervisor because of her hostile behavior and received a notice from HR approx. 7 weeks later that no action would be taken at this time as the employee does not have anything written up of this nature in her personnel file but they recommend doing a Memorandum of Record. Which was done by me. There are only 2 whites in that office out of 65 employees all others are black and I am white. The investigation consisted of 2 black ladies who conducted the investigation against the minority person and I was never questioned by them of who conducted the investigation. Trying to figure out if I have a solid case and is worth my time to fight this against them as I know no one was ever treated in a hostile way they did not like taking directives from me as I an white.

Signed–Mistreated Boss

Dear Mistreated Boss:

You don’t know if it is worth fighting the accusation that you have created a hostile working environment. After an investigation, you were offered demotion due to what was learned, but chose retirement. You appear to regret choosing retirement, you say that one of the black employees recommended to coworker that they should assert you created a hostile environment. You wonder if you should fight it.

Also you say an investigation that you requested last year of one of your supervisors for her hostile behavior resulted in no action. Add to this, you say the investigation was conducted by two black women and that you are one of only two of 65 employees who is white. If I read you correctly, you are suggesting reverse discrimination. Right?

So you have sent your account of what has happened to you within your workplace to Ask the Workplace Doctors. I assume you want to know if we would say fight or it’s not worth the emotional energy, and that it would be better for you to enjoy retirement after 26 years. I hope I have understood correctly what is a complex story. To fight I expect you would need to withdraw your decision to retire? HR or an attorney could advise you about that.

From this distance, I certainly cannot come close to knowing what is the best course for you; however, I will present some factors to aid in your decision of what to do next.

  1. List the pros and cons of fighting. The pros probably would be emotional relief from the pressure of managing those who have accused you of hostilely giving orders. Another pro is a chance to do what 26 years have not allowed you to do–to enjoy not having to get up early, hurry to meet the needs of your family, before risking your life and limb in the traffic hurrying to work. The pros of course would be freedom from the pressure of those above who have made the rules of 2,000 cases that you must have checked by month’s end. Cons would include not having the same good pay of your job of Director and how that would adversely impact your level of life. A psychological con would be of no longer enjoying the status and prestige of being County Director over the largest County in the state. That is no small achievement.
  2. Preparing the details needed to make a case and then gathering the energy to deal with those above who would like for you to just go away. This would entail logging events that occurred and realizing no one else cares as much as you do. To make a case, you must think like an attorney and engage the powers within your state such as the EEO and resolution management or whatever agency the state has to deal with discrimination.
  3. Meeting with those in HR and above you to solicit their help–appearing as a victim of discrimination and possibly being seen as a trouble maker.
  4. Mapping out the next few weeks and planning what to do with yourself over the next few years.

These are but a few factors that undoubtedly have been and will be playing like a broken record in you head. They will be stressful and tiring at a time you just want to sleep. Therefore you had best take time out to collect your thoughts and possibly get counsel from someone within your workplace or outside. Perhaps the most valuable bit of advice I can give it that to talk to yourself positively as you might do in writing your life story. (I wrote a life story for my daughter I titled Your Father Not In Heaven.) What would you title yours? What would be its message to your grown children and grand-kids, if you have them? Such an activity should give you perspective, getting your mind off of the worries of what has happened negatively this past year. And it should tell you that you are more that what you do at work! You are a whole person worth so much more than a County Director.

Do any of these remarks make sense for your situation? Or help you think through this stressful moment? One of the simple ways you might make your days better is to savor feel good moments–things you see that are beautiful, food you find that taste so delicious you want a second bite, sounds that you hear that are soothing. These should add up to help your think beyond the job of County Director.

