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I was recently approached to do a book interview for a book concerning the bad treatment of “an American worker” and misread the summary as bad treatment of “the American workers.” I assumed it had something do with globalization, outsourcing, etc. and quickly followed up only to find out it concerned workplace harassment of an individual American worker. I recognize this is a serious problem in America and in the rest of the world as well, but since I have no expertise and no good ideas in this area I was reluctant to proceed. However, I did exchange a few e-mails with Teresa Zerilli-Edelglass, the author of “Thrown Under the Bus: The Rise And Fall Of An American Worker,” and was pleased to discover that she had some excellent ideas for solving the problem. Realizing that, I decided to go ahead with the interview and let her tell you about “Thrown Under the Bus” which provides a wonderful example of why this is such a problem, along with her great ideas for fixing the problem. The interview follows: 1. Teresa, could you give a little background about yourself prior to the incident covered in your book? I was born and raised in New York City where I grew up in a fairly typical Italian-American family. Well, except for my parent’s marital strife. When I was 14, they divorced. That, in conjunction with being a product of the Gloria Steinem era, engrained in me how important it was to be selfsufficient, educated, and have a successful career, and by all means, to put off having kids as long as possible. I was out on my own at 19, working full time, and attending night school. I earned a Bachelors in Business Management from St. Johns University in 1989 and an Executive Masters in Public Administration from Baruch College in NYC in 1992. I was finally on my way to achieving the American Dream. But only a few months prior to finally having my grad degree in hand, I was suddenly ripped out of my job as a mid-level manager at New York City Transit where I had worked for the
4 years prior and was on the fast track to success. It was the beginning of the end. 2. You’ve got my attention. Now if you could walk us through the incident that caused the problem and ultimately led to you writing the book? To say this was an ‘incident’ is like saying 911 was a bon fire! It’s a very long story, but in a nutshell, I refused to play dirty with the boys and the problems began. I was demoted in early 1992after which time I proceeded to go through all the legal steps up to and including petitioning the Supreme Court many years later after being repeatedly and brutally retaliated against. In the end, I was left a careerless, childless, broken woman despite that I was victorious in a federal lawsuit against NYCT in 1997. But with a bottomless purse of taxpayer dollars at their disposal, these meanspirited bureaucrats spent your money to make my life a living hell, forcing yet one more diligent employee out of the public sector. Once the dust settled in 2010, I knew it was time to start the book I had known for some time it was my duty to write. 3. In hindsight do you believe there is anything that you could have done to avoid the incident, or is there something you would have done differently? Actually, I hate that question. It suggests that we have a long way to go before we have a good understanding of workplace harassment, or ‘bullying’ as it is now called, and all that goes with it. It’s like blaming the rape victim for wearing a short skirt. So I guess you know my answer is “No…unequivocally, no. I worked my tail off like it was a “real” job! I suppose the only thing I could have done differently, is never to have worked in a governmental setting in the first place!
4. Sorry you hate the question and I wasn’t really suggesting anything. Now let’s focus on what happened after the incident. What did you do to report it and what was the response? Oh, no. I didn’t mean it that way, not in a personal one. I only meant to say that I hate that question because so many folks are still in the dark as to how these things really play out. I think we are going in reverse in this country where a lot of these cases get politicized and the resulting notion is one that the woman (or man) has incited a triable workplace incident. I can assure you that that is merely the exception, it’s what we see on tv. It gets ratings. Anyway, almost immediately after the demotion, I filed an internal EEO complaint that fell on deaf ears followed by an EEOC charge that took an exorbitantly long time to be processed. All along, I was barraged with retaliation including a transfer to an even more hostile environment: a filthy bus garage where I was sexually harassed and humiliated on a daily basis. Each and every action I took thereafter to preserve my rights, incited another act of retaliation. There were no boundaries; I was dealing with pure evil. 5. My understanding is that this was a long term problem so could you tell what happened over the relevant time period? In short, I lost 19 years of my life. The whole ordeal changed me, in some ways for the better, but in others for the worse. I tried to turn lemons into lemonade by writing ‘Thrown’ and warning others of the pitfalls of both workplace litigation as well as how that might play out in the government setting . Many of the entities we are taught to believe are there to help us, such as the EEOC and the courts, are not necessarily at all what we think they will be.I pray folks read the book -- and be warned!
