August 15th, 2010

University suicide points to nonreponsive employer


Ted Genoways, VQR editor accused of bullying by suicide victim

At universities, people tend to think of teaching and research faculty and staff as the only employees. At the University of Virginia, the president supports a literary journal, the Virginia Quarterly Review, prestigious to poets and fiction writers. Kevin Morrissey, 52, the VQR managing editor had been hired by a young Ted Genoways, 38, new himself to the editor post in 2003.

On July 30, Kevin Morrissey committed suicide after a reported three years of torment by Genoways despite the two having a genuine friendship at the start of their work together.

There was a record of several calls by Morrissey to university institutional helpers (HR, ombuds, EAP, president’s office). Either his call for help was not answered or treated with indifference. Those familiar with Morrissey’s complaints said that the rationalization for Genoways was that creative people like him could be difficult to work with and were often bad managers! In other words, live with him, adjust to him, Genoways is indispensable. Note the abdication of responsibility by this employer for the safe working conditions of its employees.

Said one fawning former intern, “Ted (Genoways) is the creative genius … the fulcrum of discussions about the future of VQR and, honestly, the future of journalism … Ted is the star at the center of VQR‘s constellation.” A publisher familiar with VQR lamented that “A crisis like this  (triggered by Morrissey’s suicide) can be a death blow (sic), even to the strongest scholarly publication.”

The magazine had won awards and Genoways himself won a fellowship allowing him to be out of the office. His focus was on funding and enlisted the help of a 24-yr. old UV graduate, Alana Levinson-LaBrosse (she was so rich she gave $1.5 million herself to the university). Morrissey and she reportedly clashed as she, not Morrissey, was included in activities with Genoways.

Kevin Morrissey

Staff recalled Genoways screaming at Morrissey behind closed doors. Three VQR staffers even accompanied Morrissey to the president’s office to complain about Genoways. They were brushed off. There is evidence that Genoways sent Morrissey an e-mail accusing him of “unacceptable workplace behavior,” without specifications, ordered him to work from home and prohibited communication with other VQR staff. These are all classic tactics employed by bullies who enjoy privileged protection from the CEO (the former university president who left in July).  They not completely unlike torture. The tactics were probably retaliation for Morrissey and Levinson-LaBrosse fighting.

The only tangible response from the administration was an apology by the president’s chief of staff to VQR staff for witnessing the clash between Morrissey and Levinson-LaBrosse at a meeting. No apology to Morrissey. No other official response to Morrissey’s complaints. No holding Genoways accountable. No offer of counseling to Morrissey.

Morrissey’s death followed Genoways’ draconian decisions and one last denigrating e-mail on the morning of his suicide. In that e-mail, Genoways, the espoused “genius” and “star,” accused Morrissey of failing to help a contributor to a VQR story such that Morrissey put that man’s life at risk!

There was a report that some close to the situation warned the university that Morrissey might commit suicide.

Even after Morrissey’s death, the UVa’s official response to the request for complaint and response details from reporter Robin Wilson for the Chronicle of Higher Education (the source for this story), the university hid behind a faux shield of “confidential personnel records.” Morrissey’s surviving sister blames Genoways and the university and may file a lawsuit.

The negligent employer gets to bury the secrets to protect itself from being revealed.

Read Robin Wilson’s story:  What Killed Kevin Morrissey?

###

Epilogue

There’s even more to the Univ. Virginia tale. A couple of years ago, UVa recruited WBI (and others with extensive experience with university communities as well as being researchers and consultants, in other words, heavyweights in the field) to come to campus. UVa instead brought in a “motivational” speaker. At WBI, we pass on several on-site speeches when employers resist creating a solution for the problem that prompted the request in the first place.

The result at UVa was that nothing was done after the speech. The former President’s office was not engaged in discussions about bullying, and possibly the specific Kevin Morrissey complaints. If something had been in place, Morrissey would not have had to resort to pleading with HR and the other institutional helpers as his phone records indicated was done. HR may be implicated in Morrissey’s death. And the feel-good motivational speaker actually encouraged this negligent employer to believe that it had adequately addressed bullying on campus with a speech alone!  Get serious UVa. What will it take to get American employers to stop the carnage within the ranks?

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This entry was posted on Sunday, August 15th, 2010 at 12:34 pm and is filed under Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, Fairness & Social Justice Denied. 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.