Also, action matters. Yoga, workouts, walking, singing, caring for a pet, tutoring someone who doesn’t know English or youth at your library or visiting a shut-in. Doing something that helps you to feel involved rather than apart from. If these thoughts miss the mark, they have cost you nothing. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Life can and should be enriching within and beyond the workplace. Please feel free to let me know what happens next. –William Gorden

Follow Up: Thanks for your answers and positive advice.  I agree with you wholeheartedly with remaining positive thru life.  I wanted to make 28 years with the state as that was my goal, I had more options with retirement if I would of made the 28 years.  I have always went above and beyond in handling my work all these years.  Actually I was working over everyday and many Saturdays this past year and a few Sundays as I wanted to do a GREAT job as I have always had in the past.  I enjoy working period and helping others.  I have NEVER been one to look at any title, title doesn’t matter to me and has never meant anything to me as it did others.  It was about doing the right thing in helping others and doing a great job for the community we serve.  I had worked so hard all these years and had goals and it took one person to ruin it for me because I told her to do her job.  I am looking for another job to give me something to do as I have never been one to be able to sit at home as there is only so much cleaning you can do.  I have always been dedicated to my work so therefore didn’t have much time to get interested in hobbies. So I am in between chapters in my life in which I will be fine emotionally.

I do have an appointment with EEOC end of this week, regardless of what happens, my goal is to help prevent this from happening again to someone, what if this would happen to someone who does not have their years as I did to retire as it would be much more devastating for them.   I appreciate this website as it did allow me to put my feelings out there to someone and I also have support from others I speak too on a regular basis.  And it does help me a great deal. Again, Thank You for your Time.

Reply to Follow Up: Thank you for your additional information. I wish you the best with EEOC. Surely a review is in order. It strikes me that this one individual’s grievance should not have weighed against the strong commitment and record you had up to that point. From this additional information, I think you also might seek out a labor attorney. Possibly one would take a case on contingency. Perhaps there is assignment elsewhere or  a settlement that could be won if the investigation was not handled appropriately.

Meanwhile, are you unemployed? There is much need for individuals with years of experience managing in government, so I hope you will seek places in the private sector such as medical, manufacturing, and service companies. Then too there’s the Veteran Administration and county or city operations, roads, water management, parks, etc. that can use your expertise. Also there are real problems begging for help by someone like you by non-profit organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, senior citizen assistance, Junior Achievement, etc.

And please do keep in touch. Might you accept an invitation as a guest respondent should we get a question that I think could use your advice in addition to ours? Should you scan our Q&As you occasionally will find we seek others with special knowledge beyond ours–and there are many like you who have first hand experience that we don’t have. –Gorden

Follow UP 2 I have an appointment on Friday with EEOC and just finished copying all the E-Mails I have.  All this took place with me on June 7, 2019 and they did not pull my E-Mail down until Tuesday of the following week therefore I had enough time to pull E-Mails over to my personal E-mail Account to have my documentation.  After going thru this I advise anyone who does e-mails to  BCC themselves on all  E-Mails to your personal e-mail address as you go so they will always have them in case they need them later.  I was just very lucky.

I also have a phone interview with a local bank Friday, it is a part time position which is fine with me, this will give me a breather each day before going to work or taking care of any personal things I need to handle prior to going to work each day and also give me my weekends for family. Keep your fingers crossed for me on this.

Yes, I would be willing to give advice to anyone to lead them in a right direction and will feel blessed if my advice helps them from my experience.

FOLLOW UP 3 Good Afternoon Gorden, Had my meeting with EEOC and basically was told I do not have a case unless I can get my employer to text me that they all agreed with me when they spoke to me on June 7, when I said to them, basically because I am white and the position that I was in was not a good fit since all employees are black.  They all shook their heads yes.

Also when I left that meeting, one of them went down with me and she said to me they even talked about swapping me and another County Director because the other Director will be in the same position as I in her county.  But the only position with the state where you MUST reside in  the same county is the County Directors position and she or I would not have lived in the County we worked so they couldn’t do that.

However, I am seeking legal advice now and then make the decision if I will contact EEOC back and request they file the charge. I do agree with when someone makes a complaint that they are in a hostile work environment it should be investigated however they should also investigate all parties (both sides) to determine if it is a truly hostile work environment or if an employee is unhappy because she was being held accountable to do her work.  There is a difference.  The way it stands, anyone under you that does not like you can file a complaint and have their friends to say along with them it is a hostile work environment and you are out. No words asked.

