“Experiencing Workplace Discrimination and Retaliation” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Shiloh Middle School Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Shiloh Middle School Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

From 2007-2008, I taught at Shiloh Middle School in Snellville, Georgia, located in Gwinnett County.  Shiloh is a public school, and is a school that is part of the largest public school system in Georgia – which school system is also Georgia’s largest employer.  Due to unbearable discrimination and retaliation that I experienced as a teacher at Shiloh, from school administrators, and as a result of upper administrators doing nothing to stop it, I taught there for only one year, having already had several years of prior outstanding experience, positive recommendations, and excellent formal evaluations of my teaching at other schools.

During the painful experience that I had at Shiloh, I resigned mid-way through the academic year with such resignation taking effect at the close of the academic year, hoping that the discrimination, racism, harassment, bullying, and retaliation that I was experiencing would stop, but it only increased and escalated.  😦  For the past five years, my experience has been so painful that I have not shared about it, publicly.  However, I believe that it is important for my experience to be shared; perhaps sharing about my experience with help others who are coping with similar discrimination.

Discrimination – in particular, workplace or employment discrimination – is something that people typically do not want to talk about, recognize, or address.  In my experience, it was also something that virtually no one who had the authority and ability to stop it did so.  😦  The discrimination that I experienced included many different actions by school administrators, such as deliberately falsifying my students’ county benchmark test scores and thereby reducing my teacher performance rating, stating that I had more below grade performers than was accurate on the school system’s internal rating instrument, termed the Results-Based Evaluation System (RBES).  It also included creating a hostile work environment in many ways, including being administratively unsupportive of me – and instead, supportive of the student – when the student threatened me with physical harm in class.   

Other ways in which I experienced an unsupportive and hostile environment were when administrators placed me on a type of “improvement” plan, evaluated me approximately 25 times during a three month period, and had virtually nothing positive to say about my teaching in any of their evaluations.  Note that I came from all prior teaching employment positions with positive recommendations and satisfactory evaluations; my reputation was outstanding.  Yet, when I successfully completed all of the facets of the “improvement” plan at Shiloh, further “evidence” was fabricated by the principal to support that my teaching was “unsatisfactory,” thus causing him to fulfill his goal in “proving” that my teaching was not satisfactory.  Additionally, when administrators observed several lessons per week in my classes, many students found it amusing and entertaining.  Thus, my credibility and reputation were diminished, and it made it more difficult and challenging to teach effectively. 

Chemicals in Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Chemicals in Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Further discrimination I experienced were denials from administrators for me to participate in off-site professional development opportunities, as well as the school system purposely failing to supply the Professional Standards Commission with any of my professional development hours and credits earned during that year to go toward my recertification.  Other discrimination I experienced included not being provided with the necessary educational materials for required curricular lessons (though I repeatedly requested them and they were not ordered by administrators), and using such lack against me in evaluations and performance reviews.

Other types of discrimination that I experienced included when the principal gave false information about me to a human resources employee, also causing such employee to be completely unsupportive of me as a competent and valued employee of the school system.   I was also subjected to dozens of “disciplinary” and performance-related meetings; and was required to observe the instruction of several colleagues as part of my “training,” including that of an inexperienced, first-year teacher.  Because I stood up for and defended myself to my immediate superiors, many upper administrators within the school system – up to and including the superintendent – as well as by providing documentation about my experiences to leaders at the Georgia Department of Education and Professional Standards Commission, I experienced even more discrimination and retaliation from the school principal.  While an official from the state education commissioner’s office contacted me and was supportive of me, he stated that the department did not have oversight pertaining to the issues that I was experiencing.  And, the state standards commission for educators did not recognize any policy or ethics violations of my administrative supervisors, expunging the cases.

Eventually, the school principal had so much documentation against me that he was able to falsely substantiate changing my teaching position from that of a science teacher to being a careers teacher.  Removing me from my team of core teaching colleagues, he informed parents by letter sent home from school through their children of his “personnel change.”  Eventually, my replacement in my subject area of science was made through cronyism, the fact that the school administrators placed one of their close faculty friends in my position.  Interestingly, for some time during and after the “personnel change,” this replacement faculty colleague of mine was not identified on the school’s website as even being employed at the school; her name was removed from the website.

