Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Hair Raising History in Healthcare!
August 2013 update: Please see my separate blog article of my July 26, 2013 small claims case against Carolinas Healthcare System. The article contained here is how the ordeal unfolds milestone by milestone. I could not see the forest for the trees. For a more concise summary, go to August 2013, at my second blog, http://applebaumparadigm.blogspot.com/2013/08/my-grievance-with-carolinas-healthcare.html
Carolinas Healthcare System is a huge organization that is capable of being quite degrading to their employees as you can see from their comments surrounding me:
1) CHS states "Ms. Blocker's work experience for the last six years has involved hairdressing. However, she applied for positions involving technology, computers, management, and marketing which her most recent job experience plainly would not match." My response: Well, I also applied for a hairdresser position with full benefits last year, but CHS awarded the position to a White candidate that was working Patient Registration and had no hairdressing experience as it relates to working within a healthcare organization. Hopefully, this article will prove to Carolinas Healthcare System that I can do more than "shampoo and curl hair."
2)CHS states "Simple common sense dictates that with rapidly evolving technology, Ms. Blocker would not be as well suited for the (technical, computer related) position as someone with more recent and more relevant experience." My response: This article was entered using a computer to post on the worldwide web. This article is one of over two hundred articles that I have published competently using a computer within the last two and half years.
3)CHS states "Ms. Blocker plainly lacked any degrees in 'business, marketing [or] communications' identifying only training at 'Dudley Beauty School System' and a BS in computer science." My response: CHS fails to mention my "Cum Laude/Honors recognition" from the University of NC at Charlotte in addition to my Clemson University background that was listed on the same page as the Dudley Beauty School System education in which I completed over 1800 hours in the areas of cosmetology and oynxology. Neither did CHS mention my self-employment (i.e. business ownership) for the last eight years. Practical business experience is usually valued as much as a business degree by most recruiters.
4) CHS states "to explain to Ms. Blocker that the Commission and CMHA (Charlotte Mecklenburg Hospital Authority/Carolinas Healthcare System) should not (no) longer be required to waste valuable time and resources to respond to her frivolous complaints of retaliation and discrimination." My response: Based on this article, my complaints of unfair treatment, discrimination, and retaliation are far from frivolous.
According to the September-October 2011 Pride magazine based out of Charlotte, NC, Carolinas Healthcare System(CHS) has over 48,000 full-time and part-time employees. It is the largest healthcare system in the Carolinas, and the third largest public system in the nation. Many CHS employees are pleased with their career advancement within Carolinas Healthcare regardless of race or age or any other protected class/group. These same CHS employees can also give examples of where they have personally seen when CHS management allowed some good employees to slip through the cracks.
I am also a Carolinas Healthcare employee with six years seniority as a "hairdresser." My status is PRN. That status in my case means that I do not have a committed work schedule. I work as needed and as convenient for me as to not interfere with my own ability to maintain a living. I took the "dead end position" six years ago with the hopes of making a difference, maintaining a corporate presence despite the modest pay attached to the hairdresser position, and I thought very highly of my manager. In fact, my hiring manager at CHS was one of four of the best managers in my corporate career. The other two managers came from NationsBank (now BankofAmerica) and IBM Corporation. My current CHS manager represents my fourth great manager.
Having a Software engineering/computer background and being an INROADS alumnus, I have had an extensive "corporate America" background from E.I Dupont de Nemours to IBM Research. I am not a stranger to higher pay from a corporate perspective. I also know that I can not expect a company to pay me a technical salary for a hairdresser position, but a company should always maintain a code of ethics and fair treatment in regards to their employees. I am only providing this background information about me in order to continue the pace of this article. Beginning in 2007, Carolinas Healthcare System began noticably streamlining their organization. By 2008, I no longer had middle management to report to at my facility. I reported directly to the Administrator of the facility. Unfortunately, I have had five different managers in my six years in the hairdresser position. The administrative staff of the facility has had an almost complete overhaul. Most of the existing 2011 administrative staff only has "on average" about three years of seniority with the actual facility and some have not even seen a year anniversary in regards to the facility. So you can see how someone such as myself, a former corporate professional turned hairdresser, could slip through the cracks for advancement as the old leadership is pushed out and the new leadership is brought in. With so many changes in management since 2005 when I started, there was plenty of room for disconnection, personality conflicts, and loss of identity. Again, the facility that I worked at is only one facility of hundreds of Carolinas Healthcare System facilities.
