Workplace Bullying: A Victim's Story
I had just spent three years in law school preparing for the one and only thing I wanted to do: be a prosecutor. I had joined mock trial teams, taken all the criminal law classes and even had actual courtroom experience as an intern at a major city’s District Attorney’s office. I was, by all accounts, the perfect candidate.
While I had hoped to stay in the DA’s office where I had interned, a new election resulted in turnover and my supervisors were gone, so I expanded my search to include other counties in or near major cities in Texas (where I had attended law school). After passing the bar in November, I got an interview with a prosecutor’s office in a suburb of Austin. I was well aware of the conservative reputation of that county, and dressed appropriately for the interview (covering my one small ankle tattoo in a pantsuit). My trial experience and dedication to the field won them over, and I was offered a job to start after the new year.
I wasn’t sure what to expect at the job, but I knew I would have to hide the fact that I was a raging liberal and an atheist due to the nature of politics in the county. Religion and politics are supposed to be off-limit topics at work anyway, right? Besides, I was more apt to talk about a movie I’d seen recently than either of the aforementioned topics no matter where I was. I knew, regardless of everyone’s differences, we were all working towards the same goal.
As this was my first “real” job, I was quiet and obedient, trying to learn the ropes from the people who had been there for a while. I picked it up rather quickly and started off on the right foot, winning my first DWI trial. For some jobs this would have been an “in” to the veterans’ club, but the more I did, the more distant my coworkers got. When I’d walk into one of their offices, the group inside would stop talking and look at me in a way that I knew I’d been the topic of conversation. I felt alienated, but I still tried to fit in – after all, I had only nine coworkers.
About halfway through the year, things started to get bad. I was actively made fun of for “attempting to be funny” or trying to enter a conversation. Religion and politics were always topics of conversation at lunch, and my silence gave me away. To make matters worse, it was an election year, so talk of politics was all around. I didn’t feel comfortable enough to put my Obama sticker on my car because I didn’t want people at work seeing it, not that it would have mattered at this point.
There was one guy in particular, an Iraq veteran who believed he was “untouchable” due to employment laws regarding veterans who took time off for deployment, that absolutely hated me. I generally deferred to anyone who had been there longer than I had when it came to instructions or rules, but for some reason nothing I did was good enough. He berated me on a daily basis. I was belittled in front of the other coworkers, support staff and even in open court. My only ally, an older judge, had to kick this guy out of the courtroom twice for his tirades against me for tiny mistakes I’d make in paperwork.
My coworkers did not stick up for me. They told me that was just “how he was” and that I should deal with it. I began to wake up every morning sick to my stomach, fearful of what he’d do that day. Sometimes it was blaming me very vocally for a mistake it was often later discovered that he himself made, entirely without apology. I was screamed at in front of a police witness I had been prepping for trial for something I can’t even remember. The final straw was being called to his office and standing in the doorway as he cursed at the top of his lungs, ending with him throwing a white-out dispenser inches from my head.
As I had done on multiple other occasions, I locked myself in my office and sobbed. In an office where open doors were the norm, mine was constantly closed for the last three months of my employ. I called my parents almost daily, begging them to let me move in with them at their new home in Missouri. I gained weight, had my shrink up my antidepressants more than once, and basically went straight to bed when I got home at 6pm.
The lawyer in me still had a grasp on reality, and I began keeping a log of things he did to me – date, time, location, witnesses. After three months the log was seven pages long. I wrote up a resignation letter and included my calendar of abuse, stating that because of this treatment I was going to be moving to Missouri with my parents to pursue a career there.
The only good news was that with my written confirmation, he was being fired “for cause,” my boss was able to get around the military law that he’d used as his shield from punishment. When I left that last time, I was not wished well by anyone but one nice coworker and the support staff. I got in my car and sobbed all the way home. A week later, when I had made it to Missouri, I received an email from one of my former coworkers who blatantly said that I was a terrible prosecutor and I should get out of law – “you’ll never find another job.” Despite winning six of my eight trials, I couldn’t help but think I was completely worthless.
The next five years were tumultuous to say the least. I tried prosecuting for a different office, but my self-esteem had been knocked so low that I was basically asking to be taken advantage of. I decided to quit law, moved to LA, yet had to practice while I figured out where I wanted to take my career. I was finally accepted into a Master’s program at USC in public relations, from which I will graduate this coming May.
The effects of this job are lasting. I began having panic attacks about completely random situations and isolating myself from people for days at a time. My medication was changed multiple times, to no avail. Finally, after a complete breakdown in my apartment one afternoon, I called my shrink and got the first available appointment. He didn’t know more than my medical history – I had a therapist who talked to me about problems. Once I told him about the last five years, my panic attacks, my fear of leaving my apartment or interacting with anyone, and my general anxiety about re-entering the workforce, he diagnosed me with PTSD. Now, with a different combination of medicine and bi-weekly therapy, he and I are working towards my recovery.
My panic attacks have lessened significantly, but I still suffer from recurring dreams and certain triggers in my daily life. Because of this group of bullies, I lost five years of my life and the potential for a strong career in law (until very recently I had blamed the entire legal industry for my problems – now I have two advanced degrees on which I’ll be paying loans). I have not set foot in the state of Texas in nearly four years, and I have many friends I want to visit, but the anxiety is too great.
I’m rebuilding my life and will start a new career come May, but unlike my classmates, I worry daily about my work environment and future coworkers. I should be excited about a new opportunity, but instead I’m very nervous and hesitant. No one should ever have to go through this. As sad as it is, workplace bullying laws are as necessary as those for sexual harassment, because without them tyrants like my coworker can continue to ruin people’s lives.
Kim Carner is an attorney, current graduate student, aspiring writer and ’90s hip hop connoisseur who lives in Los Angeles. She spends her time writing snarky commentary on her life, dating and otherwise, on her blog, This is Why You’re Single. When she graduates with her third degree in May, she plans on finding a “big girl job” while pursuing her secret dream of being a television comedy writer. Follow Kim on Twitter.
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