First Experience as Victim of Sex Discrimination:|
In September 1975, I gave birth to my second son. I taught school the day before going into labor and then missed 11 days of school. When I returned to work, my paycheck had been docked those 12 days of pay. The business office said I could not access my accrued sick leave, but had to take the time as maternity leave without pay. Why? Because that's the way it had always been done!
I filed a grievance against the school district and a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. I lost the grievance at the arbitration level, but the MDHR determined there was probable cause the district had discriminated against me and I got my $650 back pay for those 12 days.
The toughest part of this incident for me was the term victim. I first heard the term applied to me by the union attorneys in our discussions heading into the grievance proceedings. Victim just did not fit anywhere in my self-concept and I resisted it every step of the way. It may off-putting for many contemplating a discrimination challenge.
It will get personal! Challenging will involve and affect you personally in ways hard to imagine. I would learn this lesson many more times and many more ways.
In 1986, I applied for the position of principal at the Cook School in NE Minnesota, not far from the Iron Range described in the book Class Action and portrayed in the 2006 movie North Country. "Hell will freeze over before we hire a woman to be the high school principal at the Cook High School," was a response from a local community committee. Then I learned that the district had hired a younger, less qualified man for the job. To top that, we found out that his paper credentials were not complete and accurate. So I decided to sue.
Catch 22! You can't sue a governmental institution like a public school district without permission from another governmental institution. First I had to file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then request permission to file suit, which came from the U. S. Department of Justice.
To challenge job discrimination, you have to be a member of a protected class. Federal laws protect citizens against job discrimination that is directed at their protected class status: race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability. The EEOC is charged with enforcing those federal laws. In Minnesota, the protected classes are race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, status with regard to public assistance, disability or age. Minnesota civil rights protections are enforced by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. To my knowledge, most states have similar statutes and agencies. Check out your state!
Remember, there can be a lot of unfairness that goes on in the workplace, but not all of it qualifies as discrimination under the statues.
You have to know your rights to have your rights. This is true whether those rights are defined in employment contracts, state or federal laws. You not only have to know your rights, you have to take a stand and assert them. The most frequent question I was asked was, "How can they get away with this crap?" The simple answer is they can get away with a lot of discrimination if no one challenges.
Check out the other guy! Be on the lookout for bogus credentials. Do not believe everything you read or hear about another's credentials. Of course, I never got to see the actual set of credentials sent in by this younger guy until we had filed suit and accessed the formal discovery process. In his case, jobs that he failed to list on his resume revealed poor performance and a lot of job-hopping, 6 jobs in 8 years. Some of this information did not come out until the trial! I would learn this lesson many more times as well. As described in Plaintiff Blues, I lost administrative positions to 4 other men who got in with bogus credentials, including doctorates from 4 different diploma mills!
Watch out for advisory committees! In public employment, only elected officials make the final hiring and firing decisions. And they have to play by all the rules!
It took over 4 years to get to trial. During the discovery process, I began to suspect that part of the reason I was passed over for the job might have been a personal vendetta by the school board chairman. He never admitted it and it never surfaced as a fact to be considered, but my suspicions grew. Had he ever stated or explained what I suspected, that he took me out of the running because he was angry with me personally, my discrimination lawsuit would have ended on the spot. It's not discrimination if the defendant can prove the motive was personal, even vengeful. Such vendettas may bne improper or unethical, but they do not constitute illegal discrimination.
Beware hidden agendas! Hidden agendas plagued me throughout my tenure with this school district, particularly after the retaliation began. These hidden agendas are described in detail in Plaintiff Blues. However, it may have all started with this board chairman who would not own up to his frustration with me personally.
More Job Discrimination:
In 1992, while I was waiting to be offered the next available school principal position in the defendant school district, as ordered by the judge and jury in the lawsuit I filed in 1986 and won in 1990, I applied for the superintendent's position in my current district. I had applied previously, in1989, and lost the position that time to less qualified guy with two Ph.D.'s from diploma mills. In this case, the decision again went to a less qualified man and the decision was made behind closed doors. We had both interviewed as finalists for the position.
During the June 15, 1992, special board meeting to fill the position, the board called a recess. During the recess, the guy was given the opportunity to talk to board members individually. When the board reconvened he was hired. I was never informed of the meeting or given the equal opportunity to meet with individual board members. I only learned about these secret interviews conducted during the recess from the local newspaper, which had a reporter assigned to every meeting.
Local newspapers are your watchdog! Thomas Jefferson said, "If I had to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." Many times I learned about the discrimination or pieced together how it happened from the local newspapers. Several instances are described in Plaintiff Blues.
Keep your eye on the process! Sometimes the discrimination was not just about hiring a less qualified man, but doing so it a way that was unfair. I would encounter this problem of public employment hiring decisions made behind closed doors several more times, as described in Plaintiff Blues.
Watch the calendar, timelines are huge! Employment contracts, state and federal laws all include time limits for filing grievances or complaints. Miss the deadline and you miss your opportunity. Ironically, those deadlines seem to apply only to you! Once you've filed a complaint, the agencies seem to have unlimited time to investigate and reach their conclusions.
Be prepared for the long haul! Everything takes longer than it should! I filed a complaint with the EEOC on this 1992 hiring decision. I decided to allow the EEOC to complete their investigation rather than request permission to sue. The EEOC finally determined there was probable cause for discrimination, but the issues was not settled until January 1996. Plaintiff Blues describes 15 years of frustration with
Job Discrimination or Retaliation?:
As a result of my 1986 lawsuit and1990 victory in federal court, injunctive relief produced a school principal position in 1992. In 1997, following 5 successful years as principal, I applied for the open superintendency. The assistant superintendency opened abruptly during that selection process, when the incumbent simply walked off the job.
I did not have the chance to apply for the assistant position at that time because it was never posted! Was this again discrimination against a woman for the top job or was it retaliation for my lawsuit? Again a less qualified guy was hired, this time a guy with some bad history. He had been proposed for termination and forced to resign from a previous position of assistant superintendent. In fact, as a result, his license had been suspended. And again, the position was filled following secret interviews and behind closed doors. From my first application for this superintendency in 1997, there would be three administrative positions filled unfairly. Obviously I would have to figure out if this was sex discrimination or retaliation and challenge again. This challenge eventually took me back into federal court and is described in agonizing detail in Plaintiff Blues.
Make sure a thorough vetting job has been done! If the hiring authority does not document a thorough vetting process, they could be in for a lot of trouble. After 1997, my school district found that out with three men, including the fellow that abruptly walked off the assistant superintendent job, the fellow with the bad history, and the guy they eventually hired for the superintendent's position. He turned out to be the worst, so bad they canned him seven years later.
www.eeoc.gov This is an invaluable website. It is easy to use, easy to navigate and answers most questions about discrimination and retaliation. Be sure to check the sections on retaliation.
www.humanrights.state.mn.us Most states have similar civil rights agencies and laws. Check out your state!