update: I said “EEOC” and things got weird

Remember the letter-writer who was invited to a dinner to discuss swapping jobs with a junior male colleague, told her boss it sounded like an EEOC complaint in the making, and then later was told she had damaged her relationships in the office as a result? Here’s the update.

Well, I’m still in the Office of Evil Bees and have been, as one might expect, job searching since the events of my original post occurred. The good news is that that, since the “you need to be more vulnerable at work” comment (this is a reference to the letter-writer’s update in the comments on the original post), there have been no further discussions or incidents on the matter from either Niles or Supervisor. I continue in my original role as does Fergus. I have been nominated for another employee excellence award and Supervisor tells me he has been receiving tons of compliments about my work. I mention this only because Supervisor’s perception seems to have changed although I have done nothing differently at work. Interestingly enough, some new information has come to light which may explain the real reason for the proposed switcheroo: there is talk of the company divesting the business unit that Fergus supports. The switch may have been attempt to diversify Fergus’ experience so that Niles would have a stronger argument to keep Fergus or so that Fergus may fare better when sold with his BU.

Supervisor and I have gone to lunch once in an effort to rebuild our personal relationship. I asked him a couple of questions about his family and his answers took up the entire lunch. This seems to be a successful tactic in handling the demand for a personal relationship! Frankly, I think he is batshit crazy but if I can manage him in this manner, I will put up with the ocassional lunch. Niles has never cared about a personal relationship with his employees so I am doing nothing different there.

I do not regret making the EEOC comment that kicked off this whole matter. Niles and Supervisor did not handle the matter well and, backed into a corner, I made the decision to throw that hand grenade. If I had to do anything over I would have disregarded Supervisor’s admonition “not to tell anyone” and would have simply gone straight to Niles from the start. I don’t think my decision to wait for the dinner helped, particularly as Supervisor pushed me for reaction.

If I have any advise for anyone else it is this: choose your battles wisely but, when necessary, fight those battles. If you are supervised by someone who is mishandling/confusing communication from above, seriously consider bypassing that person and go to the source.

{ 71 comments… read them below }

  1. WhiteBear*

    While I know this whole thing sucked and you work with absolute pieces of trash, you handled this like such a BOSS!!

    1. Mookie*

      Seriously. LW, I love your take on the situation, how you’ve handled it, and the way you have narrated this (but I hate that you’ve had to experience it and I know you mentioned that your family was pissed off about it, as well, so my commiserations to you all).

  2. Former Computer Professional*

    Ages ago I was volunteering with an organization that had a batshit-crazy upper-management type. People hated to be around him until I discovered just the same way to handle him. Every time he got wound up, when he’d take a breath I’d say, “So, how is your [$CHILD] (there were multiple children), the one who does [$ACTIVITY]? Last time I saw you you mentioned they were [competing in something, taking special classes, dancing with elves, whatever]. How did that work out?” And off he’d go and everyone else would breathe a sigh of relief.

    He’s really not a bad guy. He just goes on batshit crazy rants that nobody berfore me ever figured out how to stop.

    1. Lovemyjob...Truly!!!*

      I had a professor in college like that. Occasionally he’d get derailed during his lectures with a discussion about politics or something in the news. A few discussions got heated as he was a very liberal leaning man and there were a few students in class who were not. In those moments those of us eager to avoid the raised voices would wait for the pause and then ask how he’d explain whatever the topic was to his 5 year old daughter. That always made him gooey and calm because he was big in shielding her from the “real world” for as long as possible. I still can picture the smile he would give us.

      1. Gandalf the Nude*

        Yeah, this was exactly how we got out of quizzes in high school Spanish. “Señora Olenna, ¿cómo están Loras y Margaery?” I mean, she’d answer in Spanish, so we were still learning, but at least we didn’t have to worry about conjugating into past subjunctive for another day.