In the Pride magazine article referenced at the beginning of this article, CHS prides themselves on inclusion, but they have limited opportunities for advancement. In November 2011, I performed a global Carolinas Healthcare System job search query internally and found that the CHS vacancy/job listings sit at less than 1100 postings.
That is an extremely small ratio of opportunity for advancement based on a company that has over 10,000 employees. Between the years of 2010 and 2011, the job postings have only averaged around 1000. This low ratio of "employees to job openings" means job transfers are tough even if you are already a CHS employee. Many employees such as myself will continue to fall through the cracks and feel excluded.
The exclusion that I was feeling eventually turned into discrimination and retaliation. I had worked as a PRN Hairdresser for Carolinas Healthcare System for five (5) years when a 3 day part-time, budgeted hairdresser position with full benefits came available. Instead of giving me the position, my manager (race: White) at the time decided to hire another White woman who was working a "desk job" at another CHS facility who also had a "hair license" without hairdresser experience within a healthcare organization. As CHS stated earlier, "hiring of a better qualified applicant is a legitmate, non-discriminatory reason," so did CHS not hire the better qualified candidate for the hairdreser position within a healthcare setting? They repeatedly stated that I am best qualified as a "hairdresser" than a computer savvy person.
The new hairdresser that was hired over a year ago was mentored by my other White co-worker/hairdresser to get orientated to the salon setting at our skilled nursing facility which was new to her. As she got settled in, she changed the three day part-time hairdresser position into a "two and a half day" position which was approved by our manager at the time. Of course, the tension in the salon was awful for months. I had filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge to protect my rights for fair treatment upon my manager informing me of her hiring decision. Although, I had no complaints against me; no write-ups; and I received my bonus in the subsequent months, the hiring manager stated that she was worried about my level of commitment and my ability to be a team player. However, this hiring manager only had about two years seniority with CHS, and I had over five years seniority. We had one to two salon staff meetings in the whole two years that she was the administrator of the facility. Eventually, my manager/the hiring manager was removed from the facility within about three months of this hiring decision. The new manager that they put into place was a professional Black man with a significant amount of CHS seniority as a whole. Of course, the story that he was told surrounding me seemed to cause him to further create an environment of exclusion. Tensions were again at an all time high when finally a breakthrough came. My new manager received another side of the story surrounding the hairdresser position and decided to take a more neutral and unbiased standpoint on the past chain of events which happened prior to his arrival. From that point, the on-site work environment began to calm down. I began quietly and professionally waiting for the EEOC to come and perform a full investigation. This concept in hindsight is quite humorous. As a reminder, all of this "drama" was over a "part-time hairdresser position" which carried full benefits. So it was not a six-figure salaried position nor even a full-time position of any sort. However, CHS hired an outside attorney, and CHS Human Resources and I have been fighting over a year's period about this hiring decision. The "silver lining around the cloud" is that the other two White hairdressers and I have finally put the past behind us, and we have become a team. The work environment has begun to heal. We are moving forward in fulfilling our CHS goals of "care without compromise."
On a separate note, I still hold CHS Human Resources liable for back pay, pension, lost benefits, front pay, pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, punitive damages, attorney's fees and any other damages that I should be entitled due to their neglect of all of my complaints. Also, I am appalled by the CHS corporate response to my EEOC(Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)complaints. Their response is outright exaggerated and in parts, inaccurate.
