Being Retaliated Against for Cooperating in a Discrimination Investigation – What Should I Do?

Question: I have a government job, and face a difficult hostile work environment. I’ve sought assistance from HR and others in the organization, but have received no help. What happened is this: a co-worker filed a discrimination claim, and I was interviewed about it. I merely expressed the truth as I saw it, which confirmed her complaint.

Now I am being persecuted, and after 5 years on the job, for the first time I am being told I am “incompetent.” I feel I am being set up to be fired. Is it better to be terminated, and then fight the issue, or resign (and lose all benefits and unemployment insurance?) My family (including young children) relies on the benefits. I’ve been diagnosed with a stomach ailment and am struggling with the problem. Any wisdom to offer?

Hopeless, Phoenix, AZ

Answer: Don’t be hopeless . . . and don’t let the situation get you sick. As folksinger Joan Baez said, “Action is the antidote to despair.” For the sake of your children, for the sake of your health, and for the sake of your financial survival, please consider making a plan and executing on it. Starting today.

First, what is happening to you is almost surely a serious violation of both Arizona and U.S. Federal law. When a person participates in an investigation of discrimination, he or she is almost always protected against the kind of retaliation you describe. It is very unlikely that, after 5 years on the job, all of a sudden you are incompetent. Seems preposterous. Resigning is something I hope you won’t consider, as it eliminates all of your rights to unemployment, etc.

Second, I don’t know how you sought the help of HR, but if it was by using your lips (that is, by speaking) and not by using your fingers (that is, by email), you have made a tactical error. Email is “your faithful friend,” because it makes a perfectly clear, permanent record of a complaint. (If you can’t email, use FedEx or other overnight delivery service that provides a signed receipt.)

I suggest you prepare a clear, detailed, comprehensive description of (a) your participation in the investigation, (b) your performance being satisfactory before that, (c) your performance suddenly being deemed unsatisfactory after that, (d) your reporting the problem to HR, to no avail, and (e) your very probably getting sick as a result. Make sure you do not sound angry in your letter, but determined. Name names, provide dates, and provide a copy of any memos you’ve received about this. Tell them this is a crisis, and you would appreciate an immediate investigation, for the sake of your health.

Send your letter to four different people, all by email or Federal Express or Certified Mail: (1) Office of Arizona Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, 1275 West Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85007-2997; (2) Director, Phoenix Office, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), 3300 N. Central Avenue, Ste. 690, Phoenix, AZ 85012-1848; (3) your agencies Director or “top person”; and (4) your agencies HR Director. You might also send a copy to your governor (if it’s a local or state job) or your U.S. Senator if it’s a federal job.

You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by standing up for yourself in this way. It’s what the law says you should do. I believe you have a very good chance to stop the abuse, and keep your job, without further retaliation. Show yourself you have “what it takes” to do so, and be a role model for your children. Know that I, for one, have heard you, and that I, for one, will pray for you.

I sure hope this helps. I really do. Feel free to write again, to let us know how things went.

Best, Al Sklover

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