        1. Kelly L.*

          We had a math teacher who could be derailed by any mention of the sport she participated in. “So, Miss (Name), have you done any underwater basket-weaving lately?” would result in 50 minutes of basket-weaving talk and exactly zero math.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            9th grade physical science, and we derailed him with the superconductor supercollider. And by we, I mean his son, who was in my class, and his son’s best friend. When that ran out, the friend usually had something else to get him going on. They used it most at the end of class, so the bell would ring before he could assign us any homework.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          My teacher in seventh-grade American history would get sidetracked by questions about the lost city of Atlantis. Every time he would start to teach anything from the actual curriculum, somebody would ask him a question about Atlantis, and he would go on and on about it. I had composition books full of notes about lost technologies, telepathic abilities, and everything else the National Enquirer never told us about Atlantis.

          1. So Very Anonymous*

            I’m now imagining you all taking survey of US history in college and having some very creative takes on, say, the Industrial Revolution…

          2. Rowan*

            Yeah, this sounds like fun until you have a Chemistry teacher in your senior year who is so easily derailed into stories about being a repo man that he doesn’t teach you half the curriculum, and you end up failing the standardized final and losing your college scholarship…

            1. drashizu*

              This. We had a physics teacher who would go on brief (<5 min), controlled tangents about cool physics topics that were related to the subject at hand and generally tied back into whatever we were supposed to be learning at the end — except when this one particular student asked him questions.

              This student was doing outside reading and only took the class for credit, and his questions always pushed the subject into university-level territory that the rest of us just could not follow. He’d ask question after question after question… and this teacher fell for it every. damn. time. So many students had difficulty in that class because of the incessant question-asker who didn’t care about anyone’s learning but his own, and the teacher who couldn’t shut him down and stick to the lesson plan for the benefit of the other 29 people in the class.

              1. KJ*

                I think this is only good and funny if you never really NEED the info the teacher was presenting for anything else. I loved when my religion teachers in HS would get off track, as I have never ever since leaving those class been asked to name all the documents of Vatican Council II. And their tangents were usually really interesting bits of things, such as how a dog became a saint. But I would have been pissed if my English teachers or science teacher had been that distracted by stupid questions.

            2. Julia*

              For me it was a math teacher who went to get coffee and never came back. Thanks for ruining my GPA, dude.

          3. PhyllisB*

            When I was in college my World Civ. teacher was easy to derail. He would start the lecture, and someone who come up with a crazy question. The one I remember most, “Mr. C? Do you think Jesus wet his diaper?” Mr. C would smile and go off on the tangent and never would we get back to lecture topic. HOWEVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He would still give quizzes on said topic. Of course, there was a chorus of “NO FAIR!!!!!!!!!!! We didn’t go over this in class!!!!!” You think after the first time of getting like a five on the test they would knock it off, but nope. Luckily I had enough sense to READ THE CHAPTER!!! I think only me and three others made a good grade in that class.

            1. Pam*

              Reminds me of the World History professor who used to lecture across the hall from my office. An actual quote- ‘So, Buddha decided, life sucks!”

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Hah! In high school there were a couple of teachers that were particularly susceptible to tangents, and we’d sometimes derail the class for days on end until they suddenly realized they were WAY off their lesson plan!

        1. constablestark*

          We did this in high school with a Religion teacher who at the time just got into a relationship with our Biomedicine teacher. At the start, in the middle, or towards the end of class, someone would just randomly bring up their relationship. He would turn beet red and ramble, and the bell would ring without us having covered the material. We deferred a quiz for three days using this technique alone. It was hilarious.

      3. Emi.*

        My aunt’s class used to pull this on their Latin teacher. He’d try to get them to translate The ship sailed into the harbour, but someone would say “Oh, Mr. Moody, please tell us about Roman ships,” and there went the rest of the class.

      4. Kathleen Adams*

        My lit teacher in college had a thing about subliminal messaging – Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message/massage, all that stuff. It had zero to do with English, of course. But we nonetheless spent roughly half a semester on it, and if you didn’t feel like talking about, for example, “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” you could derail him with a photo of an ice cube with a subliminal message supposedly inserted in it.