In my opinion, their lack of CHS seniority in their Human Resources leadership is one reason for their reckless handling of my case. Even starting from the top of CHS Corporate Human Resources, their Senior VP of Human Resources, the top CHS Human Resources position has three years of seniority with Carolinas Healthcare System. (Reference: Pride magazine, September-October 2011) The CHS Human Resources Regional Director which I had an hour conversation in October 2011 and another half-hour conversation in December 2011 has less than a year of CHS seniority. You wonder how often is Carolinas Healthcare System even promoting from within?
From what the CHS HR Regional Director explained to me, the CHS recruiters are looking for specific industry experiences. For example, if you are applying for a "CHS courier position," then "being able to drive safely" is not enough. Also, "holding a courier position for a non-healthcare organization" is not enough. CHS Recruiters would be specifically looking for applicants who were couriers for other healthcare organizations or within CHS itself for a CHS courier vacancy posting.
Okay. I respect this streamlining approach to the application process. So since I had five years of hairdressing experience within Carolinas Healthcare System, I am the most qualified to advance into a CHS hairdresser position, but when a hairdresser posting came up carrying full benefits, it was awarded to another CHS employee with two years CHS seniority in the area of Patient Registration. She did not have any hairdresser experience within the healthcare industry, but she did have a cosmetology/hair license. So no one in CHS Human Resources can seem to explain how this hiring decision was fair, but the hiring manager is no longer with the CHS organization from what I have been told.
Questions for me:
Are there more specific details surrounding the part-time hairdresser position hiring decision that were also disturbing to you?
Yes, first of all, I had worked with the original two White hairdressers since 2005. There are only two part-time hairdresser positions and one PRN hairdresser position budgeted at the facility. One position is a 16 hour, two day position. The other position is a 24 hour, 3 day position. Then the PRN position is 8 hours or more per month. I had seen my two White co-workers switch back and forth between the "hairdresser position with benefits" without the hairdresser position being posted on the CHS vacancy list. So when one of my co-workers retired from the coveted hairdresser position, and the other hairdresser with over 25 years CHS seniority did not want to take on the extra hours. It would have been the easiest and most logical decision to give me the opportunity since I had already begun working the retired co-worker's schedule while they were interviewing for the opening. However, our manager of one and half years CHS seniority wanted to post the coveted position. So the position was posted on the CHS vacancy list. Within two weeks of the position being posted, it was removed from the vacancy list because the posting literally was flooded with applications both internally and externally. Our manager was in shock at how many people who worked in healthcare who also had a hair license/cosmetology license.
Here's where the most interesting part happens: The hairdresser that my manager ended up hiring for the coveted 3-day hairdresser position was one of the first people interviewed. Yes. She seemed to be "handpicked" from the beginning. I even interviewed her myself for the position that I was also applying for. Was this a conflict of interest? I would say "yes." You may be wondering "how did I end of interviewing the applicant for the hairdresser position?" Well, I was working in place of my White co-worker that day when one of the administrative staff brought her in as a part of her "Peer interview." When they brought her to me to interview her, I did not know what position that I was interviewing her for until the administrative staff left out. That is when I find out that she has a hair license, and she is interviewing for the coveted hairdresser position. I maintained my professionalism throughout the whole interview process. I even addressed my manager both written and in person as to how awkward the situation was. She apologized about the mix-up. By that night, I was very angry at what happened. I had been turning down some of my own salon business to assist the facility in handling the salon demand while we were short a staff member. Then to realize that my manager was just using me with no real intention of giving me the position, my frustrations went to another level. I told her that I was no longer voluntarily working the extra 8 to 16 hours a week unless she specifically asked me to do so. My manager refused to ask me and this forced my co-worker to work forty hours a week for about three months. Yes, the same co-worker who was trying to avoid the extra work hours had become responsible for a full-time schedule. Why three months? The part-time hairdresser position took three months to fill. I do not know why my manager was slow to hire when she had someone internally (me) that could have easily slipped into the position, and she could have begun focussing on other facility issues. For all the other applicants who flooded the system with their applications for the hairdresser position, it makes you wonder about all the positions that are non-clinical on the CHS vacancy list especially when the hiring department probably already has someone internally waiting for the position.
