“Directed by my employer to discriminate; what can I do?”

Question: Alan, I have been employed for over one year in a temp staffing agency. I have reached my limit in having to discriminate against people of color, and older people, and now pregnant applicants. Because I will no longer follow the temp agency’s “guidelines” for who to hire, my job is now in jeopardy.

Already two employees are suing the company for their outright discrimination. I have been working in temp staffing agencies for a long time, and this is by far the top one when it comes to discrimination. I have a ton of email in which I am told the “kind” of applicants to hire. There is good reason to believe I may soon be replaced, and on trumped-up charges.

Now I feel forced to quit. This agency is pretty big, and I am scared of retaliation. Please – what can I do? 

Tired of Discrimination
Milwaukee, Wisconsin  

Answer: Dear “Tired”: Your situation is definitely one that calls for some strategizing, and action. Here are my suggestions:     

1. First and foremost: Don’t fret; make a plan. In any difficult situation – and I would definitely describe your situation as difficult – we have a choice to make: fret or plan. To help yourself, and to gain the best treatment possible, planning is the way to go. There are several steps that can be taken as part of your “self-protection plan.”

2. Understand that no one can help you if you don’t help yourself, and helping yourself will take some courage. Imagine asking a doctor to help save your life, but saying to that doctor “Doctor, please save my life. But understand that (a) I am a very busy person, (b) I don’t want to feel any pain or discomfort, and (c) I want to make sure that I don’t have any risks from any medicine, procedure or operation.” Do you think that would be reasonable? Of course not. Well, solving this problem at work may require dealing with fear of retaliation, and some discomfort, and dealing with some risks, as well. But not dealing with a situation like yours is likely to bring about greater problems, not less.

By the way, if you are (a) unhappy, (b) about to be fired, (c) and ready to quit, do you really have anything to lose? You know, in negotiation there is a saying, “The person with the least to lose has the most to gain.” Think about it. 

3. Consider filing a formal complaint with the state and federal employment rights agencies in your city. What you describe is (a) illegal employment discrimination, and (b) illegal retaliation for objecting to that illegal employment discrimination. Our society has decided that these problems are so important that both our states and our federal government have established agencies to help people in your situation. These agencies are generally good at what they do and most employers are concerned – sometimes even afraid – of the potential power they wield. If you file a formal complaint with one of these agencies, you will be somewhat “protected” from further abuse and retaliation because how your employer treats you afterward will be “under a microscope.”

The Wisconsin Equal Rights Division (part of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development) is the state agency that can help you. They have a Milwaukee office at 819 North Sixth Street, Room 723, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53203. Their phone number is (414) 227-4384. Their website address is https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/er/.

The Milwaukee District Office of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has an office at 310 West Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 800, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53203-2292. Their phone number is (800) 669-4000. Their website is https://www.eeoc.gov/field-office/milwaukee/.  

4. Though you are concerned about retaliation, I suggest you send a respectful email to your employer’s HR department, objecting to what is going on, and mentioning that you have been in touch with the state and federal agencies. If there is one thing that so many people don’t understand, it is that they are safer from retaliation if they complain about the retaliation, in the right way, which is always by email.

Imagine if a neighborhood bully hits you every time you see him. Is he more likely to stop if you have told the police? If you have hired a bodyguard? Either way, I think yes. That is the equivalent of standing up to an employer’s abuse, humiliation and discrimination. In my experience, it is more likely – no guarantees, though – that retaliation will not take place if you have filed both (a) complaints with your employer detailing what you have experienced, and (b) complaints with state and federal agencies, and your employer knows that you have.

We offer a Model Letter entitled “Pre-emptive Anti-Retaliation Letter to Board Chair” for this purpose that you might find helpful to say, in effect, “What the company is doing is being watched.” To obtain a copy, [click here.]

5. Speaking of “bodyguards,” you might also consider getting to know a local employment rights attorney. Contacting and having an initial consultation with a local employment rights attorney may prove helpful, on several levels: (a) you may be able to gain valuable information, as your attorney will likely have experience with local laws, in local courts, against local employers, (b) it may give you added confidence knowing you have someone “in your corner” available to you who is on your side, (c) your employer might be more reluctant to further retaliate against you if it knew you have someone on your side, and (d) if you are, indeed, further retaliated against, you would have someone available to you to take quick action to remedy the situation.   

6. If you don’t get this resolved rather quickly, I suggest you consider an “Involuntary Resignation.” As you may know, I have sort of “invented” a new concept called “involuntary resignation.” This means that you are leaving your job, not voluntarily, but “involuntarily.” By making a written email record that you have been forced to resign due to the circumstances, and that this is an “involuntary” resignation, this can preserve your right to collect unemployment insurance benefits, to later sue if you decide to do so, to get severance, and to any other legal rights that may arise – now or in the future. For you, “Tired,” this should be far better then simply resigning.

For great info and insight, consider viewing our 12-minute Sklover-On-Demand Video entitled “Involuntary Resignation.” To do so, just [click here.] 

If you would like to obtain a Model Letter that you can adapt and use to “Involuntarily Resign,” just [click here.]

“Tired,” no one can guarantee any of us that life will be easy. But, if you make a plan, follow your plan, and “stick to your guns,” life will be at least a little “less un-easy.” Standing up for yourself is never an easy thing to do, but once you get the hang of it, others can tell you are not someone they would be smart to abuse. I wish you good luck in doing so. 

My Best,
Al Sklover

Repairing the World –
One Empowered and Productive Employee at a Time ™   

© 2012 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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