Workplace Bullying: A Survivor’s Story

by David Samuels

This column appeared in the November 1 – 8, 2012 edition of the Hartford News.

UPDATE: Connecticut Valley Hospital worker Employee X, who talked about racism against Latinos at CVH in our last column, was cleared of work rule violation charges this week.
The Community Party continues to receive reports about abusive workplace conduct from state employees throughout Connecticut. The workplace bullying issue cuts across racial lines, but racism is a key component. A Latina employee (who we’ll call Employee A to protect her identity) at a Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services facility contacted CP to tell her story of courage and survival. Employee A’s story shows how pervasive abusive workplace conduct and racism is throughout DMHAS. Employee A has been on unpaid leave from her job on her doctor’s orders since September 2011, due to the hostile climate at her job. “I have been targeted since 2005 following my CHRO settlement regarding my Americans with Disabilities Act discrimination complaint,” Employee A said. “DMHAS wants me to return to work under the same administration which has been abusing me. I’m not supposed to be supervised by administration; they just want to continue targeting me.” She has since filed another CHRO complaint which has cleared the merit assessment phase. 
Employee A has been collecting unemployment benefits but those payments have not been enough to prevent the loss of her car and home. Her credit has been destroyed. The mounting pressure led Employee A to consider a drastic step which other targets of workplace mobbing have unfortunately decided to take. “I contemplated suicide in September 2011 as a result of mobbing,” Employee A said. “I suffer from depression and attempted suicide before in 2009. My doctor told me to take a stress leave. I was planning to take an overdose of a combination of pills that I take for insomnia and anxiety.” 263 people in the United States committed suicide in 2008 as a direct result of workplace mobbing, the highest number since this statistic has been tracked. 
Like other employees who have talked to CP, Employee A described DMHAS as an agency which simultaneously violates and manipulates the law in order to ruin the lives of their targets. “DMHAS is refusing to accomodate me under ADA. I have lost my health insurance since I’ve been out of work,” Employee A said. “DMHAS called me into an ‘unofficial meeting’. They told my union that I would not need representation. When I arrived for the meeting I was met by state troopers; they arrested me and charged me with workplace violence for supposedly harassing my husband, who also works for the state. My civil rights were violated when I was tricked into going to that meeting. I was not even informed of my Miranda rights. The charges were dismissed.  Another time my clinical director ridiculed me in an email. I was so humiliated I went home. I forwarded the email to DMHAS Commissioner Pat Rehmer and received no response. My primary abuser then filed a work rule violation complaint against me, which of course was an act of retaliation.”
I asked Employee A if she believes that racism is a factor in her treatment by DMHAS. “I’m Latina, all of my superiors except for one are white,” Employee A said. “A person of color is powerless; there’s no support. I’ve gone to the affirmative action department and they did nothing. I felt totally helpless. Administration uses my mental illness against me. My new supervisor wrote me a two page letter about a conversation which never happened. She wrote that her role was not to accommodate me regarding my depression; I never shared that information with her. DMHAS has undermined me by giving me poor performance evaluations. They manipulate a subjective process. I was given a poor service rating despite a letter of commendation from my former supervisor. DMHAS documented my Federal Medical Leave Act time on my annual review, which is illegal. I filed a complaint with the Department of Labor, who made them redact it.”
Employee A has persevered despite the obstacles which have been placed in front of her. “I was able to get unemployment benefits because my doctor said that DMHAS refuses to accomodate me,”  Employee A said. “I have no health care. I just got out of the hospital and am facing a huge bill. I may have to be readmitted. The doctors said that my physical ailments could be stress related. I have insomnia, depression and panic attacks. I also suffer from agoraphobia (a fear of being in crowds, public places or open areas). I once refused to leave my house for two months. I have migraines from electroconvulsive therapy (a treatment for depression), which I needed as a result of workplace mobbing.” Employee A told us that DMHAS has also engaged in employment discrimination against her. “DMHAS has denied me clinical supervision, which is essential for me to get licensed and promoted,” Employee A said. “The director of social work sent me a letter stating that it’s ‘inappropriate’ of me to request clinical supervision. DMHAS has accused me of lying about my grievances. I offered to take a polygraph test but they refused.”
Employee A is determined to get justice. “I contacted Governor Malloy’s office but his staffer Zachary Hyde said that Malloy is too busy to meet with me,” Employee A said. “I’ve lost everything, but instead of killing myself I want to fight back. I think that DMHAS administration are criminals who should be arrested and lose their licenses. I consider what they’re doing to me to be a hate crime. I’m currently pursuing a federal lawsuit. These people could have ended my life.”
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