Pages 43-48 of Social Security Document Submission
FAX NO. 609 235 5569 MEREDITH FINANCIAL SERVICES
transmittal for Mrs. Estelle Jacobson c/o Mr. Edward Jacobson
[On Friday evening September 25, 1992 I spoke with my sister by telephone. Her tone was aggressive and accusatory. She wanted to know what I told Dennis Race at Akin Gump before I was fired. I thought her tone and questions were peculiar. Why on earth would my sister be so concerned about the details of my job termination, a termination that took place the previous October. When I spoke of Dennis Race she consistently took his side, as if she were acting as Devil's advocate.
My sister said that Dennis Race must have thought I had mental problems; that he must have thought I was mentally disturbed. As I recounted incidents of harassment to my sister she kept repeating the phrase --“was that just your perception?” Keep in mind that in late September 1992, I did not yet know that I was terminated for mental health reasons. I was not told at the termination in October 1991 that I was being terminated for mental health reasons; I did not learn of the firm’s justification for the termination until late December 1992, when I received a copy of Akin Gump’s Response to Interrogatories from the D.C. Department of Human Rights (DOHR). I told my sister that I would fax her a list of the incidents I spoke with Dennis Race and Malcolm Lassman about in late October 1991. My sister never said why she wanted this information and I didn't ask. I assumed that Earl Segal (who was not present at the meeting at which I lodged my complete harassment complaint) wanted to know what precisely I told Dennis Race and Malcolm Lassman about the harassment.
Keep in mind the following chronology:
October 23, 1991: I speak with Earl Segal alone in his office about job harassment. I request a private office and reassignment to the Legal Assistant program.
October 24, 1991: I describe incidents of harassment to Malcolm Lassman and Dennis Race. I describe one incident concerning paralegal Stacey Schaar and three incidents concerning my supervisor Chris Robertson;
October 29, 1991: Dennis Race terminates my employment, but does not advise me that I am being terminated for mental health reasons. Akin Gump's termination chart filed with DOHR lists the following three individuals as decisionmakers in my termination: Dennis Race, Laurel Digweed, and Chris Robertson;
February 4, 1992: DOHR files an unlawful job termination complaint against Akin Gump;
April 1992: Akin Gump’s Personnel Administrator Laurel Digweed fires African-American employee Pat McNeill, one of my coworkers in the Litigation Support Department, whose direct supervisor was Chris Robertson, a known racist. In a Title VII action later filed by Pat McNeil in U.S. District Court, Pat McNeil alleges (and Akin Gump denies) that Laurel Digweed and Chris Robertson colluded in the termination of McNeill because of her race;
May 22, 1992: Dennis Race files Akin Gump’s Response to Interrogatories and Document Request in response to DOHR’s complaint. Dennis Race lists 6 incidents of harassment, omitting the one incident concerning paralegal Stacey Schaar and the three incidents concerning my supervisor Chris Robertson (a known racist);
September 1992: I undergo a psychiatric assessment at The George Washington University Medical Center, conducted by Napoleon Cuenco, M.D., who diagnoses bipolar disorder;
September 25, 1992: My sister asks me to fax her a list of the incidents I told Dennis Race and Malcolm Lassman about. My list includes the incident concerning Stacey Schaar and the three incidents concerning my supervisor Chris Robertson. As of September 1992 I would have not known that Akin Gump had omitted in its pleadings (filed with DOHR on May 22, 1992) any reference to Stacey Schaar or Chris Robertson;
December 23, 1992: I receive via certified mail from DOHR a copy of Akin Gump’s Response to Interrogatories and Document Request. I learn for the first time that I was terminated for mental health reasons. I learn for the first time that Akin Gump omitted evidence of harassment by Stacey Schaar (who was terminated for gross misconduct in May 1990) and evidence of harassment by my supervisor Chris Robertson (a known racist): a material actor in a Title VII lawsuit filed by African-American coworker Pat McNeill;
April 1993: I apply for Social Security Disability benefits. I provide Social Security a copy of Akin Gump's pleadings filed with DOHR alleging I was terminated, effective October 29, 1991, for mental health reasons;
August 1993: Social Security approves my application for disability benefits, finding that I became disabled and not fit for employment effective October 29, 1991, the date of Akin Gump's termination.]