        It was interesting, but I thought then and I think now that maybe a little more about, say, Shakespeare or even “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and Nathaniel Hawthorne might have been more useful. I generally dislike Nathaniel Hawthorne, but still.

        1. Midwest Reporter*

          I dropped my communications major after one too many discussions of Marshall McLuhan. The medium is not always the message.

        2. Kyrielle*

          I dropped a college course once because the professor was getting side-tracked from the topic (by enough that we were not on the same continent, literally) so often. I wasn’t learning the material, I didn’t expect that to change, and I wanted out. If I’d needed the credit, I could have stayed in and passed, but it was a nigh-complete waste of my time.

          Had anyone actually been deliberately derailing him on to his distraction topics, I would have been *very* annoyed with them. (As it is, he did that all on his own.)

        3. Emi.*

          The Teaching Company makes video lectures (taught by actual professors) for adults who wish they’d learned more about a particular topic in college! They’re pretty pricey but they do go on sale, and some public libraries have them.

        4. Mrs__Peel*

          “I generally dislike Nathaniel Hawthorne”

          Everyone does, it’s okay. (At least, everyone who had to get through “The House of the Seven Gables” in high school).

      5. KJ*

        My Church and Sacrament teacher (Catholic school for the win!) could be distracted from yet another discussion of encyclicals and the documents of Vatican Council II if I asked her interesting questions about her religion, such as “Do dogs go to Heaven?” and “Why all the child-abuse scandals?” (this was the middle of the worst of the stories coming out). She’d rant for 30 minutes, come out with a gem about “running the sinners over with a Hummer” (yes, a real quote) and we wouldn’t have class that day. I was usually teased and bullied in high school, but in that class, I was popular. I was the only protestant in my year, so I could ask all kinds of sh*t and she wouldn’t get suspicious. And, as a bonus, I know a great deal of Catholic faith information that is actually interesting. That school didn’t convert me, but I sure learned a lot.

    2. Imaginary Number*


      I had one manager who you could calm down with a snickers bar (just like in the commercial, I’m serious.) To the point that me and the rest of the staff kept candy dishes on our desks just so we could offer her one if it ever looked like she was getting riled about something.

      I had another manager who could be appeased by phrasing everything in terms of asking for mentorship. I could walk into her office with her acting like I’d done something unforgivable (which happened about three times a week, give or take) and walk out with her heaping praise on me. All I had to do was act like I didn’t quite understand what she was mad about and could really use some MENTORSHIP (key word required to make it work) on how to do better in the future.

      1. Kelly L.*

        LOL, I love the mentorship quirk. I’m remembering the LW a while back whose co-worker called everything “professional development.”

      2. Kyrielle*

        I once worked with a QA engineer who got very snappish when stressed (fine under normal to moderate stress, but cross a certain line and – very snappish). And who liked chocolate, especially dark chocolate.

        Right around the time a release was wrapping up, a pound or two of mixed Hershey’s chocolates would go into the QA lab, and a few special dark were pulled out and left on this person’s desk if it was a really bad release cycle.

    3. Wren*

      Hahaha… This is not unlike how I have recently discovered how disarming it is if I seat myself in my husband’s lap before I tell him how wrong he’s being.

  3. Venus Supreme*

    OP, you are so fricken’ cool. I love how much confidence you had in this whole situation. I definitely admire you! Kudos on standing your ground and fighting like a boss.

    1. Anonymoose*

      + 1 Me too. I hope that if I’m ever in that situation that I could think just as quickly with such awesome CYA points like the OP. Very impressive!

  4. Pineapple Incident*

    I love that you did this so well! Your commitment to sticking your ground is definitely what made the difference in this whole thing. Congratulations on finding the rhythm to making this work, for now.

  5. Crazy Dog Lady*

    I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with all of this, but think that you’re awesome for sticking up for yourself.

