Stories & Grievances
Whistleblowing Schools and Businesses is Dangerous: The Story of Carrie Clark
Carrie Clark, a teacher with ethics, has been permanently injured for being a whistleblower
Carrie Clark, a NAPTA member from California, who is distinguished as actually having won part of her case against her school, and because she has such a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - the reason she won - was interviewed by Katie Ernst of NBC regarding workplace abuse.
Workplace abuse inside our nation's businesses and inside our nation's schools is rampant, as this website parentadvocates.org and other websites such as endteacherabuse.info reveal. The processes are the same, as are many of the consequences: financial, physical and mental destruction of the 'victim'as well as his/her family. The attacks are relentless, illegal, personal, and ruthless, all because one human being decided to do the Right Thing (speak out and whistleblow injustice and/or corruption). We must continue to report these stories with all their gory details, as someday the voting public will end the cycle such as that described below.
June 22, 2004
Fear in the Workplace: The Bullying Boss
By BENEDICT CAREY, NY TIMES
Every working adult has known one - a boss who loves making subordinates squirm, whose moods radiate through the office, sending workers scurrying for cover, whose very voice causes stomach muscles to clench and pulses to quicken.
It is not long before dissatisfaction spreads, rivalries simmer, sycophants flourish. Normally self-confident professionals can dissolve into quivering bundles of neuroses.
"It got to where I was twitching, literally, on the way into work," said Carrie Clark, 52, a former teacher and school administrator in Sacramento, Calif., who said her boss of several years ago baited and insulted her for 10 months before she left the job. "I had to take care of my health."
Researchers have long been interested in the bullies of the playground, exploring what drives them and what effects they have on their victims. Only recently have investigators turned their attention to the bullies of the workplace.
Around the country, psychologists who study the dynamics of groups and organizations are discovering why cruel bosses thrive, how employees end up covering for managers they despise and under what conditions workers are most likely to confront and expose a bullying boss.
Next week, researchers and policy makers from many nations will convene in Bergen, Norway, to discuss the issue.
"What we're finding," said Dr. Calvin Morrill of the University of California at Irvine, who studies corporate culture, "is that some of the behaviors that we think most protect us are what in fact allow the behavior to continue. Workers become desensitized, tacitly complicit and don't always act rationally."
Bullying bosses, studies find, differ in significant ways from the Blutos of childhood. In the schoolyard, particularly among elementary school boys, bullies tend to pick on smaller or weaker children, often to assert control in an uncertain social environment in which they feel vulnerable.
But adult bullies in positions of power are already dominant, and they are just as likely to pick on a strong subordinate as a weak one, said Dr. Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute, an advocacy group based in Bellingham, Wash. Women, Dr. Namie said, are at least as likely as men to be the aggressors, and they are more likely to be targets.
In leadership positions that require the exercise of sheer violent will - on the football field or the battlefield - this approach can be successful: Consider Vince Lombardi and George Patton. But in an office or on a factory floor, different rules apply, and bullying usually has more to do with the boss's desires than with the employees' needs.
A manager might use bullying to swat down a threatening subordinate, for example, said Dr. Harvey A. Hornstein, a retired professor from Teachers College at Columbia University and the author of "Brutal Bosses and Their Prey." Or a manager might be looking for a scapegoat to carry the department, or the supervisor's, frustrations.
But most often, Dr. Hornstein found, managers bullied subordinates for the sheer pleasure of exercising power.
"It was a kind of low-grade sadism, that was the most common reason," he said. "They'd start on one person and then move on to someone else."
The mystifying thing about this pattern is that it does not appear to undercut productivity. Workers may loathe a bullying boss and hate going to work each morning, but they still perform. Researchers find little relationship between people's attitudes toward their jobs and their productivity, as measured by the output and even the quality of their work. Even in the most hostile work environment, conscientious people keep doing the work they are paid for.