Well, after the new hairdresser was hired, I sought an internal CHS investigation into discrimination regarding this hiring decision, but according to the Human Resources Employee Relations representative, she found reasonable doubt. So the internal case was closed. I know that in the past, there was a time when both White hairdressers were receiving full benefits accidentally because a position code did not get changed. So since the "full benefits" were the key to the coveted hairdresser position, I felt that the easier way to resolve my internal complaint was to make a second part-time hairdresser position with benefits. As a reminder, the hairdresser position is a modest paid position, and the hours are part-time. After speaking with a few other Human Resources professionals from other Fortune 500 companies, their opinion on the matter was that it would have been "less of a headache" for Carolinas Healthcare System if they would have added a second position for me from the beginning. In the grand scheme of things, it was not that much money on the table.
So besides the unfair hiring decision, was their another time that you felt that CHS was being extremely unfair in their human resource practices?
Yes, one day, the hairdresser with the longest seniority had an emergency that meant she was not able to work her usual schedule, and I was the only one left to take over her schedule because the new hairdresser holding the "only hairdresser position with full benefits" was not available. During this time, I learned that the new hairdresser was still working her old CHS position when she was not working the new CHS hairdresser position. So her flexibility to take on extra hours at our facility was being limited by her commitment to the other Carolinas Healthcare System facility. In fact, the two part-time CHS positions that she was holding gave her 40 weekly work hours with full benefits. Now, guess how much CHS seniority that the new hairdresser had? You got it! Only two years CHS seniority at the time. Let me also inject that I had begun applying online for different CHS job postings over the months that had passed after being overlooked for the hairdresser promotion. My applications were not being forwarded to the hiring managers. I was feeling "blackballed." So after learning that this new White hairdresser whose inflexible work schedule was not a good example of "commitment" nor "team" was working 40 hours a week with full benefits; yet, with my advance qualifications, I could not even get an interview for anything that I applied for, my frustrations with Carolinas Healthcare System went "through the roof." In July 2011, I contacted our facility's Human Resources contact person to firmly and professional share my disgust and to ask why I can not seem to even get an interview? Her comment was "no further comment." It was the end of the phone call, and within a few weeks, the EEOC was contacting me for a "swift mediation." Carolinas Healthcare System was ready to settle this situation. I was happy. Of course, I had to consult with three attorneys. Remind you, I do not make a lot of money as a CHS PRN Hairdresser; so I was out of pocket from my other full-time resources. When it was all said and done, EEOC cancelled the mediation session because the amount that I was asking for was not in line with "my CHS salary." I could only imagine the level of frustration that Carolinas Healthcare System's outside attorney had at this point because I had endured about 9 months of frustration myself at this point. So my EEOC case returned back to the EEOC investigative mode along with their backlog of other cases. In the meantime, however, my co-workers, my manager, and I had begun to move forward with a relatively peaceful working environment. My fight was still with CHS Human Resources not my new work environment. It is rather awkward to be fighting with one component of CHS and peacefully co-existing with another component of CHS. It is like a divided company.
Do you think that your case is one of many EEOC cases against Carolinas Healthcare System?