  6. Anon This Time*

    I think what damaged your relationship with your supervisor was Niles yelling at him for being an idiot. I wouldn’t assume that your supervisor speaks for Niles because you’ve caught him lying about it twice so far. Once with the story about this switch being 100% Niles idea, and then again when he told you your relationship with Niles was damaged. When you know for a fact that Niles doesn’t wish a personal relationship and is clearly OK with you professionally.

    I may be projecting a bit, because I’ve been in a similar situation. My grandboss shut the whole thing down when he found out that my boss hadn’t even talked to me about it, and told the grandboss that it was something I wanted. Ugh.

    1. Artemesia*

      This feels likely to me. I also think stepping up immediately with the EEOC comment particularly in the way the OP phrased that noting that it looked like providing experience for a junior male employee at the expense of a more senior woman was smart. Sometimes a pre-emptive mention of a threat like this is more powerful than waiting to use it only when the situation comes to a head.

      And it isn’t clear where the boss and where Niles really were on this.

      1. CM*

        I agree. I was surprised at the resounding consensus that mentioning the EEOC was out of line. I think she absolutely did the right thing. Sometimes you need to be a little aggressive. I love this line: “choose your battles wisely but, when necessary, fight those battles.”

        1. Anonymoose*

          I too didn’t understand why everybody thought that was a bad move. I think it really comes down to how it’s applied. Saying it with mirth in a threatening manner? Totally overplaying the EEOC comment. But using it in a ‘seeking to understand’ manner is much less combative and seems to do the trick.

          And dear lord these dudes are idiots. I’d be interested to learn if they have had other ladies in similar ‘ick’ situations with Niles and Supervisor…this level of idiot tends to be applied with broad strokes.

      2. Annie Moose*

        Y’know, at first I thought the EEOC comment was a bit excessive, but the more I think about it, I don’t mind it so much anymore. If LW’s bosses had been reasonable, that would’ve been the place to explain their reasoning and work out some kind of compromise for cross-training or whatever (which LW tried to do, but they refused!), or to take a step back and consider whether or not they should do it in the first place. But their reaction only showed that even if sexism wasn’t part of the decision, it still certainly wasn’t on-the-level.

        1. Artemesia*

          If she had waited till the dinner it would have been a fait acompli and the odds they would have backed down were pretty much zero — at that point EEOC would have been a pointless remark unless she planned to actually get a lawyer and go all the way. The situation is ambiguous enough that I doubt it would have gone anywhere and she would have totally fried herself in that organization — and made it hard to be hired elsewhere. She would have been the litigious chick who cries discrimination. And yet it was clearly a sexist move and the EEOC comment derailed the railroading for the win.

  7. Gene*

    I only have one minor addition to the OP’s advice at the end.

    If I have any advise for anyone else it is this: choose your battles wisely but, when necessary, fight those battles.

    Add “to win” at the end. I seldom pick a battle to fight unless I’m willing to fight to win. Sometimes sparring for sport can be fun, but if it’s important enough to really fight for, go for the win – no prisoners. But make sure you’re willing to take the loss if it goes that way.

    1. Damn it, Hardison!*

      Put another way, if you come at the king you best not miss. (Because I can’t pass up an opportunity to use that phrase).

    1. spocklady*

      Agreed! Well done, and I hope something else comes up soon so you can get out of that workplace of bees. I’ll keep on rooting for you!

  8. Annie*

    I don’t the EEOC is fair,,, I file a discrimination complaint,,, on how I was treated on my job of 15 years. I was written up 3 times in a week. First of all I never been written up. My director and manager harass and given me a very uncomfortably work environment…. They kept harassment me,,,unless I was force to retire early. I received half if my pension,,, and cannot get any unemployment benefits. I only had 4 years to retire. But I force to leave early,,, but EEOC,,, said that is not discrimination. If that is not age discrimination,,, then what is?

