Are My Disciplinary Cases Harassment?

Question:

I defended a co-worker after my supervisor made a derogatory remark about her being a lesbian. Although she was not present, his comment made me feel uncomfortable. When I resported his behavior to his supervisor, nothing was done and I was told that I was being too “emotional” and asked if it was, “that time” of the month. The supervisor I complained on is friends with his supervisor.

I started being disciplined without cause on numerous occassion. I was threatend to, “shut my mouth” or be subjected to career suicide. When I reported it to the union nothing was done. I reported the ongoing incidents of harrassment and increasing discipline for over a year, a total of 28 times. I finally contact EEOC and DFEH and the punishment reached the maximum level.

I was put under investigation internally for bogus allegations that could have led to termination. Then I was transferred punitively to a less desirable assignment. The union said they can’t do anything since I didn’t lose wages. But, I have been on the job for 12 years with a flawless history of incidents. Not to mention, I was one of two women out of twenty seven men…and my occupation is a police officer.

What can I do and what has been violated? I’m confused on if it sexual harrassment and if the discipline each time I complained was retaliation?

Signed,

Feeling Harassed


Answer:

DearĀ Feeling Harassed:

You need to seek a legal opinion from an attorney who understands employment law in your state and EEO matters, and who can look at written material you have about the situation. Attorneys usually provide a free consultation for that purpose.

Even if you decide not to take civil action or if no laws appear to be violated, at least that interview might be useful to you in your own thought processes and actions. It might help you see the totality of the situation from an outside, legal perspective.

Before you talk to an attorney you will need to have a easily reviewed packet of material. The process of developing that packet may also help you in your own analysis.

1. Get copies of all of your performance evaluations. This will let you see how they have varied over time, what were the most positive things that have been said, if there are some common comments about need for improvement and if some supervisors and managers seem to feel more positive about you than others. Does a picture emerge from those, as to when problems started or what issues were raised? If all of them were excellent and they only became negative after you complained, that would be good to know as well. 2. Include copies of the written material you received as part of investigations or disicplinary actions. Also include the documentation about the complaints you made regarding the remarks of your supervisor, and what was done about it.

You say you received the maximum discipline as a result of unfair accusations, but apparently you haven’t been fired nor have you been fined pay. Have a list of the various disciplines you have been given.

Transfer to other assignments are not necessarily discipline, especially if no money is lost. However, if your working conditions were made much more unpleasant it might be considered punitive.

Be able to present a clear picture of what has occurred, with a list of witnesses when possible.

3. Include the letters you sent to EEOC and DFEH and their responses. Apparently they did not feel there was a violation of harassment or retaliation laws or they would have instituted action on your behalf. An attorney will want to know if they gave you an official opinion or not.

4. Develop a list of supervisors and commanders who might testify on your behalf. These would be people who could be depended upon to at least verify your effectiveness at work. It would help of course, if they would testify to any behind the scenes activities of which they are aware, if any.

5. It might be useful to have statistics that indicate your work quality and quantity. That would vary according to your assignment, but might be useful.

If the other woman officer has experienced similar issues, she might wish to work with you on this matter. If she has not, it might be helpful to consider her work and how she has maintained a better working relationship. Or, perhaps your efforts will encourage her if she has hesitated to say something. After you get your packet of material together you will be better able to explain the whole picture to someone with the legal understanding to help you decide what to do next.

In the meantime, you have choices about how you want to deal with it at work. If you sincerely believe the things that have happened to you are grossly unfair and illegal, it would seem you would be better off finding another police department in which to work. Even losing seniority would be preferable to feeling so badly about the situation or risking being fired anyway. I realize there is the desire to make things right, and I hope that will happen. However, if you continue to feel you cannot get assistance you may need to find something better for you. It will also be helpful to reevaluate the conflict situations in which you are involved to see in what ways you could avoid them, if any. Sometimes a person has to focus solely on his or her own work in order to get out of a pattern of complaints and counter complaints.

Find a supervisor or commander you respect and tell them of your desire to succeed in your career and in that department. Ask for honest feedback about how you can improve your situation. You don’t have to take that person’s advice, but it might be helpful to hear it.

One thing seems certain…the current situation can’t continue. Either you will be fired or you will continue to work in a situation in which neither you nor your organization are happy. This also is bound to be a distraction to others in the department, and service to citizens may be effected negatively as well, even if inadvertently. It’s always disruptive to the entire department when even one employee is embroiled in long term problems of this nature. So, this needs to be resolved one way or another.

There is also the issue that if biased behavior is taking place, it needs to be stopped. Hopefully those at the top do not realize what is happening and will support you if the matter is fully known. The bottom line is that there are only three main options if you stay there. Either you are able to use legal and other resources to change the behaviors of the organization or you are able to change your own behaviors to comply with the requirements and/or preferences of your organization. Or, both you and the command and supervisory staff in your organization find ways to make enough changes to allow healing and recovery.

Best wishes as you work through this situation!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.