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  1. Kachina says:

    I believe there is a persistent problem in many areas of work…the awarding of management positions to people who have no training or expertise in management. They may have skills in the arena of the employers mandate, but are ill equipped to perform the tasks required of a manager. They are aware of this at some level, and use whatever skills they do possess to effect management expectations. Too often these “skills” are the definition of workplace bullying. Higher levels of management are absolved of responsibility, having delegated HR functions to incompetent managers, whom they then protect and promote to avoid accountability.

    • Susan says:

      Wow, thats a polite way to say it but so correct.

      • Susan Ford says:

        I was a graduate student in the English Department at UVA, which trained Genoways for his MFA. I was regularly bullied by the professors and even some students during the one and a half years that I was completing a M.A. degree. Faculty who bullied me: Arthur Kirsch, Claire Kinney, Eric Cantor, Jessica Feldman. Students who bullied me: Heather Love. It was a ridiculous department that put politics before merit much of the time. Reasonable discussion, argument, rational inquiry were thrown out the window. They did not seem to care if their research helped anyone or had any applicability to any social or cultural problem. Professors had a clear pecking order between doctoral and master’s students, and I even heard a PhD candidate refer to M.A. students as “cash cows.” Professors did not just disagree with students; they humiliated and silenced very smart students to make a point. Marginalized students–African-Americans, foreign students, older students–received the brunt of the mobbing. A historicist failed a super-bright pop culturalist student on his PhD orals exam just because he ignored a few books in the area of the historicist.

  2. IcedGreenTea says:

    I hope his sister sues. Money is always the bottom line and until employers realize survivors will sue, they will do nothing.

    • Kathy says:

      Sadly..that is true… and I am a person who hates that there are so many frivolous lawsuits..however bullying is so rampant in every aspect of society..and it is too easy to not pay attention or to deflect and the only thing that does get the attention of the people who have any power to put a stop to it, is to hit them in the wallet …..I have been appalled at the apologists who always come out after one of these horriffic stories surfaces to minimize the bullying by saying that the person was ‘depressed” or “over sensitive” etc..when you have had multiple complaints and confirmation from others that this behavior has indeed been ongoing…and NOTHING is done by the responsible parties..then I saw ..SUE THE BASTARDS..!!! Get their attention in any case!!!

  3. blueray says:

    Mental torture and/or support of workplace abuse along w/the lack of positive results from HR/Management taking action TO STOP THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE(R)vs. trying to terminate someone who has filed a complaint, has far exceeded epidemic. Especially with more than one complaint and knowledge of the abusive behavior. Instead, the target or one who makes the complaint has to suffer the consequence and retaliation. This is not ‘good management’ by no means. How many employees fear losing everything by speaking out or by exercising policies? This story proves that the abuse and fear is real and that policy only applies to whom upper management decides a policy applies. Abusers get rewarded and targets’ and their families must deal with the confusion of feeling almost every emotion(at the same time)and a drastic life change that is a result of the effects of psychological abuse in the workplace. How many abused employees do NOT speak out for fear of losing there jobs? ALL employers should be held accountable for tolerating/supporting bullying in the workplace. Did the HR representative(s) really think by making a depressed worker be made an outcast by having to work from home and/or alone was HELPING him and showing others how to treat him? Protecting the abuser? or were you afraid to make a decision that everyone else couldn’t see as plainly as you?

    • Dr. Gary Namie says:

      Given HR’s indifference to all the prior complaints AND the ones heard by the university president, there was no reason for them to have known that Genoways had isolated Morrissey. Those are details easy to keep hidden from all but a terrified staff.

      • Dr. Barbara Hayler says:

        Dr. Namie,

        I beg to differ with your assessment. The multiple complaints, to both HR and the President, put them on notice that Genoways was mistreating Morrissey. That they chose to ignore these warnings and support Genoways without further investigation does not excuse their indifference and inaction. If they did not know, it is only because they actively made sure they did not know. This does not create “plausible deniability.”

      • Dr. Gary Namie says:

        Dr. Hayler (distinguished criminal justice professor emeritus), We do not disagree. HR deniability was afforded by Morrissey not having filed a formal complaint. Therefore the process never got beyond talking, oral statements. That always allows HR to deny when they get defensive. Remember also that male-on-male complaints would not be actionable using anti-discrimination laws or internal policies anyway. My assessment is in the title of the piece — the nonresponsive employer. In the U.S., there is rarely any other kind.