      1. Annie*

        I was accused of giving out another employee information,,,, I tried to explain to the both of them,,,my director and manager that I didn’t,,, give out the information,,, they still accuse me of that,,, and wrote me up,,,they look me in my face and said. ,I did. I have work for the hospital for 15 years. So therefore I know not to give out,,, private information,,, which is hippa violation,,,, which also means the grounds of termination. I do not feel,,,, that I was treated fair..

    1. Candi*

      Details are necessary to figure out what is going on, as well as dividing the situation into the different segments that may have different solutions. Maybe you could send it in as its own letter.

      My first thought is also maybe a bad (lazy, careless, minimal input, etc.) employee took your report. Private and public, government and business, union or non-represented, religious and secular -you can find poor employees everywhere. I’ve personally stepped back and pitched to other workers a few times rather then continue to engage with someone who was not doing the very basic of their job description (usually on the phone*).

      *(Another reason I prefer email -digital paper trails.)

  9. Zip Silver*

    Actually now that you mention the possible divesting of Fergus’s department, it kind of makes sense why they didn’t mention it outright, even though they were dumb about how they approached you.

    If you’re publicly traded, then they may have not been able to tell you the real reason for why they wanted to make a case for keeping Fergus before the company announced the sale. I know my higher ups get weird about certain topics every so often.

      1. Artemesia*

        Yes they certainly were. I once observed chair shuffling before a merger where people put themselves in spots they knew would not be cut and moved people better than them into spots they new would be cut. The merger involved cutting departments and several people managed to land themselves in spots in departments that were not cut because they knew and had the authority to make those changes. One guy put himself essentially in a life raft while throwing his own mentor overboard. The mentor had previously been in that position.

      2. dppb*

        RIGHT!? It really looks like the professional development they had planned for her was moving her into a position that has a high likelihood of getting re-homed at best or completely cut. Jerks. I hope OP finds a new, higher-paying gig and a week after, the business decides to divest Bad Supervisor’s unit instead.

  10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    **slow clap**

    OP, will you be my Patronus? Because you have seriously been #winning every piece of nonsense thrown your way, and you’ve done it with professionalism and grace. (I’m being entirely sincere—I’m really impressed/inspired.)

  11. Matt Warden*

    > I do not regret making the EEOC comment

    Because… why? Other than being stubborn or telling yourself you’re on the moral high ground, I see no reason to lack regret. Results from threatening to sue your employer (which is what you did) were all negative. The situation may have been unfair, but sexism is quite a charge to leap to without any evidence. If it wasn’t sexism, then your employer should rightly view you as a liability and dismiss you as soon as it’s safe to do so.

    1. Mrs__Peel*

      Sexism was a very reasonable assumption, given the situation. And, if you read the OP’s follow-up comment about being told to “make yourself more vulnerable” at work, it becomes even more clear. They thought they could get away with it because she was a woman and (in their minds) less likely to stand up to them.

      1. Matt Warden*

        “Assumption”. And then you go on to further speculate that they thought they’d get away with it because she is a woman, based on no evidence. You and the OP throw around charges of sexism carelessly.

    2. GG Two shoes*

      Wow. I really like how you say that she was making some leaps without evidence then go ahead and do the same by sayings shes a liability and fire her.

      We only know what she told us but based on the circumstances, it isn’t crazy to think sexism may have played a part. By the way, your defensiveness is quite telling, Matt.

  12. Lalitah*

    I am REALLY PROUD of the OP. She took a risk – a big one in a nepotistic environment but the risk paid off. And I think she taught the people there to be careful with cheating an employee of her experience for the convenience of another “favorite.” I don’t think people see the real harm that does to the former and that you’re only making the second be an illegitimate, incompetent nincompoop in front of everybody else (“oh, he got the job because of his buddy.”).

  13. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    Agreed. Niles probably got myopic on wanting to save Fergus and didn’t even think about how this would impact the OP or how it might be perceived. It might not have been sexism or ageism that caused him to want to switch OP and Fergus in this scenario, but he definitely was putting the OP on the chopping block to save someone else.

    1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      This was supposed to be nested under Zip Silver’s comment above, in reply to CM.

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