People pull toward the negative very easily just to see what happens next, it is excitement for them when their lives are dull.  Just sad, but even though I do believe when you do wrong, wrong will follow you, that person they hurt may not ever see it, but we all pay for any wrong we do, including myself.

That is where I am now,  and by the way, my interview with the local bank went well I do believe.  Wish me luck with that. Thanks

Reply 6/21.19 Thanks for the update. I trust your case will see some light ahead. You are correct that those accused should be given a fair hearing as well as the accusers. Meanwhile, think through how  you communicated with those in the county both below and above you. Look in the mirror and ask if you might have caused those to respond negatively about you to the investigators. You can’t change the past but you can learn if in anyway you could have prevented there and in the next place you work. Also meanwhile, think through what you would have decided if you were the investigator–how you would have investigated and what you would have recommended if you were those in HR or above who had to make decisions. Your frank self evaluation could help you be seen as someone who was not afraid to face his/her own shortcomings and wants to be someone worthy of continued employment in the county.  –Does this make sense? My best to you. You have good years to contribute ahead. Don’t allow this big bump in the road cause you to become sour.–you’ll need grit.  –Gorden

FOLLOW UP 4. Good Afternoon, Yes your comments do make much sense to me.  Actually one of the first things I did was look at myself to understand where I went wrong.  I have always come across to people in a very nice and passive way but was firm when it came to doing the work because of our strict deadlines.  In that position I had to do that or the work would never have gotten done.  And I was firm but not at a hostile tone by far.

I did contact a lawyer today and left the details with his secretary and she will get back with me.  If they tell me I do not have a case all this will be buried and put to rest.  I have learned a very valuable lesson thru this storm. What I learned is that I never want to supervise another person again because it is too easy for them to end your career and it is not worth it to me.

I did my tour of duty and accomplished a lifetime retirement check with them so all the hard work I put in did in fact pay off in the end and I am grateful.

I had some other County Directors to call me that has known me for years and tell me this incident has shaken the entire state because they are afraid of what they can say or not say to their staff and how easy it would for their staff to do the same to them as it was done to me.   I even had many state office personnel coming in and out of the building at all times unexpectedly, and one went around every time she was there and spoke to the workers and supervisors and they never mentioned anything like this and she knows they would of said something to her if this was going on.  So I know in my heart and others know it too that this was very untrue.   However,  I will not let this rain on my parade in my future ahead of me to let them win.  I have already won by forgiving them and moving on with who I am and getting out of the stress level that I was in.

On a good note, I received my call this morning requesting if I could go in to the bank for my face to face interview in the morning.  So I did well with my phone interview apparently.  I am excited but nervous as I will be learning something new.  But if I am chosen this will get me out of the house and it is part time.  1:00 – 6:00 M-Th , 11 – 6 Fri and alternating Saturdays 9 – 12 .  Will not be bad for me, gives me a little extra money and something to do.

I so appreciate you being positive to me in my situation as it means a lot to me to be able to just get it off my chest and be heard by a neutral honest person of the situation and to be able to point out both sides.

Thanks Again,

Reply:  You probably have had the bank interview. So I expect it went well and that you soon will be learning a new kind of work. The hours sound good. I’ll not say much more than that I hope if this does not work out, you will find something else soon.

I came across an article that has a paragraph you might appreciate by Carol Tavris

District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor wrote that we cannot automatically assume that someone is a “victim” in a legal matter because “[w]hether someone is a ‘victim’ is a conclusion to be reached at the end of a fair process, not an assumption to be made at the beginning.” An investigation is not a matter of “believing” or “disbelieving” an accusation; justice requires us to assess the evidence. And this requirement is especially imperative when public opinion and public emotion are weighted heavily in favor of one side.

My best to you–Gorden