Yes, When I went to file one of my EEOC complaints, there was another White woman with probably seventeen (17) years seniority with Carolinas Healthcare System that was also filing an EEOC complaint in the EEOC office that day. Unfortunately, she was a full-time employee at another CHS facility and her "new manager" had finally drove her to the point that she needed someone like the EEOC to listen to what she was enduring even if it meant her losing her full time income. She was very torn because she needed her job, but she had become exhausted with the drama surrounding her work environment. CHS Human Resources does not seem to know how to help their employees unless they are a manager. I definitely know of a few other CHS employees from different facilities that are frustrated with their managers, but they do not want to make their work environment worse by filing an EEOC complaint. As stated earlier, I believe that CHS corporate has removed too many professionals with decades of CHS seniority trying to cut overall corporate expense. The Senior level management that I was hired under six years ago knew how to keep peace during chaos. They were wise. They kept confusion down. They kept order. The drama that is happening throughout the Carolinas Healthcare System organization would be greatly minimized if they had more people with internal seniority and wisdom. The employees with over a decade of seniority know the history of the organization and can assist in preventing the same errors that were made in the past from happening in the future.
By hiring so many outsiders, CHS probably sees themselves bringing new perspective to an ever-changing healthcare industry. "New blood" does seem to drive new business and new perspective, but I also see where CHS is losing ground with their employees in general. For example, their 2012 employee medical premiums for a family costs a CHS employee around $600 a month for family medical coverage. Now, really? You would think that a healthcare organization would have much more affordable healthcare choices, but I guess it is like that saying "you can not be both the supply and the demand at the same time."
So there are literally employees of all races working at CHS just to have benefits. When you look closer at the calculations, between benefit premiums and taxes, some employee take home pay is minimal and close to nothing especially if they are a part-time employee. Believe it or not, if you have a budgeted sixteen hours or more position, then you can participate in Carolinas Healthcare System's medical benefits program. For many employees, this is still a great benefit despite the cost.
What is your personal advice for other CHS employees frustrated with their work environment?
As an employee, you have a right to protect your rights. You have a right to be treated fairly and with respect no matter what your education level. If CHS Human Resources hold their employees to their core values, then CHS should also represent their own core values. CHS Human Resources emphasizes "Commit" and "Team." However, their own hiring and promotional practices are not always reflective of "commit and team." They advertise "diversity and inclusion." However, in my opinion, their actions do not always show diversity and inclusion.
I am not an attorney. So I am not going to give an legal advice. Everyone's situation is different. I was clearly treated unfairly, and I am willing go to the "mountaintop" and shout my case, but I am single and have little to lose in regards to CHS. Although, I have six years seniority, CHS has not been my primary source of income, and I do not qualify for CHS benefits. CHS, in general, has not been forwarding my online applications to any of the internal hiring managers for whatever reasons.
How many EEOC Complaints did you file against Carolinas Healthcare System?
I filed a total of five complaints within a nine month period. You would have thought that my filing the first EEOC complaint will have gotten CHS attention. Nope. They really did not seem to care. Their legal department gets EEOC charges all the time. The CHS Human Resources representative that I talked to was very nonchalant. "These cases can drag out for years" she said.
It was at the fifth EEOC complaint that I finally got CHS's attention. It took five complaints before I got their attention. Unbelievable. Hopefully, this information helps any CHS employee "sitting on the fence" about filing an EEOC complaint. Definitely, do not expect one EEOC complaint to move any mountains for you. It only seems to make your manager more angry. Sometimes gossip runs down the hall because people who should know better are letting information slip that they only have a partial story on.
After five EEOC complaints, did you still remain a CHS employee?
Yes. Remember I was at a PRN status, I reported to work as needed and left out upon finishing my work. I did not have to deal with a 40 hour work week of drama and backbiting. Let me clarify, when I did report to work, it was no "walk in the park." I was always on guard. Because I did not have a regular work schedule, I occasionally walked by people gossiping in the halls. The conversation sometimes would stop in mid-sentence as soon as they realized it was me coming down the hall. I did not say anything. I was there to perform my job responsibilities not to socialize. The work environment was hostile at times. I even recall having to call another staff member to ask a question associated with me providing services for a particular resident, and she asked if I stilled worked for the company. Really? No, she did not really ask me that. Anyway, I told her, yes, I am still a CHS employee. Then she answered my question.
So if you file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, then you should expect even more drama than what you are already going through. Always, expect the worse, and you should not be disappointed.