Upon the change in subject area that the principal forced upon me for the last quarter of the academic year, he directed that my work space be the school’s science storage room that housed flammable chemicals.  So, not only did my workspace change from a formal classroom to a storage room – it was a storage room in which there were many flammable chemicals and materials, most of which were not properly stored.  In this storage room, I was provided with a desk and chair only.  I was not provided with a computer or any access to an intercom or other communication device, as were present in each teacher’s classroom.  Throughout this article are found several photographs that reflect this workspace that the school principal directed me to use. 

Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Upon my being required to use the science storage room with the flammable chemicals as my workspace by the school principal, I wrote to and informed the regional director of OSHA about the situation, and received a response from him that because my workplace was a public rather than private employer, nothing could be done to stop or change it.  I wrote to the state’s governor.  I wrote to the school system’s superintendent and internal resolution director.  Prior to that, I wrote to and met with the human resources division director.  I contacted the superintendent on three occasions, and never received a reply.  When nothing was changed or improved, I contacted each member of the school system’s board of education.  It was only through those communications did the superintendent act to have the human resources chief officer meet with me, at which time I explained to her what was occurring, including being required to work out of a science storage room, filled with flammable chemicals.  As a result of meeting with her, the discrimination and additional racism that I experienced continued, though my work space was changed to an outdoor trailer.

One particular racist situation that I encountered was when a school administrator who was African-American, directed me not to eat my lunch during a staff development meeting, however she did not inform or direct my African-American colleagues not to eat their lunch during the same staff meeting.  When I approached the school principal and informed him about the unfairness of this situation, he became angry with and yelled at me, stating that he was “disgusted” that I brought race into the situation.  I brought race into the situation?  Race was made a factor in the situation by the school administrator; I only approached and informed him of it so that he would be aware of it and so that such types of situations would cease.  This situation, however, worked in my favor because this particular administrator happened to be my second main evaluator, and because of the situation and the racism that I expressed that I experienced, my evaluator was changed to a different administrator who was somewhat more supportive. 

There were also several other racist experiences that I encountered, including being overlooked for off-site professional development opportunities that were instead issued to African-Americans, being nearly prevented from participating in certain school-related activities such as judging in the science fair, and being repimanded for my class being talkative though certain classes of my African-American colleagues were out-of-control, without that being addressed at all.  Several of my colleagues also experienced racist encounters with school adminstrators, the same and/or similar to those that I did. 

All of those 15 of my colleagues who experienced those similar encounters left the school, as I did.  When the “leaders” of large corporations such as that which this school is a part treat their subordinates in the manner in which we were, many employees discover the harsh reality that they and their well-being do not matter, and that money and image are indeed more important than they are – the hard-working and dedicated talent who comprise the very foundation of the company.  It was proven that people don’t matter to these corporate “leaders” – only money and image matter.

Throughout my employment at Shiloh and as a result of the constant and unending discrimination that I experienced from school administrators, I experienced a variety of health problems, and sought and obtained regular medical treatment for them.  In all of my employment positions, I have been a dedicated worker, and have been absent during very few days during each year.  During my year at Shiloh, I missed 20 days due to the stress and medical problems that I experienced as a result of the discrimination I endured there.  Both my physician and legal representative repeatedly encouraged me to leave Shiloh as soon as possible, however I was unable to do so because 1) I love teaching; 2) I needed an income; 3) I was unable to obtain a teaching position with a different school system; 4) I was not released from my contract; 5) the state stipulates that a teacher must not abandon their contract; if that occurs, then licensure could potentially be revoked; and 6) human resources did not honor my request for a transfer.  Additionally, this particular time in my life was the worst due to experiencing severely stressful issues outside of employment, including divorce, grief, and a family situation that involved trauma.

During my year at Shiloh Middle School and throughout the discriminatory experiences that I had, I survived my experience through the assistance of my legal representative with the Georgia Educators Association, a professional teachers’ group.  My legal representative, a man of about 30 years of experience in providing professional support and legal suggestions about how to proceed and how to best protect myself, is a graduate of a prestigious Ivy League university.  In addition to his advice, my legal representative also informed me that the school system, in fact, trains their administrators on how they can discriminate and retaliate against employees.  I will always be thankful and grateful for this man’s assistance as he helped me through this extremely painful employment experience.

Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Following my departure from Shiloh, I contacted a few attorneys about the situation that I experienced, and none wanted to take my case.  My educators’ association legal representative had also informed me that unless there were others who were willing to come forward about their experiences (there were 15, however no others pursued the matter, and instead transferred, retired, or left the school), a legal case would likely not be successful.  He also informed me that individuals who had similar legal cases against the school system, at that time, were already in their fourth to sixth years in adjudication, with no end in sight and no guarantee of success. 

In order to make myself “heard” and to receive possible support from government agencies, therefore, I applied for unemployment compensation through the Georgia Department of Labor, and was denied.  I appealed the decision, and was again denied.  The reason that I was given was that, basically, the employment situation that I experienced was not of a quality that I should have resigned.  It wasn’t?  Following those denials of support, I called up my bravery and courage, and submitted a charge of discrimination with the EEOC in Atlanta.  Again, I was unsupported; and the case was closed, with the EEOC investigator informing me in March 2010 (more than 1.5 years after placing my charge) that the agency was unable to conclude that a violation of statutes was established, though it did not mean that the employer was in compliance with the statutes.  So, it would appear that all of what I experienced was entirely legal – or, my case was not strong enough.

Since working at and leaving my employment at Shiloh, I have been unable to secure employment in teaching – the career that is my passion.  I have volunteered as a teacher and/or adult leader on numerous occasions and throughout many years with particular schools, churches, and organizations, so my life continues to be enriched and fulfilled by being able to teach.  However, the eduation for which I built my teaching career has not continued in the manner that I had anticipated.  Though there are other interests that I have pursued, and that I am able to be more fully available as a mom to my son, I miss the opportunity to teach and more fully utilize my education and background to support others and assist them in reaching and exceeding their potentials.

I believe that the discrimination that I experienced by the school administrators at Shiloh was a result of being outspoken and perhaps being intellectually threatening to my superior(s).  Because I am a person who likes to learn and understand, I have a natural capacity to question.  Sadly, people may misjudge an individual’s questions as being threatening when they are only trying to learn and/or support themselves in understanding others.  I always put in extra time on the job, always went the extra mile, always bent over backwards in my work.  When I saw something that could be improved or done better, I identified it and supported it to administrators.  When I observed student gang activity at the school, I became outspoken about ways to stop it.  The principal was angry and hostile with me about it, and therefore, did anything possible to be professionally and personally unsupportive of me. 

Additionally, during the prior academic year, the school did not achieve a passing rating on Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), so it had been officially identified as a failing school.  And, the much-loved and experienced veteran principal had retired at the close of the previous academic year.  Because of these two issues, as well as the student gang activity, faculty morale at the school was extremely low; I took the initiative and met with the principal on three occasions early on in the academic year, sharing my suggestions with him on how to raise and improve faculty morale.  As a result, I believe that the principal and his administrative colleagues did whatever they could to attempt to silence me and/or force me out so that their own actions or inactions regarding particular issues would not be called into question.    Simply because I desired to learn, understand, and contribute to creating a better and safer school for everyone, I experienced discrimination by the school administrators that was the most severe of anyone at the school.

Shiloh Middle School, Snellville, Georgia, 2013

Shiloh Middle School, Snellville, Georgia, 2013

Some people have advised me not to publicy-share about my experience, while others have.  Those who have advised me to remain silent believe they are protecting my best interests so that no further retaliation toward me will occur in other avenues.  I have been particularly inspired by two people to share my experiences, publicly.  Those who have encouraged me to share about my experiences have stated that by being silent, I am protecting the offenders.  As I have gotten older and have reflected upon many experiences in my life, I do believe it is important to inform others of our experiences – as a way of it being individually therapeutic, but also so that others will know and understand my experiences, and perhaps be able to change and improve such situations for others. 

By sharing my honest and true experiences, publicly, I would like to request positive change, and for people to support – rather than harm – each other in the workplace, and in our society.  My article provides an opportunity for agencies, organizations, and employers to recognize and support individuals, such as myself, who have had experiences similar to mine.  It is much easier and more cost-effective for employers to support employees rather than focus unnecessary and inappropriate energies on harming them.  Recognize and support good employees for who they are; no longer harm them through harmful and negative control, bullying, intimidation, and domination.  Please pray for, reflect upon, and support this occurrence.

