Discrimination or Not?

Question:

I’ve worked at this company for almost 5 years. For the first 3.5 years, I was under my father, in the quality department. Whenever he would be out of the office, people would try to push things through that did not meet our quality standards just to make a shipment on time or pad the sales numbers. When I disagreed with this practice, I was transferred to another department. After repeated escapes were returned (escapes being non-conformances that the customer discovered upon receipt of our product), I was returned to the quality department because during my employment there, I have had the fewest number of escapes and turn out more production. I show up on time. I take breaks at break time and take lunch at lunchtime. I do my best because of my father. Recently, Dad was demoted to head quality engineer and a new quality manager was hired. We had a corporate buy out and this was one of the changes implemented. We also had a change in our department personnel and I was placed in a room to work along with one other individual who happens to be an African American male. He’s worked at the same company for about 3 years. Until he was moved in with me, he worked in a small room by himself with no supervision. Now that he is out in the open, his poor work ethics have come to light when they were hidden before. He’s not punctual. When he’s running close to our 6-minute grace period, he clocks in and then goes to park his car. He takes long breaks and lunches. He is constantly on his cell phone either on speakerphone or text messaging. And is not a quality minded person, which is demonstrated in the way he handles the parts. He does not complete paperwork properly. He intentionally defies authority. The list goes on, yet he is never reprimanded. We have butted heads in the past and the new manager sides with him because he pulls the religion card and claims any or all of the above is completely out of his nature. Well today, after 6 months of observing him mishandling parts, I told him if he couldn’t handle moving the parts that he should use the crane that has been provided for our use and he told me to mind my f****** business. When I brought this to the attention of the human resource manager and my manager, again, they sided with him and told me to just do my job and not worry about what he was doing. Am I being discriminated against? Should there not have been some action taken for him cussing at me? If I look at this guy cross-eyed, I get reprimanded; but he can cuss at me and I get reprimanded. What should I do? I’M CONFUSED.

Signed,

Confused


Answer:

Dear Confused:

You are not just confused; you are angry with your careless co-worker and alienated from management. The quick answer to your question: Am I being discriminated against? Is “No”. The fact that HR and your manager advised that you tend to your own work and ignore the African American co-worker, who cussed at you when you criticized his performance, does not constitute discrimination. Rather, than being discriminated against, you have not made a sufficient case against your co-worker. You are annoyed because you are quality-minded and your co-worker apparently is less so as is evident by his paperwork mistakes, mishandling of parts, and tardiness that you have butted heads over are performance problems. If you were a doctor in surgery saw a co-worker didn’t scrub in, you could confront her/him or report that infraction and it should be taken seriously. As you describe your situation, you have two problems; disgust with the way your co-worker performs his job and the apparent disinterest in that by management.

Is there a solution? Probably not. You do not have authority to challenge your careless co-worker. Is what passes as approved or rejected from your room as matter that can be separated from your co-worker? I can’t tell from what you describe. You have been told to tend to only your own job. Now unless you want to challenge this order and persist with this, you must do just that. To challenge it, you need to document the infractions you observe; what, when, where, who; and after meeting with each level stating that you will present your case up the chain of command if you get no action. That should result in action. Probably this co-worker or you will be transferred. Fighting for what you believe is quality might be worth the effort and it might provoke your manager to revising his “mind your own business” order. Or a creative solution might emerge such as hiring an outside consultant to investigate and advise quality processes. Is there any other way? Reconciling with your co-worker is not likely but it might be worth a try. How? By taking time out to privately speak with him about how it is dysfunctional and unpleasant to work at odds, that you apologize for criticizing, and that you want to collaboratively come to agreement on what are the necessary quality standards. What would be in it for your co-worker? Possibly nothing. But perhaps he also would like to be treated civilly, would welcome ways that might his job easier, would prefer to be respected rather than disrespected, and you two by putting your heads together might come up with ways to cut wasted products, time, energy and or innovate.

Another approach is for a wider team effort; one that does not separate the process from silo to silo. Shouldn’t there be a continuous quality improvement process? Shouldn’t all assigned to that meet with those in various departments to find ways to prevent rather than to inspect for defects? Shouldn’t it be a team effort to reduce cycle time and to find ways to integrate the process from supplier to distributor of your products/services? From here it seems that the new management after the buy out, would welcome and benefit from hearing from those of you who know what is going on. They should listen to assertive employees who voice concerns about plant-wide quality improvement. Rather than bite your tongue in resentment, might you not be more pleased with your self engaging in something far more important than criticizing the mishandling by a careless co-worker?

Do these thoughts spur some of your own? Do the make sense? If not don’t waste your time refuting them. Find other ways to make your voice count. The best places to work are not blessing sent from on high. The best places to work in and for are earned by individuals who risk the resistance of the apathetic and alienated. Think WEGO. Act WEGO.

William Gorden