Dear Evil HR Lady.

I’m a physician, a coroner’s pathologist employed directly by the elected coroner. I’ve worked for him since 2002, and got rises every year. I’ve been having several problems. The first is, I’m paid for 20h/wk, 50 wk/yr. Supposedly, I got comp. time for weekends, holidays, and time I spent over 20h/wk. The problem is, I could never take the comp. time. I once had 60 hours accrued. When I went to take the time, Dr. R would flip out.

The second problem, was that I was “taking advantage” of him if I used my sick time. I had two episodes where I was hospitalized in the past year, and Dr. R. was very concerned that I used my accrued sick time. In fact, as I was still employed, I accrued more, at the standard rate. He said this was cheating the county.

Thirdly, Dr. R disagreed with my treating physicians as to my illness and course of treatment. I had an open surgical wound, and was advised to stay out of the morgue until it healed. He disagreed with that, and on more than one occasion demanded to give me a physical examination, called my treating physicians and told them to transfer care to him, and really harassed me about my heath.

Finally, when I was confined in a wheelchair for a short period of time, [sexually grab me].

I spoke to county human resources, who said there is nothing they could do, as he is the elected official he has no supervisor. I know the county has a sexual harassment policy, as I’ve seen it, but the elected officials are the only ones who are in charge. I have spoken to the Chief Deputy coroner, who says there is nothing he can do as Dr. R. is the elected official. After years of this, I went to an employment lawyer, drafted a letter, (you can see it if you want) and complained to Dr. R. He told me he no longer had any need for my services the day I gave him the letter.

I’m suing him. My question is, will this make me look like a malcontent? Will other employers be loath to hire me having sued my employer? I lost over 50% of my income and I was within a year of being vested for health insurance for life in public employees. Any way I could have done this without suing him? My psychologist and I have been working on ways to walk softly around him for the past couple of years. The rest of the county’s response, that he’s the elected official and no-one can gainsay the will of the people is very frustrating. The response of my friends, that I carry a weapon as a part of my duties, and I could have used it–well, I don’t want to shoot the man, either.

I work for a university now. Not bad work, no one grabs me, but I’m disappointed. Any comments?

I am glad you are suing. Not because I normally advocate suing, I don’t. (I normally advocate getting on with your life as quickly as possible, and that doesn’t generally involve dwelling on the past.) I am glad because not only is the coroner in need of a (figurative) slap across the face, so is the HR department.

What a bunch of wimps. Yeah, the coroner is elected so they can’t fire him. Blah, blah, blah. Sexual harassment and assault is illegal. They have a duty to protect the county from lawsuits just like yours. The fact that you brought this to their attention and they did nothing will help you win your lawsuit.

Now, I’m certainly not an expert in county governments, but I can tell you that they can’t exempt themselves from the laws set up to protect people. (Congress can and does, but you don’t work for Congress–thankfully.) Therefore, if things are as they seem, they are liable.

Now, as for the sick time headaches, that’s annoying, but probably not illegal. Because you worked for the government, it may be illegal, but I wouldn’t know for sure. It can definitely be an issue in your lawsuit, though.

Because of the inappropriate sexual behavior of your boss, every punishment or variation from the rules can be used to support a charge of sexual harassment.

You are not under any obligation to disclose that you sued a former employer for sexual harassment. Because this involves an elected official, it may hit the papers in a big way, in which case a google search would bring it up. However, the details would also come out and generally, journalists love a dirty politician story so you’ll probably come out looking good.

Make sure you cite wrongful discharge and ask that your lifetime health benefits be reinstated. They may claim that the letter you wrote was a resignation letter. If so (and it could be plausibly interpreted that way), the key phrase from you is “constructive discharge.” That is, he made it so miserable the only rational action was to leave and that you were forced out.

Would I label you a malcontent after one lawsuit? Well, no, but I would google you to see what else is available about you. If what I found indicated that you were a sue happy person who not only had bad experiences at three consecutive employers, but was also prone to slip and fall accidents at the local 7-11, I wouldn’t hire you.

Given that the facts are as you state them, you have a good case and I’d be horrified at the incompetence of the county government. (Well, actually, with my generally useless background in political science, I wouldn’t be horrified, I’d expect it, but it still makes me angry.) Incidentally, I did google your name, since it was on your e-mail and in the first page of hits, it was all about your CV and other qualifications.

We always have to be careful about our reputations. This is one of the reasons why a poor decision to post something on a myspace page (or a blog) can come back to bite you later on. A lawsuit affects your reputation. No doubt about it. But, the fact that you are currently employed in a respectable position means that even if the lawsuit goes badly for you, it’s impact on your life and future earnings will probably be negligible. And, if it goes well, you’ll probably have other employees of this creep coming forward.

This brings me to an entirely irrelevant point. Why on earth is coroner an elected office? Shouldn’t there be accepted scientific standards for a coroner? Why do I care about the political leanings of a coroner? Of course, I don’t know much about coroners, except that I hope I don’t need the services of one any time soon.

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6 thoughts on “Elected Bosses

  1. In the HR profession I believe this type of situation is referred to as a “hot mess”.

  2. Only a few states elect coroners – I live in one of them. The only qualification to run is 2 years past high school. There are some continuing education requirements. But the only person who can discipline/fire the coroner is the governor.

  3. Trivia point. Maybe we can get Dr. Marcella Fierro. She just retired as Virginia’s chief medical examiner. She’s the inspiration for Patricia Cornwell’s character, Kay Scarpetta.

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