I feel as a white person, I have no real room to write about cases of discrimination. Have I been discriminated against? Yes. Was I beat or murdered? No I was not. Even though I am a woman, which is a class of minority status, do I really have a voice to change those who have negative opinions towards women and other minorities? In fact, I do. I have the strong belief that everyone has a voice that needs to be listened to regardless of race, gender identity, color, mental illness status, marital status, socioeconomic status, whatever it may be. Without the voices of “minorities” being heard, who are we as a first world nation? We are nothing without diversity and minorities and different perspectives.
In my last profession, I worked as a paralegal for an attorney. I had no work experience in the legal field, but I went to school to become a paralegal and completed about half of the course work to receive my Associates of Applied Science (AA-S) in Paralegal studies and would receive my certification as long as I continued on with my schooling. I had been on prolonged medical leave because I had broke my foot working for the government as a mechanic. I was ever so patiently awaiting surgery when I stumbled upon this “Legal Assistant” job post. It was truly a fluke that I got the job. I didn’t have the correct schooling per se, nor did I have the experience. Yet on an exam that my soon to be employer gave me (he interviewed ten others, all long time paralegals and juris doctors, mind you.) I scored the highest in regards to correcting the grammatical and punctuation errors of a basic elder law pleadings.
The next interview he stated that his brother was schizophrenic and I bonded with him once I stated that my mother was also schizophrenic. He seemed like a genuine, and caring person, not like some stereotypical hard ass, money making attorney. I happily accepted the position once it was offered to me. I had some rough learning curves once I started. He originally hired me as a legal assistant and another recent graduate Juris Doctor as a paralegal. He accepted the position for more experience as he waited to take the Bar exam. I had never felt so clueless in my life when he tried to describe the particular ways of legal filing, how the legal system worked in regards to divorces and probate and estates, and the basic skill of typing which at the time I did not possess. Quickly enough, I learned. I got a call saying one day that OWCP (federal L and I) had finally processed and accepted my claim to go ahead with foot surgery. After working there for nearly three months, I took off two weeks from work without pay or benefits. Once I returned, the paralegal had been fired. He had poor work ethic, but it seemed odd that he was fired while I was on medical leave.
I cautiously moved forward in my work efforts, afraid I was going to get fired for poor work ethic or my lack of knowledge. I was constantly praised for my ability to learn quickly, take on tasks, work efficiently, etc. The attorney and I fought like cats and dogs, but ultimately I would consider us to be friends. He invited me over to his house for parties and to meet his current wife and children. He was very fond of me.
One day, after work, I checked my Facebook and I was nominated to do a “Life is Good” challenge, with the premise that you post one photo everyday for ten days and state why life is good. Excited about it, I carefully choose ten photos to put for each individual post. Mind you, this was before Christmas closure at the office and my employer and I were at the time Facebook friends. We closed office for the week and I soon began to post my challenge photos. Day one began with the concept that I was so happy to have my job at the law office and to gain experience from a knowledgeable person. He then asked me and my boyfriend at the time over for a Christmas party which I agreed to attend to keep him happy.
He realized mental illness ran in my family, but he didn’t personally know that I struggled with bipolar disorder. On the fourth day, I posted something in regards to my mental illness and although it could be challenging at times, it was also gratifying. Later, he messaged me on Facebook stating that I should take my Facebook post down. He had always said that if I disagreed with him, I had the right to do so, as long as I defended my position. So I respectfully disagreed with his opinion and stated that in order to be an advocate for mental health, it didn’t matter what he said, that I was going to keep my post up for all to see. I continued on with the challenge, all hinting at my struggles with bipolar, but nothing explicitly saying so. I emailed him in regards to the Christmas party on Sunday, which he replied was then cancelled.
I went in to work the following Monday, expecting a normal, yet busy Monday. I read through emails and voicemails and finally he arrived an hour late. He questioned my motives in regards to my series of Facebook posts. I stated that it was nothing serious. He then began to argue that I was jeopardizing the state of the company by my posting my selfie with my business card and stating how happy I was to work there in one post (on my private Facebook page; not the company page, not open to anyone but my friends) and stated my negative traits that bipolar disorder gives me in another post. He proceeded to ask a series of pointed questions in regard to would we hire a client who posted similar content as I had; in other words would we hire someone who portrayed character traits of bipolar disorder. Could we trust and work with that individual? He then sent me home in tears after arguing with me or hours and stated for me to send him an email with my “punishment for my actions”.
In between sobs on my drive home, I became very angry, hurt, and devastated. I thought, “He is trying to fire me for being bipolar”. I argued with myself saying it was against employment law to do so. But I also thought he wouldn’t be above doing that because he won’t directly fire me for being bipolar, he would find another reason.
That evening I sent him a long email stating that a verbal warning would be efficient because I hadn’t done anything wrong. I hadn’t hurt the company with my social media posts because it was on my private page, it wasn’t targeted at anyone or anything, my illness had nor would ever affect my ability to work, and all my work had been completed accurately and efficiently and was documented.
The next day I went in to work and came across him and his wife, seated in the lobby. His wife is a social worker, which I always find ironic because she has no fucking clue about bipolar disorder and her concepts that she explained to my employer are so outlandish that how she got her degree is beyond me. Anyways, they waited for me to arrive. They suspended me without pay until further notice to review my work and my social media actions. They took my keys and asked me to take all of my belongings. I silently sobbed because I knew I wouldn’t be returning. I had made this office into a home. I had my action figures and comics on my desk of She-Hulk, the greatest female kickass attorney in the superhero world. I had all my tea, and books, and snacks, and office supplies. I just grabbed my purse and threw my keys on my desk and left. His wife ran after me, trying to speak to me and all I remember her saying is, “Don’t drive like this.” So I called my best friend to pick me up and he did and we went out to breakfast.
To this day, almost 2 months later, I have never been more devastated to lose a job in my life. It was my dream and my passion and to lose it over something I have no control of.
The next week I received a letter in the mail stating that I hadn’t met quota and business was failing, but my lack of character on social media is what caused me to be terminated.
First off, there wasn’t enough work to meet quota and I never heard a complaint about it until my termination letter and I had also not heard about the business failing either.
I then filed for unemployment as I await for a new job. My last employer is currently fighting unemployment, stating that I didn’t meet expectations that were asked of me when I hired on. That is not the reason for him either suspending or firing me and the fact that he is lying to a government entity, just to screw me out of a few hundred bucks while I am trying to get back on my feet is again beyond me.
My story is not uncommon nor unique, but it is mine and hurts just the same. But by sharing our stories, we take away some of the power of the privileged. He will get his revenge, I know it. In due time… Soon enough I will have the resources once my unemployment kicks in to call him out and potentially take him to court for his actions. But like I have said before, who knows? Because I certainly don’t.
Til next time,