Discrimination – Verbal Abuse by Co worker

Question:

I was recently approached by a faculty member coworker, and, as lab manager of the facility, answered his question concerning the repair of an instrument he wants to use. I was already told by my supervisor that we were not spending money on instrument repair and told the faculty member this. I explained to him why we are not repairing the instrument but he did not like this response. My boss came up behind me and stood side by side with me while the faculty member claimed I was not qualified to make any decisions for our department because I was not a chemist like him.

Educational degree bias is long standing with this faculty member and when the comment was made in front of my boss, my boss was taken aback and admonished the faculty member for it after I left the room. The verbal abuse took place in front of coworkers and students, and I feel it is discrimination on the basis of educational degree. He feels his input is more valuable although it is clear to my boss and his coworkers that he has his own personal agenda. I was immediately told by my boss, that I was indeed a valuable worker and to not let the assholes get you down (in Latin). This behavior is a constant problem with this faculty member and I have made an informal complaint to my supervisor, also naming him as a witness to the conversation. I feel my supervisor is not doing as much as he could do but he is a very good man and very understanding to the problem.

My next step would be to make a formal grievance to HR but I want my supervisor to be left out of the complaint. I understand he is not good at confrontation and has the same problems dealing with this person as I do. I don’t fault him for that but I cannot continue to work in this kind of environment. I am a 34 year employee with the company and am putting in for retirement this year, while applying for the DROP program to work 5 more years after retirement. Under these conditions, I feel I may not be able to emotionally stand working another 5 years with this faculty member, but in order to survive after retirement, I must stay. Any advice?

Signed,

Surviving After Retirement


Answer:

Dear Surviving After Retirement:

Advice? I don’t think that the incident you describe falls under any normal or legal definition of discrimination. Poor manners? Yes. Lack of civility? Yes. You have several choices in dealing with this particular chemistry professor: 1. Cooperate when he is reasonable and stand your ground when he’s not. Most likely the best choice.

2. Avoid him by stalling or being too busy to comply with what he wants you to do. You can take some pride in teaching this professor that your work is as or more important than his. 3. Fight him by asserting that you don’t like his putdowns. You have a voice. You can speak your mind. You need not bow to a professor. You can be civil but firm. 4. Report him to Human Resources. This might give you some sense of vengeance, but is it worth the trouble? 5. Bite your tongue and crumble inside. You don’t have to allow him to determine how you feel. Can you “emotionally stand working another 5 years with this faculty member”? Apparently this is not a new problem; therefore, I predict that you can.

From your description, I am confused as to whether your boss, who you say admonished this faculty member, is the same person as your supervisor, whom you say is a good man but not doing much. The point is that a superior confronted this professor who told you were not authorized or able to make a decision about repair of equipment. Therefore, I don’t see that you have a concrete example to appeal to HR. If you want HR to add to your boss’s admonishment, I think you will need a log of recent examples of rude behavior. And I doubt that HR can do much more than also admonish him.

The superior of this chemistry professor and the dean of your college can counsel and penalize him if an investigation supports your complaint. They can then restrict funding for his projects and/or not award him merit pay.

It seems to me that your best choice is the first I list. Do your job and take pride in that you are able to do what this faculty member is unable to do. This is America. We depend on those who make this world work. I tell my students that no theory is so important as what a plumber can do and I point to the fact that our classroom was closed for ten days because of a break in a sewage line.

Hopefully these thoughts will prompt you to think more highly of your role, so much so that you won’t allow this kind of arrogance to prevent you from working as long as you can negotiate after your retirement. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and is not what you really want; to feel proud of what you do and to be proud to work within a department that makes a contribution in this world?

William Gorden