Winning the Battle But Losing the War: EEO, Grievances and Shunning

Nevertheless, a certain amount of wariness does appear to be justified…

Background: I had been in my job as Regional Planning Director and Accumulator of Other Random Tasks for about six years when it was decided by someone above me that I should retire. My boss was the Deputy Regional Forester (a job that had a fair amount of turnover and actings) (DRF) and his boss was the Regional Forester (RF) and his boss was the Chief.

So one day I walked in and was asked if I would go on a detail. Silly me I thought of that as “you go and come back”. It took me awhile to realize they meant “you go and never come back and when you can’t abide this silly assignment anymore you can retire.” ]My first thought was, “hey I’ve taken all that training and they can’t do that!” So first I looked at an EEO complaint, and I called someone far away on a help line. They said I’d need to prove somehow that gender discrimination was behind it. Well, no one was going to go around saying that so I could write it down. And it could have been sort of what I call “second order”, when men are confident that’s good, if women are it’s abrasive, if employees complain about men supervisors they are whiners, if they complain about a female, she is a poor leader, and so on. Who knows? And how could you prove it?
The only thing I can say about this experience is that I don’t think having hotlines necessarily help. They are probably incentivized to close cases (or process them at a certain rate of speed). They don’t know the organizational and personality context. Finally, hearing someone’s story in person is very different than a disembodied voice.

Our own (HR Civil Rights) folks in the Region (fortunately I was lucky to have them in the same building) were the only people I could count on. They had a listening ear and good advice. My take-home: centralizing is not always good.

So I started a grievance, because, sure enough, you can’t just take someone out of their job without cause. Unfortunately, my grievance was denied by an Acting DRF (yes, working for the same person who had thought up the “let’s get rid of Sharon” scheme.) This particular Acting was a peer of mine in regular life (personally, this was the toughest part) and, of course, had no real rationale.

But then it went to the next level, and someone in Region 8 accepted my grievance and said I could have my job back. So ultimately the system “worked,” but you can see if the second level hadn’t been outside the Region, the outcome could have been different.

But my point is that the formal system can work, but the informal system can still shun you. As my first boss in the Forest Service told me (when I applied to have my position audited in 1980 against the will of the Forest Supervisor) “you may win the battle but you will lost the war.”
So I went back, and folks in the WO treated me like a ghost. My peers went back to treating me as they had before. Members of my staff who had participated in the drama were unhappy with me coming back. My boss wouldn’t give an employee a detail because the WO had told him she was not OK (the most loyal responsible non-bloggy person in the world) because she had a blog. This blog. He could have looked it up instead of believing the WO gossip. Oh well.

Bottom line, I would never judge a person for not reporting something, because shunning is a pretty awful thing to endure (as Melody Mobley also talked about here). If people want to get rid of employees they can- presumably the shunning system and career civil service regulations co-evolved. And there is literature on organizational shunning, also called ostracism, so perhaps management folks have ideas about how to deal with it.

6 thoughts on “Winning the Battle But Losing the War: EEO, Grievances and Shunning”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story and its outcome. It definitely shows that the system can be “rigged” and the undertone of “if you do this, it will be the right thing to do, but you’ll regret it because of the way other people will treat you”. I agree that hotlines are incentivized to close cases and process them – but not to ensure that the outcome is fair and follows law and policy. I’m glad that HR helped you in this case.

    • Yes, I wonder if some of these continuing problems are the inevitable (and karmic) result of removing large numbers of (mostly) women from the local workforce in HR. At the time I wondered why losing so many women in centralizing to ABQ did not need a gender diversity impact analysis. The effort effectively de-diversified local workplaces. I tried to bring this up at the time but to no avail.

  2. Sharon

    I am truly sorry that you and so many other women have had these horrible experiences. They happen to men also. Jealous bosses and others afraid that you might pass them up.

    The tools used by these type of people include using self serving women (company *****s) used by powerful senior employees to entrap employees that they don’t like but their bosses do. That was tried on me and others a couple of times. Some fell for the sucker punch and were terminated. Others of us simply told the lady with her hand on our thigh that we had a wife at home that we needed to get home to. That cost me – but eventually I had a hand in bringing the general manager down when I refused to falsify a document and the VP wondered why it didn’t have my signature on it.

    It is the nature of mankind since time began. No set of rules or policy will ever stop it. It has even happened in churches. I found that waiting on the Lord was the best plan. In every situation, He eventually showed me how to expose the individual or moved me to another learning opportunity.

    After being retired as a result of a company policy and finding rampant age discrimination in the job market at 65, I learned that dwelling on the injustices in life was only hurting me. I and my wife are much better off for giving up on finding an appropriate job. God knew that it was the right time to retire all along. We lived off savings until we took social security at 70. At 70 after 6 yrs with $6,000/yr and a small amount from working on the 2010 census (& more lessons about gov’t/human disception) we had more money than we had ever had because of a great run in the stock market after the 2008 crash.

    Phil. 4:4-8, Psalm 37:8, Is. 40:31, Ps. 37:4

    • Thanks, Gil! I was helped by my dear husband (who had an amputation, MRSA infection that almost killed him and another amputation right before this started, and died right after I got my job back), my spiritual community and, of course, supporters in the metaphysical realm.

      I went on, quite happily, to study at Iliff School of Theology and have no doubt the Spirit was in it. I’m only offering my experiences in hope that others might learn that what appears to be “the Sound of Music without Nazis” could actually be “the Lord of the Flies.” In the FS.

  3. Sharon – having intersected your career a couple times, I have appreciated what you brought to the workplace. These harassment/discrimination stories that have recently been illuminated make me understand what it means to be be on the receiving end of inappropriate behaviors – people will get hurt while others receive undue benefits.

    Gil and Melody have it right – our spiritual strength helps us move past these unjust acts.

    • Thanks, Tony! In my case, I don’t really know that it was about gender or what it was about. Personality conflicts are not always discrimination, but can be. That doesn’t make them any easier to deal with, and may muddy the waters.

      Amen to your last point.


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