Attached is a list of the incidents that I spoke to Malcolm Lassman and Dennis Race about on Thursday October 24, 1991. The chronology is as follows. On Wednesday afternoon I spoke with Earl Segal about a few instances of harassment specifically the one about the baby food jar and the one about Katherine Harkness. I asked Mr. Segal if I could be moved out of the terrace level. I also asked Mr. Segal if the firm would consider my being reassigned to the legal assistant group. That’s all I talked about. He seemed receptive and sympathetic, and did not question in any manner the interpretation I placed on the incidents. The very next morning when I arrived at work I saw that Dennis Race had left me a telephone message. I telephoned Mr. Race; he asked me to stop up to his office. This was Thursday morning, October 24, 1991. When I got to Mr. Race’s office, Mr. Lassman was also there. I had not asked for this meeting. The meeting was not called on my initiative. But for Dennis Race’s own request for a discussion of the incidents, I might still be working. I was not prepared to discuss in detail and in a convincing way a course of harassment that had gone on for three and one-half years--a harassment that was very subtle and insidious; a harassment that might take experts to substantiate. Mr. Lassman explained that he knew I had spoken to Earl Segal the previous afternoon and he said that he and Dennis Race wanted to hear about the harassment directly from me. I had a conscious feeling of being unprepared for this. I kept thinking, “if only you guys had given me some notice, I would have prepared something--maybe a written statement that I could discuss with you.“ Both Mr. Race and Mr. Lassman seemed receptive and sympathetic to what I was saying, despite the fact that I knew what I was saying seemed a little crazy. I had no feeling whatsoever at that time that either Mr. Race or Mr. Lassman thought I was exaggerating, fabricating, had some ulterior motive, or had some animus against anyone. Mr. Race openly expressed skepticism about the significance of some of my anecdotes, but I had no feeling that he was thinking, “this guy’s in orbit. Gotta terminate him as soon as we can.”
That’s why I was so shocked when I was told that I was to be terminated. At the termination meeting [at about 11:30 AM on October 29, 1991], Mr. Race’s whole attitude toward me seemed to have changed. No longer receptive, he had a kind of stonewalling quality about him. I had the feeling others had convinced Mr. Race, “Get rid of him.” At the termination meeting I had the feeling that Dennis Race’s attitude about me had changed since we parted company the previous Thursday, October 24, 1991. I had the feeling that something must have happened after the meeting on October 24 at which I related the anecdotes--and that it was not simply that the anecdotes could not be verified. Any layman, let alone an attorney, would have concluded at the time he heard the anecdotes that they could not be verified, and even if they could, what would they have amounted to? Certainly, my supervisor would not admit putting a baby food jar in the trash can with the intent to harass. And even if she did admit putting the baby food jar in the trash can, she would state some innocuous reason for doing so. Dennis Race must have known that when I told him the anecdotes. He must have thought, “there’s nothing to investigate here.” It took Dennis Race two days to determine that I was a disturbed person?
I have to conclude that it was not the anecdotes themselves that led Dennis Race to conclude that I was too disturbed to remain at Akin Gump. I also have to conclude that it was not the fact that the anecdotes could not be substantiated that led him to believe I was too disturbed to remain at Akin Gump--he must have seen immediately that the anecdotes were of a nature that precluded substantiation or verification. My own theory is that he saw it was a very difficult situation and he took what he thought would be the easy, clean road. “Fire him without justification, see if we can get something on him at the termination, if not, he has no evidence to sue us.”
The following are the anecdotes I told Dennis Race and Malcolm Lassman on Thursday October 24, 1991.
1. On my second day on the job, on Friday, March 4, 1988, I introduced myself to a male employee outside whose office I was working at a secretary’s work station. I believe the employee was either a legal assistant or staff person, but not an attorney; I do not recall his name.
Shortly after I introduced myself, a group of employees (probably other legal assistants, secretaries, or staff persons--but not attorneys) gathered in the office adjacent to the work station at which I was working. They proceeded to engage in a lively and mildly-sexually suggestive discussion about the size of the male employee’s chest, whether it was hairy or not, etc. The discussion continued for about two minutes.
2. While walking down a hallway on the second floor, around May 1988, attorney Paul Wageman, who was walking toward me, began to hold a pencil next to his genital area and proceeded to move the pencil up and down next to his genital area.
(I demonstrated this incident for Mr. Race, showing Mr. Race how Paul Wageman was manipulating the pencil as he was walking. Mr. Race asked me if Paul Wageman maintained eye contact during the interaction. I told Mr. Race that he did maintain eye contact.)
3. In mid-June 1988, shortly after being hired as a firm temporary employee, I was assigned a private office on the fifth floor. On the first morning in that office space, as I was getting a cup of coffee in an adjacent kitchen area, an attorney, whom I later learned was named David Hardee, said to me, “I smell something sweet in here. Do you smell something sweet in here?” I said, “No.” He repeated, “I smell something sweet in here.”
(Mr. Race may have asked me why I ascribed a homosexual meaning to David Hardee’s statement.)