What does PRN status mean?
PRN status means "as needed." The employee is not fully committed to CHS, and CHS is not fully committed to the employee. PRN positions are not budgeted positions, but lately they can require 40 hour work weeks without any benefits. The best case scenario for a PRN employee to hang around until someone retires, gets promoted, or expires in order to get a budgeted position. But as I stated earlier about my experience, there is no guarantee.
Also, to give some history on what PRN status meant six years ago, PRN status only required you to work enough hours to earn a paycheck every 90 days. Now, PRN status require PRN employees to work a minimum of eight hours per month.
Any advice for those who are planning to pursue a CHS online job vacancy?
Yes. Copy and paste the job description into your application and re-write parts of it in order to make it your own. Many people successful in completing employee transfers use this method.
Do you encourage CHS employees to settle with CHS during mediation?
If CHS decides to enter into mediation with you, then remember if you don't settle for mediation, then their attorney can be very savvy in casting reasonable doubt and potentially confusing EEOC enough to close the case "empty-handed" as well as "unemployed." He is capable of twisting the facts so much that you will not recognize your own case. Am I saying that the CHS' attorney will lie to get CHS off the hook? I will not answer that question, but I will say that they can present an interesting new perspective by taking comments out of context and pasting them together to create a whole new story. Also, remember the CHS representatives approving the EEOC response may have never met you nor even know your work ethic. They do not care if you have been working for them for six months, six years, or sixteen years. All they care about is that you are trying to sue them. If you have enough supporting evidence of unfair treatment and potential non-compliance, then EEOC should send you a "right to sue" letter that gives you 90 days to pursue a lawsuit on your own. As stated earlier, my mediation session was cancelled by the EEOC. So CHS and I never made it to the "bargaining table." I still continued working for them as a PRN hairdresser under new management.
Please remember results can vary. I am not an attorney. This article is not to advise you on legal matters. This is a disclaimer to make sure that you know that I am not responsible for any legal action taking against you nor for any actions that you may take by reading this article. This article is my personal account and my personal viewpoint. I am hopeful that the information described in this article will benefit anyone thinking about suing their employer in general.
So how long did my EEOC case take?
At the nine month period and after five EEOC complaints, mediation was considered. It takes between two and three hours to file a complaint, and you have to pay for parking. EEOC does not issue appointment times. It is a first-come; first-serve basis. At the eleven month period, my case was closed with a right to sue letter issued. EEOC did not physically investigate CHS records. The CHS written attorney response was enough for the EEOC to have reasonable doubt about racial discrimination being a factor in the overlooking of the job promotion. When it was all said and done, I was back at "ground zero" a year later except I now had a written response from CHS. This written response may have ended the EEOC investigation, but it was just what I needed to expose how unethical CHS can be. CHS is always careful from an internal perspective about putting anything in writing. However, the EEOC forces a written response from the companies that are charged. Fortunately, for me, as I stated earlier, the current CHS leadership involved with my case failed to investigate who I was besides a "prn hairdresser." In their response, they were degrading to me and delivered their message with a sense of arrogance.
Any other thoughts?
You should know that you are not the only CHS employee feeling unappreciated. I just met a CHS Volunteer (race: White) with fifty years CHS seniority. She had looked forward to receiving a new "CHS anniversary" pin each year, but apparently, the more recent "anniversary gift" that was presented to her made her feel less valued. I suppose - CHS was trying to cut expenses in awarding their volunteers. Does that even sound ethical?
Also, definitely make sure you are dedicated to finish what you start. EEOC can not make any employer treat you fairly. They can only make sure that the rights surrounding a "protected class" is not violated. Also, remember EEOC is just like the justice system. In my opinion, they want an easy settlement when possible. A bird in the hand is always better than two in the bush. Exceptions are always possible, but I would not count on being the exception.
"Bumping heads" with Carolinas Healthcare System is not for the weak.