would you fire this woman?

Politico has an incredible account today of a congressional staffer who freaked out on someone she didn’t know who called her “Liz” instead of “Elizabeth” in an email. And by freaked out, I mean had a 19-email exchange with her, lambasting her for the mistake, when the person was just seeking a meeting for her boss.

You can read the whole exchange over there, and it’s pretty amazing. The other person keeps apologizing and Elizabeth keeps attacking.

What do you think? Would you fire this woman?

{ 47 comments… read them below }

  1. nuqotw*

    Not that I have any experience with firing, or ever had the authority to fire… but I would either fire her, or I would have a conversation that indicated that this sort of email attack is manifestly unacceptable, and any future occurrence would result in immediate firing. Maybe she had a bad day unrelated to being called "Liz". I would hate to fire someone in this economy, especially. Still, there are limits.

  2. Tracy Tran*

    It would depend on her history.

    If this was a first time offense, I would have a written report and talk to her about etiquette if someone messed up your name. I would also add word gets around quick in Congress, so be on your best behavior.

    If this was an occurrence and it was on record, fire her.

  3. Angela Risner*

    I agree with Tracy. However, this is huge, as no matter where you work, you are representing that office or company. This reflects badly on everyone.

  4. Charles*

    Nineteen emails!? Even one such "curt" email is too much. So, yea, I would fire her.

    BTW, my name is Charles. If someone calls me by Charlie, Chuck, or Chaz, I usually do not respond. It's not because I am trying to be rude or "teach them a lesson." I just don't realize that they are talking to me!

    If someone sends me an email using my nickname, I will "correct" them by signing my email "Charles." If they still don't "get it." So what?

    I've always said, when some insist that Charles is too formal, then call me anything you want just don't call me late for dinner!

  5. DrJohnDrozdal*

    Without knowing Elizabeth�s performance history, my answer regarding firing her would be not yet. I actually was involved in a similar situation. A few years ago I was looking for a financial planner licensed in the state where I had just relocated. I called a planner that a close friend of mine had recommended to make an appointment for an initial meeting. The �Elizabeth� in this case, told me that she would send me an application and that SHE would decide if I were �worthy to be a client� – her words exactly! I didn�t send in the application, found another financial planner and told my friend what happened. My friend then told the planner who was shocked. When she checked into the situation more deeply, she found that this admin had scared off several current clients, deterred many more potential ones, and terrorized the office staff. She fired her.

    In this case, the behavior of Elizabeth may be just the tip of the iceberg. The intensity of her response makes it hard for me to believe that other related bad behaviors are not present. But I would need data. I would start by acknowledging her right be addressed by the name of her choice. Then I would explain very clearly what the expectations are for EVERYONE in the office regarding how others both inside and outside of the office are to be treated, and that in the future accepting an apology from an offending party and then moving on was to be the norm. Then I would investigate if Elizabeth had engaged in other behaviors that reflected poorly on the office or created a difficult or even hostile work environment for other employees. If I found a pattern of negative behavior I would put Elizabeth on a corrective action plan and then fire her if there were no improvement.

  6. Erica*

    I would have to believe that if this happened, other things were happening that would be just totally unacceptable. So, I would dig a little further and most likely? Yes. But if this really was one of those truly off days, and everyone who worked with her was shocked by the email? May deserve a second chance.

  7. Anna P.*

    I would absolutely fire her. I have "off days" myself, but I can't get away with acting like that. A single rude e-mail response to someone is probably grounds for a frank discussion and then forgiveness, but this e-mail exchange is just embarrassing, and any adult in their right mind would know it's inappropriate and unprofessional behavior.

  8. Evil HR Lady*

    I'm a little confused. She doesn't like to be called Liz?

    And umm, yes to the firing. People call me Susan all the time. My name is Suzanne. This is a different name than Susan. My general policy is that if it's someone I'm going to have to work with regularly I'll correct them one time politely, then I'll let it go. If I'm not going to be working with the person regularly, I just let it go.

  9. Deirdre HR Maven*

    Behavior like this doesn't generally just 'appear' in one area of a person's work. I suspect that she may be arrogant and haughty in other areas too. Some acts seem so egregious that termination is immediately appropriate – and this is one. It affects the credibility of the office.

  10. The HR Store*

    Any doubts? I guess not. It's time to fire. She should have shown more maturity in handling the situation. I'm sure her role in particular demands it.

    I doubt if this is a one-off case too.

