Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Dickensian Ordeal

Sometimes we act, go in and out, do this and that, and everything is easy, casual, and unforced; seemingly it could all be done differently. And sometimes, other times, nothing could be done differently, nothing is unforced and easy, and every breath we take is controlled by some outside power and heavy with fate.

What we call the good deeds of our lives, the ones we find easy to tell about, are almost all of that first, easy kind, and we easily forget them. Other acts, which we find hard to talk about, we never forget; they seem to be more ours than others, and they cast long shadows over all the days of our lives.

Until October 1991, I worked as a paralegal at a large Washington, DC law firm. In late October I took it upon myself to complain to the firm's managers that I was a victim of job harassment carried out by my coworkers. Following a perfunctory investigation, the employer decided to terminate my employment. The employer alleged that it had concluded, in consultation with a psychiatrist, that I suffered from a delusional mental disorder that might be associated with a risk of violence. The reasons for the termination were clearly fabricated by the employer, a convenient sham concocted to provide some legal basis to an otherwise baseless action.

My performance evaluations during my three-and-one-half years of employment were outstanding. My ability to work with others was rated at least average or above-average; one of my evaluations described me as a "team player."

I spoke by telephone with the psychiatrist who, the employer alleged, had advised that I suffered from mental illness. She denied ever talking to the employer, and said, further, that she would never offer a professional opinion about someone she had not seen in private consultation.

I vowed to fight the job termination, and that decision still casts a shadow over all the days of my life. Perhaps I should have forgotten about my unhappy experience at the firm and moved on with my life. Perhaps I should have put all my energies into finding alternative employment. I didn't. I took legal action against the employer, convinced that the facts and the law were on my side. I was sure that ultimately I would prevail and that my employment would be reinstated. It was a decision that was heavy with fate.

For the next seven years, my case was stalled in the District of Columbia Court system. I had originally filed a lawsuit in 1993 in the Court of Appeals. That case was dismissed a year later for lack of jurisdiction. Eventually, I filed the case in the Superior Court. I lost. I appealed again to the Court of Appeals, and finally, in September 1998--after seven long, Dickensian years involving numerous procedural maneuvers worthy of the fictional Jarndyce and Jarndyce (you are familiar with Bleak House, my friends?), I lost the case that itself had been lost in endless litigation.

I had squandered seven years of my life, which I now find difficult to talk about: seven bleak years that I will never forget or retrieve.

In 1993 I was awarded disability benefits by the U.S. Social Security Administration, which, for the last thirteen years has been the source of my income. I have been unemployed for more than fourteen years. Finding another job now, at age fifty-two, will be difficult. In late 1991 I bargained with my future and I lost. Yet seemingly, at the time, I felt as if I could not do things differently; it was as if every breath I took was controlled by some outside power over which I had no influence.

It is only now, after the battle has long been lost that I see that I made poor decisions, and that my life would have been markedly different today had I allowed myself, years earlier, to consider other available options, options that I did not pursue.


Gary Freedman said...

Shiv, -- I'm glad you saw the humor in my last post.

Evydense said...

Gary, it is now evening and I'm reading your post for the first time. Two things strike me; I'm intrigued by the uncanniness of the timing between our two postings today, and I now understand more fully the motivation behind the comments you left on my site.

These will be hollow words, I'm sure, but for what's it's worth, I believe you did the right thing to stand up for yourself. As an outsider looking in, I don't think that the 'legal system' makes correct choices, they make choices of law and individual judgements. In my mind, there is a huge difference, and one well worth making.

After all, every single court case exists in the first place because two or more parties disagree on what is 'right'; and they end the same way.

Courts and judges and lawyers don't decide 'rightness' and 'wrongness', they manage a society.

thoughtlines said...

P.S. Having seen that you wrote 'yourself' a comment here, I clicked on yesterday's comment to see what you were talking about. I then clicked on the "Shiv' link, which of course took me to his profile.

I direct your attention to his random question, "If mud is dirt plus water, what is clay?", and this one at my site as well as the entry I wrote there today.

Are you saying "Holy shivers, batman!" too?!!

Thoughtlines said...

Sorry to keep messing up your site like this, but I was signed on as Evydense when I posted that last note, so it didn't create the proper link.


This one should do it.