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General News    H3'ed 9/9/09

Would a University Fire Employees to Cover Its Own Ass?

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Author 13717
Message Roger Shuler
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Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
My former employer, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), recently laid off seven employees in its communications group, formally known as Public Relations and Marketing.

That happens to be the area where I used to work. At the risk of sounding self-obsessed, I think these layoffs raise a question that is worth pondering: Are they connected to my unlawful termination?

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To some, that might sound like a ridiculous question. But if you understand the nature of employment lawsuits--and if you grasp just how grossly UAB violated federal law in my case--you see that the question might not be so ridiculous after all.

This takes some "splainin," but I hope you will follow me for a Schnauzer "teachable moment" in employment law.

UAB Public Relations and Marketing includes five groups--Media Relations, Creative & Marketing, Web Communications, UAB Reporter (the faculty and staff newspaper), and Periodicals. I worked all of my 19 years under this umbrella, seven with the UAB Reporter and 12 with Periodicals.

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Everyone in the department answers to associate vice president Dale Turnbough, who I fondly remember as the person who signed my termination letter.

Highly placed sources tell Legal Schnauzer that three of the folks laid off--Doug Gillett, Cindy Cardwell, and Claire Burgess--were from Periodicals. Claire was hired after my firing, so I never met her. But I worked closely with Doug and Cindy for five or six years and consider them to be wonderful people and coworkers. UAB's loss is definitely going to be someone else's gain when it comes to Doug and Cindy. This might not help in their job searches, but I would give both of them glowing recommendations if I had the opportunity--the Legal Schnauzer "seal of approval," if you will.

As for the others laid off, there were two each in Media Relations (Deb Lucas and an administrative assistant I didn't know) and two in Creative & Marketing (Martha Bruce and Mike Turner).

Now, let's analyze this situation: It's clear that UAB and all other state entities are struggling in the Bush recession. UAB announced in early June that it was eliminating 245 jobs in its Health System.

So a story about more layoffs at UAB might not seem like a shock. But the Birmingham Business Journal article about the communications layoffs does not mention lost jobs anywhere else on campus.

And let's consider the scope of these layoffs in Public Relations and Marketing. If my memory is correct, the group has about 50 to 60 employees. The recent layoffs represent a staff reduction of more than 10 percent.

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I'm sure other UAB departments have tightened their belts in various ways. But 10-percent staff cuts around the campus? If that was going on, I think it would be reported in the mainstream press.

So why the big hit in Public Relations and Marketing? And why was Periodicals, my old group, hit particularly hard. When I was unlawfully terminated on May 18, 2008, the group had 11 employees. According to its current Web page, it has nine employees, but that hasn't been updated. After the layoffs, it's down to six.

That's almost a 50 percent staff reduction over a 15-month period of time. Heck, the place is falling apart without me!

Yes, the economy is rough, but I wonder how many other UAB offices of any size have seen that kind of staff reduction during the recession. My guess? Zero.

I worked at UAB for 19 years and never heard of a 50 percent staff reduction in an office that wasn't on its way to totally being phased out. (With the critical role Periodicals plays in fund-raising and alumni support, which becomes even more important in tough economic times, it's hard to believe the office is being phased out.)

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)
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