Testified In A Reverse Discrimination Case. Now Back

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about reverse discrimination:

I testified in a reverse discrimination case. My testimony was not beneficial to the company I work for, but it was the truth. I was very apprehensive to testify but was issued a summons. My boss has been telling other people in management in my department and other departments that I have poor job performance etc. What can I do?

Signed, Had To Testify

Dear Had To Testify:

Certainly it would appear that you should seek an attorney to assist you with this issue. Because of that, I hesitate to advise something that later an attorney would say was not wise. However, if you do not wish to seek an attorney at this point, you may want to consider the following as you develop a plan of action:

1. You say that your boss has been telling other people in management in your department and other departments, that you have poor job performance. Make sure you are confident of your source for that information. Unless you’ve heard it yourself, it may not be true. How do you know it? If another manager has told you and thinks it inappropriate, would he or she make a statement about it to HR, your legal section or to an attorney? You will need to be able to prove what was said and in what context. What harm has resulted from the remarks? Have you been refused a promotion or lost status in the company or found that you no longer have certain advantages or opportunities? Some sort of harm or potential harm would likely need to be shown to warrant civil action.

2. Has your manager discussed your job performance with you, either at evaluation time or some other time? If you have had performance problems discussed with you, do you feel they have any basis in fact? Are there areas in which you have performance problems, either because of lack of training or aptitude or for any other reason? Have you been offered assistance in these areas or asked for assistance yourself?If you have had genuine performance issues, your boss might be able to justify making comments about it as part of business conversation with those who might need to know. You will want to make a list of the people you believe have been told these things, so you can show that they did not have a need to hear remarks about your work.

3. What about your evaluations until now? Has there been a change since you testified? Are there areas where you know you are considered to be better than average? Are those being rated down now when they weren’t before?

4. What is the general relationship you have with this boss? Was it positive before and not now? Have you formerly been able to talk freely with him or her? Consider simply asking your boss if there are issues with your performance. That is the easiest way to find out if there are problems–and also might stop any unwarranted complaints. Is he or she your immediate supervisor? If not, have you talked to that person about your concerns? Is that something you would do? If so, tell that person about your concerns and ask that your boss be asked to not disparage your performance to others who don’t have a need to know about such things. That is good business and professional courtesy in any situation. If a manager gossips negatively about an employee, that is wrong and should be complained about. If your boss’s boss doesn’t do something about it, after it’s been shown to happen, go higher in the organization.

5. Did other people testify to some of the same things to which you testified? Are they having the same problems? Do any of them have the same boss you do? Did your court testimony contribute in a major way to the outcome or not? Those are all things to consider as you evaluate what is happening.

6. Do you have an HR section? Do you have a legal counsel section? If you do, those people–especially the legal section–would want to know about possible retaliation because they are the ones who will have to handle a civil case about THAT. Write them a memo saying that you have reason to think you are being talked badly about, when in fact your performance has not been questioned. Say that you are concerned that it is in retaliation for your testimony, and you want them to know about it since they might be able to stop it before you have to get an attorney to do so. That will certainly get their attention! If you don’t have a legal section, send a similar memo to your HR section. In your memo, establish several things: That you have good reason to think your boss is saying inappropriate things about you. That you have not been told that you have performance problems. That even if you have, those who are being told do not have a reason to be informed about those issues. That you are afraid of continued remarks and that you believe it could harm you and your career–be specific about how that could be the case.

7. I still think your best first response is to ask to talk to your boss. You don’t even have to say that you have heard he or she is making remarks. If he or she has, they’ll know what is behind your interview anyway. Simply say something like, “I’ve had the feeling lately that you are unhappy with some aspects of my work for some reason. If you do feel that way, I would like to know what areas are concerning you and what you would like to see me do differently.” If you are told about specific areas, at least you will have it out in the open. If your boss denies it, that might at least stop the remarks. Then, follow up with an email thanking him or her for the time to discuss it. In the email reiterate what you heard. “I’m glad that you don’t have any specific concerns about my performance. I always want to do a good job.” Or, “I’m glad you told me that you are concerned about the errors on the reports. I wasn’t aware there was a concern and I want to learn how to do the reports correctly all the time. I will focus on that and have asked for assistance.” (The wording would have to fit you and your situation of course.)

That way you have documentation of what was agreed to in the conversation. And if your boss doesn’t correct you or if he sends back a memo that agrees with yours, you have additional documentation.

8. As I said, you may want to ask an attorney for advice about what kind of evidence you need to be looking for in this situation, in order to determine if you have a civil case. One way to approach that is to contact the attorney who represented the person in the original lawsuit. He or she would be aware of your role and might also be aware if others are going through the same thing. Most attorneys will provide a free consultation and that might be very useful to you at this point. If you don’t want to do that and all you want is for the remarks to stop, you could likely achieve that by talking to someone about it in a clear yet adamant manner or talking directly to your boss if that is possible.

The legal section or HR is your most solid resources for that. Whether or not you ever testified about a case that affected your work, you should not have negative remarks being made behind your back by a manager, unless there is a business reason to do so. Certainly you should not have the feeling that you are being criticized without anyone ever talking to you face to face. Sadly, that happens in many business settings, even without a situation such as yours. It’s wrong and should be stopped. Before that can happen it must be brought to the attention of someone higher in the chain of responsibility and many employees don’t want to stir things up to that extent. Certainly it isn’t easy to do it, but it is worthwhile if it protects your reputation and career.

I hope these thoughts will give you some additional perspectives as you approach this issue. It may be that none of this has to do with your testimony. You may be hypersensitive to that concern and that is understandable. On the other hand, it may be there is a connection. The more you know about what has been said, when and to whom, the better you or an attorney will be able to decide what to do next. Best wishes!Straight talk and active listening builds WEGO workplaces.

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.