  4. Alan Cordle says:

    It’s important, too, to mention that Genoways reported directly to the UVA president, recently retired John Casteen III, and is close friends with Casteen IV.

    • Susan Ford says:

      Because Ted Genoways reported directly to the president John Casteen and was friends with John Casteen’s son, Casteen seems to have been blinded to his possible bullying of the subordinates. It is also very possible that the reason that Genoways was hired in the first place was Casteen’s support. There appears to be cronyism and nepotism at UVA: Genoways himself hired a graduate of the Education School at UVa because her father is a heavy donor to the school. His new hire’s father donated multi-millions to the school, and then she just “happens” to get a plum job at the UVA journal.

  5. Lana Cooke says:

    A man is dead, and people have the nerve to worry about “a death blow to this publication” or hurting the “creative genius”? Psychological abuse does not equal creative genius!

    Having the appropriate tools oftered to them (UVa) and instead hiring a woman to give a “fluff” speech that HR would approve of makes this crime even more heinous. I met this woman at the 6th International Conference on Workplace Bullying. She was very excited about taking this hot topic and using it to her advantage. I thought at the time that she didn’t have a clue about what Workplace Bullying really meant – yet she was calling herself an “expert”.

    Do employers want to continue to replace real hard work that would make a difference – with more fluff? Disgraceful isn’t a strong enough word.

    I never met Kevin Morrissey, but I sure do understand what he went through and why he couldn’t take it any longer. We believe you Kevin. RIP.

  6. marion hunt says:

    Genoway’s coddling of a twenty-something millionairess and university donor contrasts dramatically with his brutalizing of Morrissey. Giving her a desk in his office and treating her as though she were an experienced employee was totally inappropriate. Genoway’s professional judgment was oobviously defective and demoralizing not only to Morrissey but to the entire staff.

    • Susan Ford says:

      I agree wholeheartedly with you. Genoways had very clear doublestandards in his treatment of “regular” employees and “special” employees like the UVA donor’s child. In spite of the fact she was inexperienced, her inside connection through her father’s donations to UVA rocketed her to a managerial job. No wonder the regular staff at the journal were demoralized. Genoways was cronyistic and nepotistic. John Casteen III also sounds nepotistic and cronyistic: what role did he play in hiring Genoways, a good friend of his son’s, to an extremely well-paid, prestigious position? Keep it all in the Casteen family…….

  7. Conchita Bouza says:

    Mobbing: acoso laboral. Es uno de los mas frecuentes casos
    de enfermedades mentales. Los culpables son los jefes
    manager en fin un desastre. Recuerdo un amiga que era una
    de las mejores vendedoras en una tienda de departamentos
    le hicieron el jefe de ella y una coreana que trabajaba en
    Cartier la vida imposible. Ahora una amiga mia que trabaja
    en Sr John en South Plaza esta siendo acosada por la nueva
    jefa del departamente una ” sujeta ” TREMENDA…..

  8. Annie says:

    Morrissey was over 50 and working at a state university. His treatment sounds standard to me. He’s certainly the right age to be a target of bullies. It happened to me and many women I know.

    Do you think the university administration cares that an employee is dead? They may be worried because they’re accused of letting a man be bullied to death. Otherwise, I’ll bet their only concern was getting to the lawyers before details hit the news.

    I agree with Lana.”‘A man is dead and people have the nerve to worry about ‘a death blow to this publication’ or hurting the ‘creative genius’?”

    Oh please. Nobody wants to work with a person who believes he’s an artist with the right to be temperamental. Creative skill is no excuse for bad behavior. Genoways sounds like a narcissistic bully with a mean-streak. How does a dime-a-dozen academic journal compare to a life lost?

    I also agree with Kachina who said, there is a “persistent problem . . . awarding management positions to people who have no training or expertise in management.”

    This is a huge problem. In state and federally funded programs, I saw decades of management positions handed to self-centered, unqualified political appointees who wasted money and mistreated employees while the university looked the other way.

