“Don’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover”
We’ve all heard that phrase, “looks can be deceiving,” or better, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” And in this case, that’s what one woman’s coworker did. Instead of knowing the full story, or any background about her and her situation, an inconsiderate coworker judged another based on appearance alone, and bad mouthed her, and her reputation to their coworkers, only to result in a human resource claim that backed fired.
When a woman (let’s call Beth) was 24 years old, her mother died of cancer that 1 out of 8 women (12%) in the U.S. get. Since both of her grandmothers had also passed from it, she chose to have a screening to be on the safe side. And unfortunately, she was told that (due to her family history) the cells in her chest would likely become cancerous, but she had a few options:
- She could do a full mastectomy to remove all the tissue in that area, eliminating her risk altogether.
- She could have a mastectomy on the one side with the cancer cells, and monitor the other side.
- She could have routine screenings every 3-4 months until the cells developed into cancer. But needed to keep in mind, those cells could also never become cancerous, and the screening would just be a waste of money and time regardless of her chances being so high.
After hearing the different procedures she could do, she decided to do a bilateral mastectomy. While it was the riskiest, and “most drastic,” of her choices, after seeing what her mom went through, and knowing about her grandmothers, she “didn’t want to risk it.”
She had been told about what to expect post-op, and how to handle the change, but what she experienced was not necessarily what she expected.
Beth was warned about the changes in her appearance and that after her operation she would feel (physically and emotionally) different, but not to this extent: “I was left with two huge, pink, jagged scars on either side of my chest, each about an inch long and half an inch wide, and it caused me to go into a severe depression, where it got to the stage of me not even leaving my flat because I didn’t want people to see me, throwing out my mirrors, and getting physically sick looking at myself” she said. So, she went to see a therapist, and expressed her feelings and concerns, to which her therapist suggested plastic surgery. Typically, a therapist wouldn’t do something like that, but because she was having feelings of depression and others related, the therapist thought information on “scar reduction” would help.
When she saw the surgeon, they suggested certain scar ointments, laser treatment and also reconstruction, or implants. Because the cream didn’t prove to be all that successful, and the laser procedures were risky, not to mention, ridiculously expensive, she went with implants. So, she again, had another surgery.
Before her mastectomy, Beth’s natural size was an F cup, so she chose to put in a smaller cup size than she originally had, DD. After that, not only did her mental health improve, but she felt more confident and comfortable in her own skin. Her self-esteem went up, and she started to feel a lot more like herself. And while she didn’t want to put so much emphasis on her looks, the scars from the mastectomy were “huge, bright pink, jagged, raised,” before, and made her not want to see herself in a mirror. But now, they were actually hidden, she couldn’t really feel them, and she appreciated that she had the chance to take care of it, and potentially save her life.
She thought since her confidence was back, and she felt way better about herself, she wouldn’t have to think about her chest anymore, that is, until other women got the wrong idea about her.
How She Found Out
Four years after her surgery, now 28 years old, Beth began working in an office. And she was doing so much better. But unfortunately, someone in her office found out she had some work done (but not because of her cancer risk).
One day, Beth was discussing a vacation with her friend (who she knew from before the operation), and her friend made a joke about her implants and traveling on a plane, but a coworker (we’ll call Jill) overheard and began gossiping.
By the end of the work day, the whole office knew about Beth, (but not the real reason she had the procedure), and that Jill had gone around telling everyone. At first, this just annoyed Beth, but it got worse when she continued to hear Jill make comments.
Accusation After Accusation
Months went by and Jill would constantly make comments about Beth and her appearance. Jill made “jokes,” but when she claimed Beth had “more plastic than Barbie,” and other things like “fake in two ways,” Beth knew there was more to it. Plus, when she was told Jill referred to her as a “sack of silicone,” it was clear there was a problem. Beth just couldn’t figure out what she did to Jill to lead her to make comments like that. And when she heard another accusation, it was evident that Beth had to do something about it.
While gossiping about Beth, Jill mentioned that Beth had probably used NHS (National Health Service) to help pay for her operation. And even though Jill did use the aid for her mastectomy, she actually used a private health care to help with her therapy and reconstruction. But either way, how Beth paid for her surgeries was not Jill’s business, or the rest of the office. Finally, Beth reached her “breaking point,” when her and some coworkers were having lunch and someone said she was shallow, stating “you’d know all about being shallow,” and gesturing to her chest. And Beth couldn’t help but defend herself and her situation, so she “snapped.”
Had To Put A Stop To It
“Do you know why I have these?” Beth asked her coworkers. “A few years ago the doctors found potentially cancerous cells in my mammary tissue, I was advised to get a mastectomy and was left with huge ugly scars on my chest. I went to see a therapist who sent me to a cosmetic surgeon, who advised me to get implants to hide the scars, and I did just so I could look at myself in the mirror without crying. So maybe next time you want to judge someone for having cosmetic surgery, you should ask them why they had it first”. Then Beth snatched up her belongings and stormed out.
Probably in shock, and feeling terrible, for the remainder of the day, Beth had a good amount of people come to her to apologize and “offer support,” while the rest thought she was overreacting because “Jill was just joking around.” But in reality, Beth knew she wasn’t. And even though Beth had attempted to confront Jill privately in the past, she realized that was a mistake when she got an email from HR the following day.
“Hostile Work Environment”
Beth wasn’t sure what the meeting would entail, so to follow up, she asked what it was in regards to, to which HR responded, “hostile work environment.” The email came from Debbie, who was friend’s with Jill, so Beth automatically assumed that Jill was behind this. But she also “realised that if this was already being sent to HR, I [she] needed as much ammunition as possible.” Plus, due to the fact that Debbie was friends with Jill, Beth was prepared to file for a new mediator for the situation, called a “impartial overseer,” knowing Debbie would be biased. In addition, she messaged other people who offered their support, to back her up and asked them “Do any of you remember Jill insulting me to your face and are you willing to write and sign something saying what you heard and when?” Not everyone was willing to comply, but “about 20 people” agreed to help, and the process continued.
Kept A Log
Beth had to think back on all the times she had asked Jill to stop making comments, and unfortunately they were all done in private (like in the bathroom or away from other coworkers), but still she knew she had asked her to stop the rude and accusatory behavior. Thankfully she had kept a log of the times she confronted Jill, with dates and an estimated time of day. Then she wrote down what happened in the lunchroom, and those who were present. With this information, she felt like she had enough to defend herself and stand her ground, but wouldn’t know until the meeting the next day.
She Was Prepared
When returning to work the next day, Beth was given letters from all those who wanted to support her, that went similar to this:
“My name is [their name]. I work with Jill Lastname and Beth Lastname. On [date] at [time] (approx), I spoke with Jill Lastname, during which she referred to Beth as [quoted insult]. I felt this was inappropriate as it directly related to Beth’s appearance and am willing to go on record further to establish that Jill Lastname has been discussing Beth in the workplace in the same manner for 3 months now, causing me discomfort and creating what I feel is a hostile work environment. Signed [their name].”
Beth collected about 16 letters for proof, and some even had a list of their own on what Jill hd said about their appearances. “She apparently made comments about one coworker’s weight, and something antisemitic about a different coworker’s nose.” And out of the 45 people that were employed there, 16 seemed like plenty of complaints to present to HR. So, now Beth felt even more confident about her meeting at 10am.
With 16 coworker’s statements, her lists of dates and times, as well as a copy of her employment contract in hand, Beth went to her HR meeting. But to her surprise, Debbie seemed to be her overseer. Beth looked at the other HR representative in the office, and asked if they would be handling the claim, to which Debbie replied “No, you’re with me.” Beth, prepared for this, presented her contract that stated she had the right to request a new interviewer and said she really didn’t want to be a nuisance, but felt Debbie wouldn’t be impartial to her situation. So, Debbie stormed out to get the supervisor.
When the supervisor came in, they asked how Beth knew Debbie wouldn’t be impartial. Because they were friends, Beth explained. When Debbie didn’t deny the friendship, and didn’t have any excuse, the supervisor went and got the other HR rep and all four of them went to carry on the interview.
To start, Beth apologized and “thanked them for being so accommodating,”- thinking she might have been annoying, and the interview began. Debbie read the complaint and then they proceeded:
“Q: You said outside that you think Jill Lastname reported you. Why is this?
A: Jill has had an issue with me for about 3 months now
Q: Why didn’t you come to us when you realised Jill had an issue?
A: I had no issue with her
Q: What issue does Jill have with you?
A: Four years ago a specialist identified potentially cancerous cells in my chest tissue. I had surgery to remove it, thereby removing the cells and the risk. After the surgery I was left with large scars on my chest. I went to a therapist for low self esteem and depression. The therapist suggested a plastic surgeon who suggested implants to cover my scars. All of this is in my medical history which you have a copy of in my file and my full permission to review. And Jill found out about my implants but didn’t know about the cancer. So, Jill had a problem with them, and decided to communicate this problem to our coworkers.
Q: Why do you feel this is true?
A: Here’s 16 signed statements all from different coworkers, all testifying that Jill told the entire office I’d had implants on the day she found out and has since made comments about them frequently. They have quotes of what Jill said to them about it and rough dates and times.
Q: Rough dates and times?
A: No one knew this would be escalated to such an extent so no one really took notes as and when it happened.
Q: What event or events do you think directly led to this complaint of harassment?
A: For me, the harassment began when Jill told everyone about my implants without my consent, but as to the complaint placed against me, it would probably be what happened at about [time] yesterday in the lunchroom. Jill made a comment about me being shallow while gesturing to my chest and I replied by giving her an abridged version of my relevant medical history and ending with a comment about the importance of getting the full story. There are cameras in the lunchroom, so I’m sure you’ll be able to find that conversation. I’ll admit I could have handled the situation better, but after 3 months, I felt I had to put my foot down. And here’s a list of names of people who were also present. There were 6 people at the table, including myself and Jill. One of these people is also in those letters, and has written their account of the conversation and signed it.
Q: Had you had a conversation with Jill prior to this regarding her comments about you?
A: Several, spaced out over the last 3 months. Each time I communicated to her that I felt uncomfortable and upset with these comments she was making and would appreciate it if she were to stop.
Q: To your knowledge, was Jill made aware of your former cancer at any point in this time?
A: No. It wasn’t mentioned in the conversation with my friend she overheard, and I didn’t tell her because frankly it’s none of her business and I did not feel the need to detail my medical history to a coworker in order to avoid further harassment.”
The interview lasted almost an hour, while they asked similar questions over and over, just phrased differently to see if Beth would change her story. After it all, the supervisor stood up and said, “Well, I think we’re done here”. He thanked Beth and shook her hand, and said they would be in touch after going over all the material (letters, video, medical history, etc.) and said she could go back to her work for the day.
Once back to her desk, Beth immediately began searching for new jobs, thinking she would get fired. And then she noticed someone from the lunchroom conversation get called to HR. And for an hour watching each person who was present during the lunch room conversation get called one after the other. Then after that, she saw people who wrote letters, but weren’t there during lunch, get called one by one. Each employee would get called in, and after 10 mins, they would come out and get another employee.
Finally 3:30 rolls around and it seemed like everyone was called in to HR, except one.
The final person to be called to HR was Jill. She was gone for about 30 minutes, and then exits, “fuming.” Beth says, “she glares at me,” while Beth is working, but Beth ignores her scowls and frightening stares. Then Jill gets called away again, only to come back even more furious looking. As everyone is getting their things to leave and go home, Jill has to pack up her desk, still glaring. And ironically told “anyone who will listen that I [Beth] got her fired,”- true, but it was really Jill that started it all. She got herself fired. Case Closed.