4. Shortly after I was moved to the sixth floor office space shared with Stacey Schaar and Gwen Lesh, on March 20, 1989, there began repeated references, especially by Ms. Schaar, to my friendship with Craig Dye, with whom I had worked at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson. The references centered on a supposedly homosexual interest I had in Craig.
5. On a Friday in early spring 1990 (possibly Match 30, 1990), Ms. Constance Brown advised me that since there was little work to be done on Eastern, she had arranged that I meet with the administrator of litigation support, Ms. Chris Robertson on Monday morning (possibly April 2, 1990) and that Chris would provide me with work. On Monday morning, shortly after 9:00 AM, I reported to litigation support, which was housed on the terrace level of the building, and met with Chris for about 15 to 20 minutes. Chris provided instruction on a particular task that I was to do for MCA. This was my first contact with Chris Robertson in the relation of employee to supervisor; up until this time I had worked predominantly for Ms. Constance Brown on Eastern. This was also the first time that I was to work in the terrace level office. At the conclusion of my conversation with Chris, she led me from her office to a work station where I was to perform the assigned task. Upon spotting the work station, Chris said to me, “You can sit here.” This was at approximately 9:30 AM. After sitting down at the desk I looked into the trash basket next to the desk. The trash basket was empty except for a baby food jar. The baby food jar had been wiped clean before being placed in the trash basket, consistent with the jar having been brought from home by someone for the express purpose of placing it in the trash basket with the intent to harass. Note that the epithet “baby” is stereotypically anti-Semitic.
(The baby food jar, in itself, meant absolutely nothing. What struck me, in retrospect, that it was part of a plan to harass was that this was the first time I was working in the terrace level (compare my “sweet” interaction with David Hardee on my first morning on the fifth floor [paragraph 3]); there were news reports that Eastern was facing liquidation (compare Chris’ possible attempt to provoke me when there were rumors of legal assistant layoffs [paragraph 9]); Greg Courtney and Lutheria Harrison engaged in a lively conversation about homosexuals adjacent to my desk; call me crazy but I was somewhat suspicious about the vague Jewish overtones of Chris and Greg Courtney walking past my desk and talking in a kind of histrionic way about lentil soup
(compare the last anecdote [paragraph 11] about Greg Courtney and the story about the man with the skull cap following my complaint to Earl Segal). Most telling was Chris’ reaction to me the first thing the next morning when she first saw me. She had a look of utter shock on her face, as if she were thinking, “Hey, we harassed you to death yesterday, and you look great. You don’t seem upset at all. What gives?”)
6. Some time in April 1991, when the weather got warmer, I started to sit at DuPont Circle at lunch and read the newspaper or just relax. One afternoon upon my return to the office from lunch, after a day or so of my new springtime lunch routine at DuPont Circle, as I was seated at my desk, my supervisor, Chris Robertson, said in a loud tone of voice to another employee, “Are you wet?” Ms. Robertson’s comment could be interpreted as alluding to a state of sexual excitement.
(I believe that I told Mr. Race and Mr. Lassman about this incident, but I can’t specifically recall. When I told Margie Adams at DOHR about this incident, she said it was insubstantial evidence.)
7. Upon my returning to the office from lunch one afternoon, Chris Robertson offered me a piece of chocolate, with the peculiar statement, “Here, you look like you need some chocolate.” The statement could perhaps be interpreted as a reference to anal intercourse.
(Even I have to admit this sounds crazy, if you don’t know the surrounding facts.)
8. In about early August 1991 an employee, Ms. Lutheria Harrison, who sat at a desk adjacent to mine, was talking to another employee about her July telephone bill, emphasizing the word “July.” (The word “July” would be read as a homophone for the phrase “Jew lie.”) This seemingly meaningless incident assumed some small measure of significance about two days later when the same employee, while seated at her desk, stated in a markedly audible tone of voice the children’s rhyme, “liar, liar, pants on fire.” Then, on another occasion a brief time later, the same employee, upon entering Chris Robertson’s office to attend a weekly staff meeting sighed the Yiddish phrase, “Oy, veh!”
(I may be imagining things, but I had the impression that Malcolm Lassman seemed peculiarly interested in this anecdote, that he thought my interpretation of this was rather clever.)
9. On the afternoon of October 2, 1991 I met with legal assistant Katherine Harkness to review some work I had been doing under her direction. I was seated in front of her desk. Kathy was in back of her desk, but leaning over it, supporting her torso with her elbows. As she was reviewing the work she proceeded in a continuous motion to gyrate her hips and rub her pelvic region against the desk in a sexually suggestive manner while simultaneously expressing her work-related comments in the form of double-entendres. This lasted for about two to four minutes.
