July 17th, 2009
A Sacred and Bullying Place
The report of an Army criminal investigation of management at the Arlington National Cemetery is covered by Mark Benjamin for Salon.com. The unauthorized theft and misuse of an employee’s e-mail account was just part of a larger bullying tale. The bullying followed the all-too-predictable pattern of the ethical worker trampled by tyrannical boss working through an immediate supervisor (a woman) accustomed to operating with impunity. The retaliation against the worker for standing up and daring to file a complaint was termination. A pattern the boss had followed for years.
Thurman Higginbotham started at the cemetery in 1965 as security guard and rose to his Deputy Superintendent in 1990. Technically, he’s the second ranking executive, but he claims to be the operational chief.
Women in the position of public affairs directors, held by a succession of four women in only two years, seemed especially vulnerable to attacks by Higgenbotham. One woman, Kara McCarthy, was driven out because of a discriminatory hostile work environment (potentially illegal). She claimed that Higgenbotham and other senior managers “did whatever the hell they wanted.”
McCarthy’s successor was Gina Gray hired in April 2008. In her new role after only 10 days on the job, at the funeral of Lt. Col. Billy Hall, Gray clashed with Higgenbotham over a regulation. She knew the press could be present as the had family wished. Higgenbotham instructed her to violate the regs and keep the press far away. He had a history of calling families coercing them to deny press coverage to which they were entitled. The unethical boss won but the press noted the defiant Gray.
Gray was well qualified for her job. She worked 8 years for the Army in public affairs in Germany, Italy and Iraq. She suffered some hearing loss from a 2003 ambush in Iraq. Then, she went back to Iraq as a contractor doing media relations.
Higgenbotham’s campaign of interpersonal destruction began after the publicized incident. Gray complained to Higgenbotham’s “boss” John Metzler. Metzler withdrew support from her on May 27, leaving Gray’s immediate supervisor, Phyllis White, free to hassle her — restricting permission to leave the building, overtime, posters in her workplace and disconnecting her BlackBerry. June 9, she was demoted from director to public affairs officer.
She filed a discrimination complaint (the pair had both gender and race differences).
Higgenbotham retaliated with trumped-up charges of “poor performance.” On June 27, 2008, Gray was fired. White said Gray had “been disrespectful to me as your supervisor and failed to act in an inappropriate manner.”
On that same June day, Higgenbotham had an IT contractor friend block Gray from access to her e-mail account and transfer access to Higgenbotham who replied to subsequent e-mails as if he were Gray. Gray found out.
The Army investigated and found that the unauthorized access and misuse were criminal offenses. However, the Dept of Justice assistant US attorney declined to prosecute the crime.
Not only did Higgenbotham illegally harass Gray, but he committed a crime and still nothing was done! Of course because of Phyllis White, a woman supervisor, harassing Gray, a woman, the case becomes more a bullying problem than one characterized by illegal discrimination.
Mark Benjamin, the journalist telling this story, discovered that Higgenbotham has falsely claimed he is “Dr. Higgenbotham” despite not having earned a PhD or MD degree. Higgenbotham’s tactic of stealing access to public affairs officers’ computers was confirmed by at least one other woman who held the position.
The kicker, which is no surprise to bullied targets, is that Higgenbotham is also technically inept. Arlington National Cemetery seems to have a gravestone burial records matching problem that was supposed to have been modernized by technology since 2000. Benjamin is filing additional reports that memorabilia left at gravesites are tossed into the trash unlike at the Vietnam Memorial Wall.
Higgenbotham and White are a disgrace to the families whose loved ones gave their lives for their country. They should both be banned for life from federal employment.
You can read Mark Benjamin’s second part of the story about Arlington Cemetery’s policy of keeping the grounds pristine and trashing family momentos and gifts left at gravesites, especially Section 60 where Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are buried.
This entry was posted on Friday, July 17th, 2009 at 9:36 am and is filed under Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, Tutorials About Bullying. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.