  11. Inside the Philosophy Factory*

    I have a first name folks shorten a variety of ways. Face to face, I might say "I go by X", and if folks ignore me, then I know the sort of person I'm dealing with. By e-mail I would never correct them.

    I think each of those individual e-mails is a separate incident of poor behavior. All of them would be documented as such and she'd be given a final warning — one more outburst, on any subject, and she'd be gone.

  12. Kerry*

    Holy crap.

    I'd investigate whether this was a single incident of nutjobbery or a pattern. If it was a single incident, I'd have a come to [insert your diety here] meeting with her and make sure she never, ever did this again (especially in writing, because, duh, now it's all over the internet).

    People are hardly ever nutjobs only once, though, so I'm guessing there's more and she'd end up out the door.

    I have a last name that's particularly difficult–"Sandberg Scott." People try to call me "Kerry Scott" sometimes, and it makes me mildly homicidal…but not homicidal enough to send 19 emails. Sheesh.

  13. Kate Hutchinson*

    I would want to investigate the situation before firing her, to find out if there have been other seriously grievous behavioral issues from Elizabeth. But the first thing I would do would be to put her on probation, with a written report on her record. (Due process) I might also institute a 360 review to check how she might be affecting those around her.

    After a reasonable probation period, then I would most certainly consider firing her, unless she had proven herself through improved behavior.

    Of course, now that her name is known publicly for this action, she might never find such good work again.

  14. William Reinier*

    Way too many PC answers here, "I would assess the situation and evaluate her past performance…"

    No, plain and simple, a person in the position of Rep. McDermott has these people in his office to help him work with the public. When they behave this way it reflects on the nature of the culture in his office. This is obviously not how the Congressman wants to been seen so plain and simple "Liz" should be fired for behavior that hurts McDermott's image.

  15. A Girl Named Me*

    In reading the emails and looking at the time stamps, everything with this happened very quickly.

    I wouldn't fire this person if it was a one-time issue. However, the Congressman should – he now has a serious PR issue as a result of a member of his staff. He can't take a chance that something like this will happen and he probably doesn't have the luxury of time to retrain this person. So, she must go.

    My other comment is that the person who originally contact "Liz" should not have replied more than once to an email. Emails do not need instant responses in most cases. It was after 5:00 and while many, many people work well after this hour, they are probably not at their brightest and best. Sometimes, knowing when to stop the conversation is the key.

    If I get a grumpy email, I usually try to let it sit for at least a little while before zipping off a response.


  16. Anonymous*

    I don't know the situation in the given case, but if I had to deal with a similar situation, I would not immediately assume that the snapping was the tip of an iceberg called Elizabeth. Sure, it could be the apex of serious behavioural problems – but it may just as well be that Elizabeth snapping was a case of straw, camel, back.

    We just assume, hearing this story, that Elizabeth is a bitch. We don't seem to assume that Elizabeth has been targeted by bitches and douches on a regular basis. Without checking this first, we may very well be penalizing the victim. I realize that this is so much more convenient: to treat the victim like the aggressor, because then we ourselves don't have to deal with someone who is actually nasty. It doesn't make it right though.

    I don't think I would go off like this woman did, but calling me "Jess" will be a sure way to ensure that I won't like someone. That is not my name, and I will not respond to it. Giving someone you aren't close with a pet name is creepy, overly familiar and unpleasant. It does make you a douche, albeit a douche that might deserve a polite note rather than heaps of abuse, but still a douche.

  17. jaded hr rep*

    Yes. The job of a public servant is service to his/her constituents, and there is not an ounce of service embodied in any of those emails. If the assistant doesn't understand her role also needs to reflect that principle, I don't see how 'Liz' can ever be good at her job. Don't care if she had a bad day – 19 emails worth (and especially her later snotty, admonishing and presumptuous tone) are unacceptable.

  18. Anonymous*

    Ok, now I've read the exchange and I still maintain that even though Elizabeth should have stopped after the first apology it was still rude, unprofessional and belittling to try to use Liz. A really sleezy thing to do.

    I note a lot of people in the comments get a kick out of deliberately calling her "Liz", thus revealing themselves as office bullies. It's obvious from how the emails go that people are already bullying Elizabeth this way.

    Oh, and for those who go: "Shes a SECRETARY" or "She is in public service" I wonder: do you hand in your right to be treated as a human when you take a job as a secretary? What other service jobs should come with "must be able to take abuse like Pollyanna, because we don't in fact regard you as human"?

