Success. I’ll savor the word for a moment. It’s a small but significant one. As I wrote in “Dialysis and Your Job“, I filed charges with the EEOC against my former employer. That’s the first step and that was over six months ago. It takes a while for the EEOC to respond because they are way overworked and underfunded. Almost seven months to the day and on the auspicious date of 9/11, I met with an intake person just steps away from Dealy Plaza in Dallas. If that rings a bell, it’s the place were President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Should I take all this to be a good omen or a bad one? We’ll see.
For the benefit of those who have to come behind me, I will detail the process. As I posted previously, I filed the charges. I wrote a detailed description of the events surrounding my termination and each of the elements that I considered discriminatory under the laws. I charged the company with Age Discrimination, Medical Disability Discrimination, Denial of Benefits and Retaliation for a Workman’s Compensation Claim. I carefully laid out what they did that I thought represented each charge. I summarized the charges at the top of the document and wrote specifics about each. I sub-titled and highlighted each section. I noted any witnesses, their phone numbers and what information they could be expected to provide. I noted all the players who represented the company and their roles in the discriminatory action. Along with the charging document, I added a copy of each document I had including the documentation that was given to me in the Termination Packet. I also added a completed “Intake Questionnaire” printed from the EEOC website. That was mailed to the Dallas EEOC on 2/16/12.
I heard from them about a week or so ago and made an appointment to meet with them on 9/11/12. In preparation for that, I gathered copies of all the documentation and went to Dallas. I’m glad I did that because the first thing the receptionist asked me to do was fill out the Intake Questionnaire. I told him I had a filled-in copy with me and made sure it was the same as the one he offered. As I waited for the meeting, I re-read my charging document (for the umpteenth time) so I was familiar with all the charges and could make my case. I knew I only had one shot at this and it was “make or break”. If you don’t make your case, they will discharge you and give you a letter stating as much so you can proceed with a private attorney. I didn’t want to do that. It’s costly and even more difficult. I believed I had a good case. There were several levels of discrimination (Age, Disability, Retaliation) but the biggest one was that I was denied the benefit to go out on Disability.
Most, but not all companies, provide Disability Insurance so that if you are disabled, you will receive some income to tide you over while you recuperate. This kicks in after you’ve been out of work for a while for medical reasons. For the permanently disabled, it’s an insurance that will continue to pay for the years you can’t work. In the case of ESRD, I was able to work and be disabled but, if I couldn’t work, I should have been able to go out on disability. I became eligible for disability when diagnosed with ESRD and after I started dialysis. That was in 2008. However, I was determined to complete a couple long-term projects that I’d started and working full-time kept me going through the first years of dialysis. It got me up every morning and motivated me to keep going when I really wanted to give up. In that last year, my eyes began failing. I developed cataracts and had glaucoma. I had difficulty seeing the computer screen and reading standard text. I was on the department calendar (The week after I was terminated) to have the first of several eye surgeries to improve my eyesight.
In the last couple years, I talked with the HR Manager about going on Disability and explained to him that, as long as I felt I could, I’d like to continue working. However, if the company saw it necessary, I would go out on disability. We had several conversations about that.
In October on 2010, when I got passed over for a promotion to department manager to replace my boss who died, I talked to the HR Manager about my medical issues again. I had told him previously I wanted to be considered for the job and that, if the company had any concerns about my medical issues, I’d like them to express them openly so we could discuss them. I felt I could do that job and dialysis, too. He was sort of quiet in response. It was obvious to me when they selected a much younger and very inexperienced person for the job that I was on shaky ground. Perhaps to cover themselves, he got the title of “Supervisor” rather than “Manager” and the manager position remained unfilled. The CFO took over those responsibilities but, in fact, he did nothing in that regard for the next 14 months.
Just prior to my termination, the Supervisor directed that any job or task requiring more than one day of work would not be approved. That meant that about 90 percent of the 200 or so items on the department’s Jobs List would be ignored. Effectively, they were imposing an artificial slow-down so they could say, “there’s not enough work”. Unfortunately they left witnesses. I noted that in the charges.
The fact that I was also the oldest person in the department stood out when I presented a list of the people in the IT department sorted by age and position. I was also not the most recent hire so I had some “seniority” and I was the most experienced and probably the highest paid. I explained to the EEOC that the CFO was recently hired and was a “bottom-line”, “Return-on-Investment” type. I explained that in November of 2011, he was doing all he could to pump-up the bottom-line and make the next year’s projected cost and profits look as good as he could. By getting rid of a few top-earners, he could easily accomplish his goals. I happened to be one of those top earners.
Long story made short, my presentation was successful. I answered his questions and listened carefully. Like my work, I was meticulous and thorough, dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”. While I waited, he typed out the charging document and called me back into his office to sign off on it. He got copies of all my documentation and gave me a copy of the Charge. They will send this to the company and they have 30 days to respond. They will present an argument for why they were not discriminatory about my Age, Disability, etc. They will have to show some proof that they didn’t consider my age and disability in the decision to terminate me. Unless they are talented fiction writers, that will be difficult; the facts speak for themselves. We will then go into Mediation to resolve the dispute. I am asking to be reinstated so I may go out on Disability. That may not be possible and so I will ask them to pay me in the same way the Disability Insurance would have.
One part of any Settlement Agreement will be a non-disclosure agreement so I may not be allowed to write about this again except to say it was successful. If it’s not successful, I have two paths. The EEOC could file a civil case in the state or federal courts to be decided by a judge or jury, or they could hand it back to me to file a civil case myself. The future is cloudy but I’m not out for a pound of flesh. I just want to make sure I’m able to support my two boys long enough to get them through college and established on their own.
So, in a nutshell, be carefully prepared. Document everything. Research carefully. Read everything you can get your hands on. Lay everything out for the Intake person. Don’t expect them to do your work for you. They don’t know anything you don’t tell them. Make your points and highlight the facts of the case. Show a willingness to mediate and don’t take things personally especially the mistreatment and discrimination. It wasn’t personal other than it was you personally involved; it was a “business decision”. So, you are another ‘business person” looking to negotiate a deal and get fair compensation for their misdeeds. Then, do that all over again so you make sure you’ve got everything correct.
If you’re an ESRD patient and working, document everything, take copies home, protect your interest. I was careful to do much of that but I didn’t have clear signals I was going to be terminated so I didn’t have everything I wanted. Plan that you won’t have the chance to gather all your data and information by doing it ahead of time. As Disabled people, we are protected but we need to be proactive about it. Don’t wait until after the fact.