At the same time, some employees withhold the unpaid extras that help an organization, like being courteous to customers, helping co-workers with problems or speaking well of the company. Yet this falloff in helpfulness and, indirectly, in performance is smaller than might be expected, because fear motivates different people differently, said Dr. Bennett Tepper, an organizational psychologist at the business school of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
In April, he reported the results from a study of 173 randomly chosen employees in a wide range of work. He found that in situations where bosses were abusive, some employees did little or nothing extra, while others did a lot, partly covering for less helpful peers.
"This is not what we expected," Dr. Tepper said. "And we speculate that one reason people keep doing extra in these abusive situations is to advance themselves at the expense of others. It makes them look good and the others look that much worse."
So tyrants spread misery, and from the outside it looks as if they are doing a fine job. It does not help matters, psychologists say, that people who enjoy abusing power frequently also revere it and are quick to offer that reverence to the even-more-powerful. Bullying bosses are often experts at "managing up."
Subordinates know viscerally the high cost of going around a boss, even if it is simply to file a complaint with the human resources department. You are trouble. You are a whiner. You have called out the manager behind his back.
One reason management researchers do not know how effective it is to take on a cruel boss directly is because so few employees do it.
For many people, run-ins with a supervisor stirs up old conflicts with parents, siblings or other larger-than-life figures from childhood. Dr. Mark Levey, a psychotherapist in Chicago who consults with corporations, said that nasty bosses often elicited from subordinates defensive habits that they first developed as children, like reflexive submission and explosive rage.
"Once these defensive positions lock in,'' Dr. Levey said, "it's like people are transported to a different reality and can no longer see what's actually happening to them and cannot adapt."
Emelise Aleandri, an actress and a producer in her 50's who lives in New York, said she was forced out of a producing position by a bullying boss, who replaced her with an underling.
"Some people were afraid to do anything,'' Ms. Aleandri said. "But others didn't mind what was happening at all, because they wanted my job."
Ambition, experts say, is the bully's most insidious deputy. Dr. Leigh Thompson, an organizational psychologist at Northwestern University, and Cameron P. Anderson, of the New York University business school, are studying the effects of varying management styles on the behavior of small groups.
In one simulation, business students gather in teams of three, acting out the parts of company managers meeting to divvy up resources. The students are randomly assigned to one of three roles, the top manager of a large company, a middle manager and a lower-ranking manager.
After the negotiations begin, the researchers find, the heavyweights quickly dominate and, with regular meetings, they also transform the behavior of the No. 2 managers.
"If the person in charge is high energy, aggressive, mean, the classic bully type,'' Dr. Thompson said, "then over time, that's the way the No. 2 person begins to act."
She added that this holds true no matter how low-key and compassionate the No. 2 person looks on personality tests outside the simulation. Working to please and impress a more powerful figure, the second-tier managers are temporarily transformed into carbon copies of the alpha dogs, and in the simulation, they tend to corner the money and cut out the lowest-level players.
It works the other way, as well. A top manager with a gentler nature softens the edges of more aggressive midlevel managers, Dr. Thompson said. The third player is entirely at the mercy of this dynamic.
In another study, Dr. Michelle Duffy, a psychologist in the University of Kentucky business school, is following 177 hospital workers. At the beginning of the study, the employees answered detailed questions about their work and relationships with managers. They also took a test of moral disengagement, a measure of people's sensitivity to others, for example, their views on the appropriateness of jokes, put-downs and coldness toward colleagues.
Six months later, the workers took the same test again. Those who worked for bosses they found intimidating had become less sensitive, according to a preliminary reading of the responses. Those who worked for managers whom they perceived as supportive or fair, Dr. Duffy said, scored the same or better.
"It looks like if there's a strong leader in the group, then that person's behavior is contagious," she said. And if that leader is nasty, "this moral disengagement spreads like a germ."
Psychologists who study obedience say subordinate status itself causes people to defer to a supervisor's judgment, especially in well-defined hierarchies. It's the boss's job to make decisions, after all, and co-workers may think there is some legitimate hidden reason for the boss's behavior.
Selfishly, too, workers who witness a boss humiliating a colleague are relieved that the sword has fallen elsewhere and are secretly pleased that they look more competent by comparison. In earlier work that involved interviews with 500 employees in Europe and the United States, Dr. Duffy found that workers were delighted to receive praise from a boss, but even more delighted when the praise was accompanied by news that another colleague is struggling.
