Once we got past the sheer audacity of Gregory Harrison's actions, we were struck by this part of the story: School officials initially did not plan to discipline Harrison.
Why did that strike a nerve? Like Harrison, I used to work in public education in Alabama. And like Harrison, I engaged in what could be called political speech. But unlike Harrison, I was supportive of progressive ideas, as espoused by folks like Barack Obama. And unlike Harrison, I was summarily fired, with zero cause.
So perhaps the real shocker here is not Gregory Harrison and his wrongheaded teaching techniques. It's the blatant double standard applied to alleged political speech in Alabama public education. And my guess is that Alabama hardly is alone in employing such a double standard.
Longtime readers of Legal Schnauzer know my employment nightmare. In fact, yesterday marked the two-year "anniversary" of my unlawful termination at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
I had worked 19 years in various editorial positions at UAB when I was canned on May 19, 2008. I had received good to excellent performance reviews throughout that time and had no disciplinary record under UAB policy. But I had spoken out on this blog in what could be called a progressive manner--writing critically about corruption in the Bush Justice Department--and soon a 30-year career as a professional journalist was in tatters.
In a termination letter, UAB gave vague reasons for my firing, saying I had violated university policies--without saying what those policies were. The general allegation seemed to be that I had engaged in excessive "non-work related activity" (NWR) and misused my university computer.
Apparently I was not alone in finding the allegations vague and thin. The university committee that heard my grievance ruled that I should not have been fired. UAB's chief human resources officer, however, said I could not return to work unless: (1) I accepted two written warnings in my file; (2) I accepted another, unspecified job--in an unspecified department, with an unspecified supervisor; (3) I agreed to quit blogging.
Even in Karl Rove's Alabama--this was June 2008--I found No. 3 to be a jaw-dropper. HR chief Cheryl E.H. Locke did not put any of the three provisos in writing, so I said I needed a week to think about it and e-mailed her to confirm what I had heard.
Locke agreed that I'd heard Nos. 1 and 2 correctly, but on No. 3, she said she meant that I could no longer blog at work. I then reminded her that a UAB information-technology expert named Sean Maher testified in my grievance hearing that he had been asked to monitor my computer usage in real time and found that I never wrote the first letter of my blog on university time or equipment.
Locke apparently had no answer for that because she did not respond. When we met again, I informed her that I was not accepting her offer. I noted that, under UAB policy, an employee who receives three written warnings in an 18-month period of time is automatically fired. I further noted that I had sat through the entire four-hour grievance hearing, and no evidence was presented to indicate that I should have been disciplined at all--much less receive termination or written warnings.
"Your offer seems like a bad-faith attempt to get me to come back, sign away my rights to the wrongs I've experienced, and then fire me all over again," I told Locke. To her credit, she didn't deny it. "Well, if you get a third written warning, that will be up to your new supervisor."
This came after Locke had told me that she and her staff were deeply committed to making sure I had a successful future at UAB. I would later discover that Locke almost certainly was planning her exit from the university when she spoke those words. She now holds an HR job at Wake Forest University.
The bottom line? Locke went against the findings of her own committee and upheld my termination. When I appealed to President Carol Garrison, she did the same thing.
I've now been unemployed for two years--in the worst economy since the Great Depression.
Let's do a brief comparison of Gregory Harrison's behavior and my behavior: