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The Cost of Crusading

The last months at work before my maternity leave were a delightful time of baby showers and advice in the break room from experienced mothers. Debi Morris hosted a baby shower for my work friends and Carolyn Hinds, my other sister by choice, hosted a church party. My Star-Telegram family was so generous; almost every day I found a gift on my desk from another department or a customer. The cloud in the sky was the pending situation with my accounts. The attorney I consulted said that there was no case until my accounts were actually taken from me and that I should consult with him if and when that actually happened. Meanwhile, it happened to someone else.

One of my coworkers, I will call her “Jill,” was also pregnant. Jill also had several years seniority and a good set of accounts. Her baby boy died in the womb just days before he was due to be born. Jill was returned to work only two weeks after losing the baby, wanting to get back to work to take her mind off of things. She returned to find her accounts re-assigned and her status adjusted to entry level. When I found her in the break room in tears, I shared what I had learned from the attorney and gave her his name and telephone number. Evidently, she took action. Several weeks later, Jill was given replacement accounts. The same day, I was called to the manager’s office. I was stiffly informed that things had been “reconsidered” and that my status and accounts would not change while I was on maternity leave. I learned that they knew I had encouraged Jill to defend her position.

Believing that my baby would arrive exactly on time, I started my maternity leave on my due date, March 1. I was shocked as the days trudged by with no end in sight. I dreamed that Toys R Us called to tell us that our baby was ready to pick up. In the dream, we arrived to find a black-haired baby girl, dressed in red and white, nestled in among the dolls. I awoke a little unsettled as we were hoping for a son to be a big brother to future children. My husband informed me that dreams always reflected the opposite of reality. Finally, after four weeks, things started happening and we rushed to the hospital with my mother and Carolyn Hinds in tow. It was the best day ever. I will never forget the feeling when she was placed in my arms. The image of her father and keeper of my heart, my Susan. I could not think of any baby boy on earth I would trade for her.

My six-week recovery period flew by and it was time to return to work. It was hard to leave Susan but I quickly settled back to handling calls and meeting deadlines. After a few weeks, I adjusted to the routine of the working mother. I delivered Susan to Olive every morning accompanied by her little bag packed with food, clean outfits, and the mandatory matching socks and bows.

The Star-Telegram won the Pulitzer Prize for photography in 1981, which made me even more proud to be on board. Sales were better than ever. Susan was constantly on my mind and her antics dominated my break-room conversation but I had no trouble focusing on my job and producing revenue. We bought a little house and moved from my father’s rental property. We loved watching Susan grow and life was pretty sweet. 1982 was welcomed with coconut cake and a champagne toast to a Happy New Year.

On April 1, 1982, I was ushered from our department to an office on the first floor and told that my employment with the Fort Worth Star Telegram was terminated on the grounds of theft. It was not a joke. The department had recently purchased a new telephone system that logged all incoming calls, outgoing calls, and time off line. While entering the many ads that were mailed or faxed to me, I often caught up on personal phone calls or put my phone off line while entering the ads. My telephone data had been collected for several months and labeled as theft because I was off-line during peak hours, thus allegedly taking money from the company. I was angry and I was devastated. This was clearly revenge for my opposition to unfair and sometimes illegal activity. There was nothing I could do. They had the report. There was no way that I could prove that I was actually entering ads during the time I was, according to the report, inactive.

My drive home was clouded with fear of the future and tears of disbelief. The venomous unfairness hurt me to my core and my mind was a hurricane of questions. How was I going to take care of Susan? How could I find a job that paid what I earned at the Star-Telegram in commission? Would we lose our home? Of course, I did take care of Susan. I did find a job and we did not lose our home. But the loss of my Star-Telegram family, my interaction with my customers, the busy downtown streets, and the comfort of a job I did well hurt for a very long time.

I learned that actively opposing management to effect change, even when justified, carries a high price. I also learned that if management does not like you, they will find a way to get rid of you, no matter your skill level and quality of performance. For the remainder of my career, I avoided crusades and took the safe road. The price was too high for my family. I adopted and taught my children this work ethic: Always respect authority and realize that you are not privy to all facts that contribute to their actions. If authority is inappropriate, use the methods allowed by company policy to make a change. If change is not forthcoming, learn to love things as they are or find another position with a more suitable situation.

Losing my first “real” job brought me to my knees, in more ways than one, but I was not down for long.

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