This occupational schadenfreude is evident when employees observe a co-worker being bullied. After watching in silence, they then begin to resolve their guilt.
"They do this by wondering whether maybe the person deserved the treatment, that he or she has been annoying, or lazy, they did something to earn it," Dr. Duffy said.
The brutal behavior goes unchallenged, and the target feels a sudden chill of isolation that is all too real. By doing nothing, even people who abhor the bullying become complicit in the behavior and find themselves supplying reasons to justify it.
"The people in my office eventually started blaming me," said Sherry Hamby, 42, of Tulsa, Okla., an advocate of family mental health who said she was fired after repeated verbal abuse from a boss. "This was a man who insulted me, who insulted my family, who would lay into me while everyone else in the office just sat there and let it happen."
The most common form of resistance to a cruel manager remains the old-fashioned grousing session. Sharing the misery over lunch or a drink can makes everyone feel a little better and signal the first step in jointly responding to the abuse. Sociologists who study dissent within large organizations like factories and hospitals find that informal kvetching sessions may evolve into effective resistance when workers are united, well connected with others in the organization and trust the company's higher-ups to hear their case.
More often, though, grousing simply feeds on itself, sometimes devolving into elaborate self-contained gatherings in which the central activity is bad-mouthing and mimicking the boss, said Dr. Morrill of the University of California.
He and Dr. Corinne Bendersky, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, are studying 150 M.B.A.'s in human resources departments to determine which kinds of employees are most likely to file complaints against abusive bosses and under which circumstances.
"We hypothesize, based on a preliminary read of our data, that employees in tight-knit informal groups may ironically be less likely to think about confronting their bosses," Dr. Morrill wrote in an e-mail message. "Instead, they may retreat to their informal groups to let off steam."
It is those who are not part of a tight group, who feel truly desperate and in danger of losing their jobs, who appear most likely to speak up, he said. Most others learn to perform an elaborate dance, trying to preserve their status while being careful not to forfeit their sense of decency, all the while looking for an escape hatch.
One of the best strategies to manage a bully, Dr. Hornstein of Columbia has found in his research, is to watch for patterns in the tyrant's behavior. Maybe he is bad on Mondays, maybe a little better on Fridays. Maybe she is kinder before lunch than after. If the Mets lost the day before, it is not a good day to ask for anything. If some types of assignments spook the person more than others, avoid them, if possible.
When the nostrils quiver and the lip tightens, Dr. Hornstein said, all is not lost. Ignore the insulting tone of a boss's attack, he said, and respond only to the substance of the complaint. If it is a deadline problem, address that. For an attack on a particular skill, discuss ways to improve.
"Stick with the substance, not the process,'' he said, "and often it won't escalate."
CARRIE CLARK: THERE ARE TEACHERS TOO GENTLE
TO LIVE AMONG THE WOLVES
Carrie Clark's story exemplifies the tragedy of an unchecked system. The injuries she suffered in this demented environment are about as bad as it gets. We have heard of teachers hurt worse than Clark. They are dead now and can't tell their stories, but colleagues have reported cases where teachers suffered heart attacks as they desperately tried to win over their abusive superiors, thinking that if they did a little more, their principal wouldn't be so cruel. We are going to begin with the end of her story, since the beginning is so depressing, it is hard to get through it. At least knowing that she was one teacher who experienced some justice, we are encouraged. However, her rewards were far too small considering the harm inflicted upon her and the loss of her career. But the biggest harm was done to the children who won't have Clark for a teacher.
Labor Day, 2002
Dear Family, Friends and Supporters:
My seven-year legal battle against my employer finally reached a conclusion. I was awarded a settlement of $150,000 (US) with no "hush clause." My attorney was finally convinced that my Freedom of Speech was not for sale. I was punished on the job for telling the truth. The last thing I was willing to give up was my right to continue to speak about what I witnessed...discrimination of language minority students and misuse of federal funds in a public school.