    The more I see of the discussion, the more I lean towards Team Elizabeth.

  19. Anonymous*

    And to top it all of, we taxpayers give her $80K a year to act like that!
    (just Google her name – apparently that info is public record)

  20. MeredithElaine*

    If someone calls you a different name/name you don't like/what-have-you in error, it's fine to correct someone. ONCE. In a POLITE manner.

    Honestly, life is too damn short to get all sorts of freaked out about what people call you. Maybe I'm just clueless because I'm not in any sort of executive role, maybe I just don't "get it" – but aren't there more important things in the world to focus on?

    Sounds like Liz REALLY needs to at least switch to decaf.

  21. Anonymous*

    Wow – incredible. If people are really that sensitive, then they have a serious problem. All that would've been required is for her to simply state that she refers to be called Elizabeth instead of Liz and end it at that. I guess she forgot her Starbucks that morning.

    I've never been in a job in which I had the authority to fire someone, but at the minimum I would have a "friendly chat" with her and document everything. If she had a previous record, then fire her.

    Having this incident at a company is one thing, but when this person represents a member of Congress, that's a whole different story. If I was that Congressman I would definitely fire her for making me look bad.

  22. Joselle*

    I can't believe Liz is being paid so many tax dollars to be a completely unreasonable crazyface!

    Sorry, but this is definitely grounds for firing. She was rude, paranoid ("I want to know WHO told you you could call me Liz?!", threatening, and completely unreasonable. I wouldn't want her being my admin for those reasons alone.

    Not to mention that now these emails are out and being mocked. What else is going on at this office? One can't help but wonder.

    That being said, thanks for the laughs. This was hysterical.

    I sometimes get called Jose in emails. People read emails so quickly or skim them, they just see the J-O-S-E and stop before the L-L-E. I get called Sir, too. I get called Josy (ugh). I can't stand it. It is offensive, presumptuous, and often condescending. To not even want to say someone's name correctly is definitely a minor annoyance of mine. But I have NEVER gone off like this. Chances are, I'll never speak to this person again. All my co-workers and people close to me call me by my name and that's all that matters.

  23. Rebecca*

    Heck yes I would fire her. There is no room in a publicly visible position for such ridiculous behavior and incredibly poor judgment. Plenty of people handle the crap that comes with their jobs in a professional and courteous manner (at least while they're at work). If this woman can't, I am certain Rep. McDermott can find someone else who can.

  24. Amelia*

    While I was a receptionist for a public company, our biggest shareholder called me "Estella" for nearly a year. That is not my name! I corrected him ONCE, and then smiled nicely and helped him however I could every time after that. What was important was that I got my job done well and that my boss was happy, not that a man who was practically a stranger knew my first name. He probably still thinks my name is Estella!

    I agree with those who say Elizabeth is a total whack-job who needs a crash course in proper phone etiquette.

  25. Bohdan*

    Fire. Public position that greatly effects her boss' reputation. His reputation is at least half of his job. Maybe if she was an intern you talk to her and explain this is bad and why (and then probably still fire her).

    But in Liz's position?

  26. Kathy*

    I lived and worked for many years in DC, and this kind of behavior, while extreme in this case, is not unheard of at all. The arrogance, self-importance and abusive behavior of people there (regardless of ideological affiliation, non-profit or government) was breathtaking, and I was so glad to get the hell out of Dodge. Because of people like Elizabeth, we have a saying if you live in DC, "If you want a friend, get a dog." Seriously.

  27. Anonymous*

    Perfect timing for a firing and not just for Lizzie… I had a staffer email me to use a shortend name for them this week. NK I'm sorry, but this is annoying. I could see if they were trying to be 'friendly' but they weren't, the tone of the email was very offputting and smug. These people that expect everyone to play by their rulz they make up – gotta go. Fire fire, at will. Don't hold back!

  28. Jason*

    The e-mail about "Where did you get your information?" is sufficient for a verbal discussion behind closed doors, to me. It's one thing to make a correction, especially after someone apologizes for the misunderstanding, but another thing entirely to immediately start into an accusatory tone.

    By the time we get to "If I wanted you to call me by any other name," we've skipped any sort of written warning and gone straight to being escorted out the door.

    It is completely inappropriate, unprofessional and just plain bad manners to jump all over someone that strongly over a simple mistake. A single correction of "I'm sure there was some sort of misunderstanding, but I don't go by Liz – just Elizabeth" would have been more than sufficient, judging by the other party's reactions.