6. Obviously the resolution did not make you whole for what you went through and took far, far too long to reach. And sadly many people in similar situations do not have the drive or persistence to fight through to a resolution. What can be done to avoid or find better and faster solutions to such problems? That’s a tough one. We all live and learn. Often we don’t listen to others who have been there-done that. When I think back to how stubborn I was wanting to leave Wall Street for the public sector, I tell you, Hercules couldn’t have pulled those rose-colored glasses off my head! It took getting the idealistic crap kicked out me over many years to learn. I wish that all young women (and men…and everyone who works or will work) would read my book, not for selfish reasons, but for a wake-up call! Trying to find a one-sizefits-all solution to this problem is an arduous task, for sure. But there are some societal solutions I propose in the book. Not to say they would be easy to implement, but I always say if there’s a will there’s a way. Am I still too idealistic? 7. I understand that one of your ideas is making such workplace harassment a criminal, as opposed to civil, offense. That is certainly an interesting alternative to the way such things are now handled. Do you know of anywhere this approach has been tried? No, I don’t. But it needs to be! Our judicial is seriously problematic. A guy sells a few pain pills and then lands in jails for years for what? Cheap labor?That’s just nuts. Then we allow decent, hard working people like me to be banished from their careers and driven to near nervous breakdowns with no accountability for the offenders? If we took the whole money-making aspect out of the equation, workplace harassment would dwindle significantly, if not end almost entirely! In terms of my ordeal, if the 3 men who initiated and perpetuated the harassment against me thought for even one second that they could be the stars of their own mug shots, never mind spend so much as a minute in jail, they
would have thought twice. Facing criminal charges usually puts a different spin on things. 8. My one concern with your idea is that I do not have a great deal of confidence in the police to take such crimes seriously. Most of our police forces are male dominated and they don’t necessarily take actual rape cases as seriously as they should so they might not be very enthusiastic about going after sexual harassment or even workplace harassment in general. Would we need a special department in police departments dedicated to workplace harassment? Yes, good point. This would have to be a separate, say, task force of sorts. It’s not the kind of thing where you come in and throw the cuffs on a guy and drag him out of the building. These matters usually take time to culminate. So we would need to devise a way to handle such offenders. Again, I’m not saying this would be easy. But when you read my book, I guarantee that you will be screaming from the mountain tops that what happened to me was criminal. It most certainly wasn’t civil. There was nothing civil about it.The only downside I see is that lawyers will still have their hands in the cookie jar; however, not for nearly as many cookies! 9. Is there anything else you can add that might pique reader interest in your book? Let me just say that there are things in my book that will make blood shoot out of your eyes! For instance, I was once forced to walk around a bus garage full to the brim with men with a menstrual blood stained skirt – all day! Another time I was given a surprise (retaliatory) yearly performance evaluation and rated “marginal” for leaving dirty dishes in the sink. Yet another time, I was told that they (“the men”) could use me for whatever they wanted. Some really unbelievable stuff went on that even I still have a hard time wrapping my head around.
In the second part of the book, I take the reader behind the scenes to meet the folks without whom these workplace atrocities wouldn’t be possible: doctors, lawyers and bureaucrats. I talk about how these individuals have become too powerful and often abusive, not only in cases of workplace litigation, but also society in general. It is eyeopening, for sure. I take no prisoners. 10. Ok, last question: Where can readers find your book? And where can they get more information about you and any future books you write? You can grab a copy of THROWN UNDER THE BUS: THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN WORKER directly from my WEBSITE: http://www.TZEUnderTheBus.com(MyBooksOrders.com or via Paypal)or through Amazon and all other major book distributers. Frankly, I much prefer folks buy direct. It’s no secret that 3rd party retailers will reap the fruits of my labor otherwise. You can visit and like my Facebook Fan Page at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Teresa-ZerilliEdelglass/275374229238923 You can also find me on Linked In, Goodreads, Smashwords, Twitter, Library Thing, &Wattpad. There is a blog on my website where I welcome all feedback! Thank you Teresa for the information about your book, and the problem of workplace harassment. I guess in a way it is not surprising to find it can occur to government employees as well as in the private sector. With the protections against termination provided to government employees it seems they can get away with a tremendous amount of abuse with little or no consequences. I hope your book encourages other workers who tolerate such abuse to step forward and to work for improvements to the system.
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