  9. Rosemarie says:

    I work for a state university in MA and I have been the target of bullies now for over 2 years: it has taken a toll on my health. Bottom line is this: state HACKS, incompetent management and HR that support/protects these bullies. I have recently decided to fight back-sent info to the top brass at the university. HR was furious, so the saga continues, and I will see how it plays out.

  10. Seuz says:

    I’ve been bullied nearly 22 years at UVA. I have resigned. Hr or EAP do not listen. They make it look like it’s your fault and make you feel you are crazy. I would come home many times feeling depressed and thought about suicide. I understand what Mr Morrissey felt like. Bullying ruins peoples lives. It should be against the law.

  11. Sam jones says:

    When you reach 50, your life is not worth a dime.

    • Seuz says:

      You are so right! I applied for many years for different jobs in my late 40′s & 50′s! I never recieved any replies. When I asked Human Resources about it, they didn’t know. The next day I got a call about a job. What does that tell you!

  12. Sandy Varga says:

    And to think that this is a place of higher learning. why don’t they go learn how to treat a human being because at the end of the day, that is what Mr. Moressey was, a human being…
    he may not have been a “genius” that this so called Genoways is but he appeared to be a very well loved, kind and compassionate man who now is missed sorely by his friends, family and collegues because we put up a system that does not recognize someone by the content of their character but by where they come from, what they wear how much money they can give us or contribute to our miserable life.

    I really hope our”blind Justice” opens its eyes for once and make a good example of UVA and anyone else who just stood by idly.

  13. Am Still There says:

    Oh, my, I had no idea this was so rampant! I thought it was only me. I’ve been at George Mason University for almost 20 years and am proud to be a graduate of GMU. However, please don’t get sick while you work here and don’t expect a thing if you are over 50. I am almost 59. I trained a staff member here and fought to get her hired since no one was familiar with her work ethic. We were “friends” at first, except little by little she took everything from me. She told lies, stayed late to schmooz with the Deans, and picked my brain for every detail. I was so duped, and my heart is still so heavy. She has been promoted from part time processor to Admissions Coordinator to faculty Assistant Director and now Director. I have a disease that affects my coordination, but I am still a hard worker and spend times in remission. It doesn’t matter. I’m now branded. I’ve been yelled at by this staff person for having a “spell” and being dependent upon her when she wanted to go to an office party with others. I’ve applied for positions that I am qualified for but told I wouldn’t even be given a courtesy interview. I didn’t get raises when everyone got one (mine would be the first once the recession ends I was promised). I might be dead by then. I even graduated with honors with this illness and in my mid-50′s. I actually majored in something that would definitely enhance my work position. Didn’t even get a small token raise for graduating (everyone else did before me). I’m even protected by the ADA but don’t know who to turn to for any protection. I’m sure this email will somehow get me in trouble, and I seem paranoid about everything and everyone around me. It makes me feel I am not alone as I read all the emails; however, can anyone really help someone like me? I can’t afford to quit or retire, yet. It truly is a terrible situation and a lonely life. I understand Mr. Moressey…

  14. Dave says:

    I’m a 50-year-old student at a California State University. I didn’t have a rich mommy and daddy to put me through school. I majored in something that was in demand, so I was recruited long before I was eligible to graduate. I continued part time, but frequently had to postpone school because of work commitments. I was laid off in the economic downturn. Now I struggle to go to school, adding a 2nd major because my primary is no longer viable, due to age prejudice. With the budget crisis, I’m currently bullied to graduate without my 2nd major by a particular nasty administrator who is paid well over 100K taxpayer dollars per year, who claims that I’m “taking up space.” I’m just trying to finish, I have 3 classes to go (which never fill up), but this administrator calls my home and professors and harasses them. We don’t have a campus ombudsman. They say oh how terrible that so-and-so committed suicide, or that so-and-so shoots up the place, but they never consider the situation that causes someone to do so. Universities are horrible places. Some of the administrators and professors who work there think they are god’s gift to humanity, and deserve absurd salaries and life time jobs. I think that is the problem. We need to do away with tenure and fire these self-important monsters. They need a little humility. Maybe Chairman Mao was right. These people should go work in the farm fields so they can better appreciate their position is a privilege, not a right. I blame UVa and this young turk of a director for the poor man’s demise. I hope his sister does sue.

  15. Justin Screwner says:

    Researching employer liabilities and a case in Kansas City in which the weatherman at a TV station committed suicide, suspect workplace bullying.

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