The school superintendent who disabled me is a serial bully. I am not his only victim. I have met and spoken with several others from four school districts over these past years. Attempts to alert various authorities garnered little action that was reported to me. He simply shuffled down the road to yet another unsuspecting school district and then another. I feel certain that he has new targets at his present assignment. I don't believe he has the emotional capacity to do any better. Bullying targets is an addiction of those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I pray for the safety of new targets and promise support to any who approach me for help.
In ten months of working for a despot my 20-year career, my life, and my health were completely unraveled. I was targeted because I am ethical, outspoken, knowledgeable of school finance, and married to an accountant. I consider myself to be a whistleblower and I don't hold much hope for present public educational system in my country. For the National Education Association and the California Teachers' Association I hold considerable contempt and great shame. My union is a mange-infested tail that is wagging the biggest dog with the largest food dish.
When I left work in March of 1995, I was diagnosed as having Post-traumatic Stress Disorder with conversion to psychogenic myoclonus (involuntary contractions of voluntary muscles). I had no idea then that a diagnosis of PTSD from work trauma was so rare. Nor had I ever seen or heard of myoclonus. Under extreme stress I am spastic on my entire right side; under normal stress my face draws to the right; my speech vacillates among stutters, slurs, and tremor. I have been rubber stamped by the California State Teachers' Retirement System as permanently disabled and incapable of vocational rehabilitation. Sadly, I was a highly qualified and successful teacher finishing her training in policy studies. At times I am quite normal, then the slightest stimulus like a ringing phone can trigger me. I still battle excessive startle syndrome on a daily basis. But I am not quite as fearful of strangers and of bullying behaviors as I was in '95. On one hand I guess I'm getting better. On the other, I will never be the same...a common mantra of most of us who suffer trauma.
Despite all the bad that befell me for this cause, I have connected or reconnected with scores of wonderful, remarkable people. These include family members, students, fellow teachers, professors, former principals, neurologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, reporters, advocates, activists, secretaries, paralegals, and even a few lawyers! Your empathy, sympathy, and compassion are the glue I've been using to piece my life back together. Or should I say, "peace my life back together." I most humbly appreciate and thank you for your incredible support. It has restored my faith in humanity. Indeed, it kept me alive.
Carrie Clark, disabled teacher
CARRIE CLARK'S HORRIFIC JOURNEY IN OUR EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM
Clark sent us a long and short version of her story. We decided that if Clark had to live through this, and took the time to write it all out, we want those of you who really care about the real working conditions for teachers need to read every detail possible. Not only will you read about intimidating administrators, you will develop a sense of the nasty culture that abuse has spawned. Only then will you begin to develop a sense of urgency to support reform in any way you can whether it be telling friends about our site, wear our t shirt and let people know this is serious, or donate money to keep us going and support individual abused teachers.
For four years Carrie Clark coordinated a very successful program for language minority students within the only comprehensive high school of a public school district. During this time, a small clique of teachers targeted Carrie with minor, but continuous bullying because she had blown the whistle on two of them for discussing immigrant student identities on the proficiency test required for graduation. Carrie was well aware of this bullying, but let it roll off her back because she felt buffered by the school's administration. Though the administration acknowledged the clique's propensity to have several teacher-targets at all times, they took no action to stop or even to mediate the clique's collective, bullying behaviors. Unfortunately, the clique represented the teacher's union at Carrie's school site.
Well within the scope of Carrie's job description, she worked in a professional manner to expose policies and practices that created disparate hurdles for her district's immigrant students. In at least three mandatory reports, Carrie wrote about 32 issues that constituted covert institutionalized racism against the immigrant students. These issues made it difficult for Carrie's students to graduate and to matriculate to institutions of higher education. Because of Carrie's report writing, a taskforce was eventually created to address the issues Carrie continued to make known to district administration. Carrie also began doing home visits and making presentations to at least six different nationalities of immigrant parents, informing them of their rights and responsibilities with and for their children.