(When I told Franklin Jones at the EEOC about this incident he seemed to think it was harassing conduct and did not ask, “was that just your perception?” When I told Dennis Race and Malcolm Lassman about this incident I added that it was my perception that the incident had Chris Robertson’s signature or “M.O.” Oftentimes before a course of harassing conduct, Chris used to try to make me feel indispensable in some way, by complimenting my work, for example. The harassing interaction would then start in full force. I had the feeling that by making me feel indispensable first, she was trying to make me feel as if I was free to become enraged. It was as if she were saying, “Well, you’re indispensable. If you feel like you having a temper tantrum, have one. You won’t get in trouble.” Before Katherine Harkness started her routine, she first complimented my work just like Chris Robertson always did. (I’d like to add this. It’s something that I never mentioned before. On Friday April 5, 1991, Chris Robertson called me to her office to tell me that she was moving me from the ninth floor down to the terrace level, effective Monday April 8. When I arrived at her office, before I knew why I had been called there, she was engaged in a heated discussion--almost an argument--with legal assistant David Berkowitz. He kept stating his points forcefully and contradicting her point of view. He left, and Chris told me that my office was to be moved. I had the paranoid feeling that the interaction with David Berkowitz had been staged: that she was letting me know, “Listen, Gary, I know you don’t want to move. I know you’ll be angry. Be free to express your anger as forcefully as you want. Look at David, here. He’s plenty angry with me, and he’s expressing it. No need to feel that you’ll get in any trouble by having a tantrum with me.” It was that afternoon that Malcolm Lassman spoke at a legal assistant meeting to respond to rumors that the firm planned to lay off some legal assistants as a result of the recession. Also, I can recount other suspicious interactions involving Chris Robertson and David Berkowitz.)
10. Sometime in 1990, while riding alone in an elevator with attorney, David Eisenstat, Mr. Eisenstat began to pace back and forth and whistle, all the while glancing at me.
(Mr. Race asked me what made me think that David Eisenstat’s behavior was aimed at me. Mr. Race said that David Eisenstat is an “intense guy.”
11. On the afternoon of October 23, 1991, I spoke with Earl Segal about certain instances of harassment After returning to the terrace level, while I was working at a desk, Greg Courtney passed by the desk and was telling a coworker a story about a man with a black skull cap.
The thing about the harassment is that each of the incidents, viewed alone, don’t amount to anything. But taken as a whole, you begin to see how they connect or follow a pattern. This type of harassment can’t be unique. Somewhere, in other organizations, other people must have experienced harassment like this. It must be documented somewhere. There must be an expert who could read this material and say, “Yes. He was being harassed. This follows a typical pattern.”
Take my termination meeting on October 29, 1991. It looked like a willy-nilly set of circumstances. Yet, I have uncovered a pattern in it. Dennis Race’s behavior fits quite closely a pattern of abuse repeatedly experienced by the British writer, Rudyard Kipling, as a child. See Shengold, L. Soul Murder, at 244-245 (Yale University Press: 1989). You would never suspect, simply by reviewing the facts of the termination meeting, that it followed any kind of “typical pattern” at all.
Kipling describes a course of behavior in which he was (1) cross-examined (2) at bedtime so that he would offer up (3) incriminating statements. The cross-examination was followed by (4) humiliation. There was also the granting of (5) sudden, or incongruous, favors.
Compare: I was (1) confronted with a barrage of false and fabricated accusations (2) just before lunchtime, apparently in an effort to evoke (3) incriminating statements. The barrage of false accusations was followed by (4) humiliation. There was later the granting of (5) sudden and incongruous favors (Dennis Race telling me that I was a “talented guy,” telling me that whenever he passed by my desk he saw me hard at work, [his act of] carrying a box for me [from his office to my temporary office on the fourth floor].)
This whole thing boils down to one question. Does an employee have a right to go to a manager and say: “I feel I’m being harassed. These are a few of the things that I feel have been harassing interactions. Maybe they were harassment, maybe not. But I’d appreciate it if you would consider moving me to another part of the building, or reassigning me to another department. If you can’t, fine. I’ll stay where I am.” Shouldn’t an employee be permitted to say those words to a manager without it leading to his termination? What are the circumstances in which these words might lead to a termination?
It must be that management concluded that it was likely I was being harassed by Christine Robertson. They felt they couldn’t do anything about it. But they couldn’t just forget about the issue and put everything back status quo ante, as if I had never complained. They couldn’t allow me to continue working for Christine Robertson, because they believed she was in fact harassing me and my complaint of harassment put management on notice that she was harassing me. Following my complaint of harassment, the firm would be fully responsible for any of her actions. Management probably feared: “We don’t know what she’s liable to do and we don’t know what he may be able to prove. And his complaint of harassment put us on legal notice.” I couldn’t work in the legal assistant group because I was “difficult to work with.” So, they had to let me go.
[handwritten note:] 9/26/92