    There is no room in a public-facing position for someone who can't at least maintain some sort of decorum in the face of a simple mistake or misunderstanding.

  29. Ashley Jean*

    YES. I cannot stand egotistical and entitled-feeling people who take themselves WAY too seriously! Without knowing her or her previous work ethic, from these emails alone, I do know that she doesn't have her priorities in order, she's completely unprofessional, and is embarrassingly arrogant!

    Would YOU fire her?

  30. Just Another HR Lady*

    Typically I would say that this warrants discipline, but not firing. But in this case, this woman is representing a public figure, I'm sure she has had to deal with situations much more sensitive and difficult than this one, who knows what she said to those people. She's not the right person for this job.

  31. Anonymous*

    I see last night that this story had hit Fox Cable News. That in itself may not bode well for Ms. Elizabeth. People do not suddenly change how they act….my guess is that Elizabeth has built a reputation with those who she has contact. If her behavior has been addressed or complained about before, it's time for her to go. Do not pass "GO" do not collect "$200 – or in her case, $109,000.

  32. HR Godess*

    Definitely fire her. If she freaks out like this over her name, what if something more serious happens? It appears "Elizabeth" has some issues!

  33. Rachel - I Hate HR*

    For the emails it is apparent that the woman does not know when to keep her mouth shut and enjoys using a condescending tone: "And please don't call the office and not leave a message. My colleague told me you called while I was away at the Ladies' room. I do sometimes leave my desk."

    I don't think a position with frequent public contact is right for her.

  34. Anonymous*

    I read the exchange. If I was her boss and I liked her as a person I would give her one warning, and let her know that the next thing she does that's wrong would result in an immediate firing. Perhaps I'd put her on unpaid leave. She needs to 1) not freak out over her nickname 2) stop using email like IM, and 3)walk away from her email if she's going to freak out like an idiot. I speak as someone who had people CONSTANTLY screw up/make fun of her name at her last job, answered her phone 100 times a day, and got paid far less and dealt with far more crap than this entitled idiot.

  35. Ask a Manager*

    Interesting how many people weighed in on this one! And so interesting to see everyone's opinion.

    Here's my own:

    If Liz had been an exemplary employee until now and then this happened, I actually don't think I'd fire her over it. I'd tell her in no uncertain terms that nothing like this could happen again, tell her that she COULD have been fired over it, and then watch her extremely closely after that for signs of similar problems — and I'd fire her if anything like it happened again.

    BUT. I have a lot of trouble believing that an otherwise great employee would do this, so I have to think that this is indicates that she's been rude and inappropriately aggressive in plenty of other work situations before now. I could see an otherwise good employee having a bad day and sending one or two of those initial emails — but the entire aggressive attack? No way. It's got to indicate there were already other problems, and probably also that the manager has done a bad job of setting cultural expectations.

  36. Anonymous*

    I think this is a GREAT example of why you need to approach email as a tool for sending LETTERS not shorter, more casual messages. When you do the latter you run the risk that you audience will totally misinterpret the tone.

    I can completely see this conversation being in the mind of Ms. Benton as a quick back and forth that degenerated to a very informal conversation that if read with the "right" tone it sounds less aggressive and more incredulous.

    That being said, I fear I would fire her. However not so much because of the 'attack' I really think there is a possibility that it is a matter of the tone you overlay onto it, but more because of the arrogance and lack of professionalism in her emails as a public servant who works in a sector where presentation and public sentiment are almost everything.

  37. Geore A Guajardo*

    In a heartbeat! I find it very difficult to think of a set of circumstances that would make this behavior acceptable.

    More importantly, she represents someone else, for goodness sake. I would not want my name associated with that kind of behavior. No way!

  38. Anonymous*

    I've been reading through some old entries on this blog and this is one of the most bizarre accounts of gross misconduct I've encountered.

    Our Lizzie is clearly a paranoid, jumped-up wackjob with no sense of humour, humility, proportion or professionalism whatsoever. Her email responses are totally disproportionate, particularly when the other (perfectly pleasant) correspondent has apologised profusely on multiple mails.

    This woman is paid with tax dollars and should maintain her decorum in the workplace, particularly as she is a front-line, public-facing employee. She is entirely lacking in credibility in this capacity, and her behaviour actively harms the integrity of the office she is working for.

    If she was my secretary, Betty would be hauled over the coals for this and given a firm verbal warning. Another incident where her conduct is anything less than impeccable and she'd be fired in a heartbeat.

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