In addition to Carrie's assignment at the comprehensive high school, Carrie was also made responsible for record keeping of immigrant students at the district's continuation high school. Carrie did not learned about this extra responsibility until after accepting the job assignment. She found working in the continuation high school to be extremely difficult. Staff was very hostile and students were seldom in attendance. Immigrant students Carrie did manage to find and test were largely illiterate in both their primary language and in English. Several had obvious learning disabilities but were not receiving special education services. Carrie began to speak out about those students and about students at the comprehensive high school whom she could not even get tested for special education identification or services, despite repeated requests.
After Carrie's third year as program coordinator, she was asked to teach two classes in addition to her very active coordinator job. Carrie was told this extra work was because of budget shortfalls. She made it known that she was upset by this increase in duties. Carrie suspected it was a way to keep her so busy that she would not have time to advocate for the immigrant students. No substantive changes were made to reduce her responsibilities as the immigrant students' program coordinator. She was removed from her assignment at the continuation high school, but this was less than 10% of her original coordinator duties. Carrie soon began to feel the stress of the arduous workload, saying she was working a job and a half. The program report, signed by the immigrant parents' advisory committee, for that school year included efforts to restore the coordinator position to full time. Just as the taskforce was making headway, the school district's top administration resigned and an exodus of administrators followed shortly after. Carrie felt like jumping ship herself, but decided to finish out her contract and see what changes the new administration had in store for revitalizing the teaching staff and student services. She told herself that her good work and stellar record would certainly protect her against the clique's onslaught during their obvious window-of-opportunity for mobbing her with further bullying.
Much to Carrie's surprise, the new district superintendent, picked her out of a crowd of teachers to introduce himself to her and explain his plans for getting a school bond passed. The superintendent put his arm around Carrie on this occasion and drew her near him. Carrie felt uncomfortable with this overt familiarity from a stranger, but she responded as discretely as possible because the superintendent was her new boss. Within a few weeks the superintendent had his arm around Carrie again while he acknowledged receiving a copy of the program report Carrie had sent to him regarding the way immigrant students were educated at the high school. Then Carrie had to face the new superintendent over a conference table while flanked by several colleagues. At that meeting Carrie presented a petition concerning a long-burning summer school issue that created additional hurdles for immigrant students. This petition was signed by most of Carrie's colleagues. The superintendent accepted the petition, but harshly admonished Carrie in front of the committee that he did not ever want petitions circulated again. Soon after, an appeal concerning the graduation of an individual immigrant student in Carrie's program was reaching its final rung in the chain-of-command. The superintendent was Carrie's last chance for reconsideration of procedure that thwarted this student's ability to graduate that spring. With trepidation Carrie sent the superintendent the necessary documents and a final plea for reconsideration. Within a week, the superintendent personally visited Carrie's school site and had the vacationing principal's secretary summons Carrie to the high school principal's empty office. Carrie entered the small office with the superintendent who closed the door behind him and told her to sit down. The superintendent sat in the chair opposite Carrie, placing himself between her and the door. Their knees were all but touching and occasionally they did bump together.
The superintendent then asked, "You're a smart young lady, Carrie, how old are you?"
"Forty-three," came Carrie's shocked answer.
"Well, you're not such a young lady, are you, Carrie? You are never going to promote to administration in this school district if you keep saying and writing this 'We-the-people' stuff."
Then the superintendent coached Carrie to "never let them know what you are thinking." He told Carrie that her colleagues hated her.
Carrie said, "No, only six hate me and that's because I blew the whistle on two of them."
The superintendent paused, but dismissed her comment as "water under the bridge."
Over the summer break the superintendent hired a new high school principal who would immediately become the bearer of bad tidings the superintendent had in store for Carrie. On the principal's first day working, she increased Carrie's already heavy workload by adding one more class for her to teach. A few days later, the principal removed Carrie from a key committee of teachers, the leadership committee, though Carrie told the principal of her concerns for immigrant student representation at that level.
Next, The principal made substantive changes in the English language program Carrie had successfully built over the previous four years without asking Carrie for input, without informing Carrie of the changes, and without inquiring if the changes had any negative effects on Carrie or her students. Carrie noticed that the principal would not make eye contact with her. And she noticed the principal's secretary and the new vice principal also hired by the superintendent spoke to her with sarcasm, if at all.