As a further result of my workplace experience while teaching at Shiloh, I created the LinkedIn group, “Educators Against Retaliation,” in September 2011, later renaming it “People Against Retaliation and Bullying.”  This is an open group in which any member of LinkedIn can view and/or join.  The main purposes of the group are to identify and address bullying, retaliation, intimidation, and bullicide (suicide due to bullying), as well as the prevention of all of these.  Participating members have helped and supported each other by sharing their experiences and/or the experiences of others, related to workplace bullying, school bullying, bullicide, and retaliation.  One group member actually shared her personal success story in winning her legal case against her employer for wrongful termination.

With bullying and retaliation having come to the forefront of social issues within our society, people must realize the seriousness and severity of such actions.  😦  When adults are bullied at work by other adults, when children are bullied by peers and/or adults at school, and even when citizens in the community experience bullying throughout our society, it is clear and obvious that the issues must be identified and addressed, and for improvement and positive change to occur.  When large corporations can get away with the type of illegal actions at work that I experienced, one realizes that such actions are engrained in our workplaces, culture, and society.  Countries throughout Europe have strict laws against the types of discrimination and retaliation that I experienced.  It is long past time for such laws to be enacted and enforced in the United States, in order to protect the rights of individuals who have experienced such wrongs, rather than shielding employers from being accountable and responsible for the actions of toxic employees who are free to utilize such harmful practices.

“Gwinnett Tech Screens out it’s Own Honor Student, Twice” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

'Gwinnett Technical College' Wording on Diploma Cover

‘Gwinnett Technical College’ Wording on Diploma Cover

Sometimes, a person just has to let some things go.  However painful, this has been one of those things… 

In 2010-2011, I returned to school at my local Gwinnett Technical College (GTC) on Georgia’s Hope Grant, pursuing studies that certified me in healthcare.  In transferring courses from my undergraduate university, as well as completing required prerequisite courses to pursue further program studies in healthcare-related fields, I successfully completed all courses and requirements, maintaining a 4.0 grade point average, being named to the dean’s list on two occasions, being named to the college’s honor society – as well as being an active participant in it – and earning a percentile score of 97% on the HOBET, a healthcare admissions examination.  In two of my courses completed at GTC, I also earned the highest possible ethics score of 3/3 for my performance, a score that is rarely issued to students unless exceptional ethics and mastery is reflected.

Having been unable to re-enter into the teaching field for two years – at that time in 2010 – I chose to pursue a career change.  It was my desire to pursue my interest in healthcare, and to enter into a nursing or other healthcare-related field.  Reflecting my interests, schedule availability, and financial need, I applied – twice – to GTC’s program in medical assisting, and was twice rejected from it.  Being eligible for the Federal Workforce Investment Act Grant in Gwinnett County, since I had been laid off from my previous employment, I met all the criteria for receiving the Grant due to employment as well as financial circumstances.  Unfortunately, I also discovered that the Grant was not transferrable to other counties and was required to be used – if issued – in Gwinnett County, since that was the location of the employer that had laid me off one year prior to that.

Devastated that I had been rejected from my desired program of study on the first occasion, I went through the appropriate channels of college administration and made a formal complaint.  In part, I expressed how the majority of the individuals who met with me in the formal interview process were nearly 30 minutes late to the arranged interview time, that there was no apology provided for their lateness, that the program director basically told me that I was overqualified and wondered why I was pursuing a program in which the income was low, and that the interviewers’ questions were extremely negatively-focused.  I also informed college administrators (the president and two vice presidents) that I was told by one interviewer that I would fail (!) the program.  I stated in my complaint that it was obvious to me that the decision had been made to reject me from the program long before the formal interview, and that the interview only sealed the fate they already had planned for me. 

When – as I expected – the president finally responded in writing (see letter to follow) to my complaint and appeal, she upheld the decision of the interview panel to reject me, as well as the decision of one of her vice presidents in refusing to reconsider my application to the program for that semester.  I then met with the vice president who refused to reconsider me, and discovered, in part, that the program director told her that she believed that I would be unable to complete the program due to my financial status.  What?!  The Workforce Investment Act Grant would have paid for my studies, and with my 4.0 GPA and outstanding ethics, I would have likely had nothing but success in the program, once accepted.  The vice president was further concerned that I had written to certain state government officials, particularly the state labor department commissioner, about the rejection that I had experienced, stating that the manner in which I was rejected was unprofessional.  Was it not unprofessional?

