Type of Discrimination?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about age and race discrimination: I am 52 years of age, and a year ago at work, we had an office-wide meeting regarding our 401K plan. Our PA, NY, CA and OH offices were all on a conference call, and the CEO made a reference to people getting older and how they needed to plan for their retirement. He then called out my name, and said that I am one step away from being in a nursing home.

I am confused as to what type of discrimination case I may have and I would like your opinion on this…here are the facts: I am 52 years of age, and a year ago at work, we had an office-wide meeting regarding our 401K plan. Our PA, NY, CA and OH offices were all on a conference call, and the CEO made a reference to people getting older and how they needed to plan for their retirement. He then called out my name, and said that I am one step away from being in a nursing home.

By the way, this was recorded, but I guess it did not matter to him. He is always hell bent on embarrassing me and putting me down for some reason, and he does not care who is present. I was embarrassed but I played along and laughed along with everyone about his comment to cover my humiliation.I often wished that I had said something to him privately about how he likes to put me down in front of folks and how that made me feel, but I never had the guts to confront him about it. Now I wished that I had done that because it would have definitely never escalated to the point of him calling me a ho, a slut, trailer trash, and also saying that I probably have several diseases.

I stayed on this job for 4 years until I finally had enough of the verbal abuse and name-calling. I resigned due to being passed over for promotions and getting migraines and other health issues due to my toxic workplace and my always being afraid of being humiliated in front of my co-workers. I realize now that I have to bring this out in the open for the next woman or man who may experience this. I don’t want anyone to have to go through this painful ordeal. It robs you of your self-respect and your self-esteem. It makes you feel so little and as if you don’t deserve any respect from anyone that you work with whether they are senior managers or your subordinates. This made me feel like something was wrong with me and that the CEO who was belittling me was like a God and I deserved it.

I have reported this to the EEOC who says that I definitely have a case and I am also seeking an attorney. I also have documentation supporting the above noted name-calling because most of it was done via email. The CEO also sent me an IM asking me if my daughter and I ever thought of having sexual threesome with a man. I just want to know what type of discrimination this was because as I said I am 52 years old and I am also an African-American. I hate to draw the race card but I have often wondered if I were Caucasian would he have treated me in that manner.

Signed,  Am 52 & Out

Dear Am 52 & Out:

What you report is unbelievable! Nowadays, no CEO, I know, could be so incompetent and stupid as to behave as you describe. Possibly you mean the boss of your local operations, but surely not the CEO of a company with plants in several states.

I sent your question and sought additional the advice from a long-time Human Resources Director of a company, a company that has top managers who are Afro-American, and he in turn shared it with a friend who is an Executive Director of a Chamber of Commerce. He sent the following note that supports my impression that your account is beyond normal belief. His remarks follow, before I will complete my advice to you. Her first words were “Unbelievable” as well. I think you said the appropriate thing and I agree wholeheartedly with you. She needs to move on and to work on her bitterness. No CEO would say those things. Plus she just wants to sue somebody because she is bitter. So anything we advise that does not promote her agenda would be off-handedly dismissed. An act of futility. You might read this comment as uncaring; however, this makes three of us, who have no stake in your situation, to wonder about your take on what happened to you and question if you will be fruitlessly trying to make a case of discrimination. And we wonder if you would have better things to do that spend your energy on trying to get back at those you accuse. Yet if you can document what you describe, you should know best if seeking legal help is worth the effort and the right thing to do.

Soooo let’s assume you have been unjustly discriminated against. Then, Yes, while on the job, you should have confronted your CEO’s’ verbal abuse, his remarks that were age discriminatory by singling you out with insulting remarks, and his sexual-threesome question. And if confronting him did not stop what you say he did, you then should have been reported his acts to those above and Human Resources at the time they occurred. Now that you quit and have contacted EEOC and have been advised to contact an attorney, if and when you consult a lawyer, you will get legal advice on the documentation you need, such as copies of the e-mails you mention, performance reports, and as your case progresses, depositions will be taken. It’s a long process.

Possibly EEOC will advise you about how to find the appropriate kind of attorney; one that has experience with cases such as yours. An attorney will advise you about your kind of discrimination case and if race appears to be involved. Do keep us informed.Meanwhile, it sounds like you have health problems. Do what is necessary to get in shape or stay in shape; eat healthy foods and no more than is needed, make walking and exercise a daily habit, sing in a choir or participate in some other activity that you enjoy, and volunteer until you find another job. Of course you are now obsessed with doing whatever you can to redress harm done to you and possibly to others. Legal action, however, does not always work in the favor of justice even when it should. So get on with your life.

Dwelling on an unhappy past can make you bitter and depressed. As 52, your life is not over. Does this make sense? We are all in this together and must share our joys and sorrows. Finding a good place to work in and for is not impossible. That is the wider mission of what you might think of as WEGO POSSIBLE.

Follow Up 1: Hello,Yes, this may sound truly unbelievable to you and your associates but I will swear on a stack of Bibles that this is 100% true and that it was indeed a CEO….not a manager, a CEO. Please be assured that I am not bitter….I am disappointed but I’m not one to be bitter no matter what happens to me. I now see why a lot people (especially women) do not report abuse of any type because the first reaction is probably always disbelief. For your associate to assume that I am bitter and just want to sue someone is very presumptuous on her part and unwarranted because she doesn’t even know anything about my character.

Answer: Thank you for candid response to our suggestions. You can and will take them for what they are of worth to you as you should. Do pursue righting what was unethical and unlawful. Weigh our advice. Compare it with others you think are competent. It is necessary and natural to share such traumatic experiences with others. However, I think, you will find your life less fulfilling if you allow this unhappy job experience to be a frequent topic of conversation. Doing so will become depressing and tedious to your family a and friends; moreover, too much talk about it will keep you from focusing on a shaping a future that meets your financial and emotional needs. Our only intent is to give you the unvarnished reading of how you situation appears to those of us who have read hundreds and hundreds of questions from those who describe difficult job situations, and then to provide the most constructive advice we have found from those who have been able to cope and overcome. There is no charge and I hope you be willing to report back to us progress on righting wrong and finding a job-satisfying future.

Respectfully, Bill Gorden, The Workplace Doctors

Follow Up 2: I do appreciate your advice and I will adventually move on but keep in mind that if a CEO can do this to me, just imagine what he has probably done to other folks in the past and will do to other folks in the future. That is what matters to me…not a monetary lawsuit, just justice and decent conduct and fairness to employees. Thank you. I am a kind soul who always try to find positivity in every situation which can be a downfall at times because people will more than likely try to take your kindness for weakness. I will also use this situation for positivity…I am writing a book to enlighten people on harassment in the workplace so that it will help them if they are faced with this type of situation. If it is okay with you I would like to use excerpts of your advice in my book.

Answer: Writing is good for the soul–for yours and others who might learn from it. So write. Of course you may quote from the Workplace Doctors, citing us. You handle the language quite well, and I imagine that in describing situations in detail–employing descriptive adjectives and colorful language in narrative form–that you will be even better than in your e-mails. If you take all your work and life as a learning experience, facing up to events as a detective in pursuit of righting wrong via the EEOC and/or a labor attorney, that could make an intriguing feature story, if not a book. Possibly you could send it to a major or local newspaper or magazine. WEGO-mindedness is collaborative action.

William Gorden & Dan Kearney