Soon, Carrie started hiding in her office and began to notice the smirks on the faces of her former adversaries, the infamous clique. The first week of the fall semester the assistant superintendent hired by the new superintendent made an unannounced visit to Carrie's classroom. She asked Carrie to tell her everything she knew about the soft-money funding for Carrie's coordinator job. Carrie said she knew quite a bit about it. The assistant superintendent told Carrie she had five minutes and get started.
Carrie told the assistant superintendent she knew that the funding was meant to supplement and not supplant the general fund. The assistant superintendent thanked Carrie curtly and started to leave. Carrie asked the exiting administrator if she had read the program report Carrie sent to the superintendent months before. The assistant superintendent said she had not and asked Carrie to send her a copy.
That same afternoon, the assistant superintendent attended a meeting of the district's program coordinators for immigrant students. She told the coordinators that the immigrant students were lowering the school district's test scores. She also said that nearly 50 immigrant students were in the high school's only beginning English-as-a-second language class, a situation Carrie and the head of guidance had tried to warn the superintendent about that summer. The assistant superintendent said that if any of the coordinator's had a creative solution for this horrible dilemma, she would like to hear it.
Within 6 weeks, Carrie learned that more soft money for immigrant students was coming into the district from the state government than had previously been budgeted. This money was intended to supplement and not supplant the district's general fund obligations for educating immigrant students. When Carrie learned about this funding increase, she and the specialist who told Carrie about the increase assumed Carrie's job as a program coordinator would be restored and she would no longer be asked to teach in addition to her many other duties of direct support of the immigrant students.
But the principal told Carrie that instead of restoring her coordinator's job, another teacher would be hired to teach a special study class for the immigrant students.
The principal gave Carrie 24 hours to respond. Carrie responded that her professional opinion as the specialist who built the program was that the extra study classes were not optimal and the money would be better spent as was written and validated by immigrant parents in the program's official goals and objectives report - to restore the coordinator's position to full time.
Carrie told her union president of the situation. The union president said she could not help and advised Carrie to marshal immigrant parents to a school board meeting. Carrie said she could not ask this of recent immigrants, many who were accustomed to governmental retribution. The union president then told Carrie to circulate a petition. Carrie said that the superintendent told her, "No more petitions." The president said, "He can't do that. Circulate one anyway." So Carrie did and began an appeal process following the chain of command.
Three weeks after the appeal and petition went to the assistant superintendent, Carrie still had heard nothing. Carrie accidentally bumped into the superintendent while filing paper work in the district office. The superintendent acted as if he did not see Carrie. She tried to leave the building. Then the superintendent suddenly appeared from nowhere and caught Carrie alone in a hallway as she nearly escaped through an exit. "Carrie, I want to talk to you about your professional behavior!" Came the stern superintendent's voice.
Taking a deep breath, Carrie stood up to her bully. "If you want to discuss professionalism, I really must ask, 'why are we doing it in this hallway?'" With that, this man who outweighed Carrie by at least 70 pounds came tromping toward her, teeth grinding, elbows bent, fists clinched, and eyes bulging, "I thought I told you 'No more petitions.'"
The superintendent looked and acted like a mad man. Carrie cowered and thought about the integrity of her teeth; she fully expected this mad man to land a blow of his fist square into the center of her mouth. Carrie began to dissociate from terror. She managed to get away from the superintendent, but clear signs of stress started to haunt her at work and off work from that point on. She even began to circulate workplace violence literature to a few colleagues.
Three more weeks later, Carrie received phone calls from the principal and another administrator, asking Carrie if she intended to escort immigrant parents to the next school board meeting. Carrie said no. The principal said, "The superintendent has a right to know."
Shortly after, the principal called Carrie to her office and told her that she had to request permission to attend all school-related meetings, even on her own time, and report back in written summary afterwards. Carrie complied. Finally, the principal told Carrie in the presence of a note-taking witness that her appeal