Gwinnett Technical College President's Response to my Complaint and Appeals Regarding GTC's First Rejection of me, August 2011

Gwinnett Technical College President’s Response to my Complaint and Appeals Regarding GTC’s First Rejection of me, August 2011

I, therefore, wrote additional appeals for consideration for entry into the medical assisting program at GTC – and explained all of the circumstances surrounding my desire to pursue the program and being rejected from it – to a number of state and federal government officials, some of whom included the governor and his wife, a Congress member and his assistant, the technical college commissioner and his assistant, and higher ranking members of our national government, including the President, First Lady, Vice President, and Secretary of State. 

I received kind responses from the Governor (see letter to follow), the Congress Member’s assistant, an assistant to the US President, and the US First Lady, Michelle Obama.  The technical college commissioner’s assistant also heard me out on a couple of occasions, though nothing was done to overturn the decision that was already made to reject me, nor to reconsider me in any way at that time. 

Honorable Georgia Governor Nathan Deal's Response Letter Regarding Gwinnett Technical College's Rejection of me, July 2011

Honorable Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s Response Letter Regarding Gwinnett Technical College’s Rejection of me, July 2011

The response that included much common sense and understanding about my personal situation was that which I received from First Lady Michelle Obama.  She, in part, suggested to me that I do something else to benefit my community (see letter below).

Letter to me from Honorable United States First Lady Michelle Obama Regarding Gwinnett Technical College's Rejection of me, August 2011

Letter to me from Honorable United States First Lady Michelle Obama Regarding Gwinnett Technical College’s Rejection of me, August 2011

A number of efforts were made by staff at GTC to usher me into different healthcare-related programs, and/or to encourage me to consider other options, including applying for several positions as an instructor at the college.  My heart, however, was set on pursuing the medical assisting program, and so, less than one year later, I applied to the program for a second time. 

On the second occasion in which I interviewed for the medical assisting program, a brand new program director had been hired and who was present in the interview, as well as an entirely different interview team.  Though I thought the interview to have proceeded professionally and well, and believed that I had a wonderful chance at acceptance – even though my second application to the program was overlooked in Admissions and I had to follow-up on it several times in order for it to be recognized – I was rejected again, for the second time. 

Devastated again, for the second time, I decided that enough was enough.  After spending three years in trying to pursue medical assistant studies at GTC and being rejected twice – after also being an honor graduate there – it was time to walk away.  I could see that there was no convincing the folks there of my interest, desire, and need to pursue this career.  They had not provided me with an opportunity to succeed, but only to fail, and it was imperative that I find success elsewhere.  Perhaps they felt threatened by my education, perhaps they did not believe in me, perhaps they just didn’t like me.  After all, the new program director was less educated than I am.  Whatever the reason(s), I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter anymore.

Following this second rejection, I did not write any letters.  I did not make any formal complaints.  I did not call any government officials.  Instead, I was just heartbroken and I cried.  It was just too sad and too much for me to bear.  I discovered that it was actually true that so many people did not want me to succeed.  Even one of the professors about whom I had written a compliment letter to admininstrators, and who was an interview panel member in my second interview, rejected me.  So many people withheld an opportunity for me to be successful, to pursue an interesting career, to be able to care for myself and my family in a manner that would have provided increased financial security.  I resolved that it was their problem and their loss.

It would have been easy to give up following these rejections.  It has been these rejections added to so many other rejections.  It is easy for people to say to try again, to keep trying, not to give up.  However, one cannot get ahead when one continually runs into a brick wall.  A single, divorced mother without employment and who is highly-educated cannot give up.  No matter how much I am down, I always, always find a way back up.  I have strength.  I have faith.  And, I know that God is always there for me, no matter how difficult and impossible the circumstances.  I know that life may often seem unfair.

Needless to say, I have not applied to GTC’s medical assisting program for a third time.  No, I’m not going to do that.  Why waste any more of my time, effort, hope, emotion, and money?  I’ve already walked away.  My hurt has healed.  I realize that the door was closed to me long before I even went to my first interview for consideration into the program.  I need something that can deliver.  I do not desire to be in a place where I am not valued or understood, so I am now thankful for being rejected from a place in which so many did not value or understand me, my interests, or my needs.

So, I look back on all of this, now, and believe that – as I always do – everything happens for a reason.  When one door shuts, another is opened.  I have faith, and I have hope.  And only time will tell.