So I guess they don’t like their boss. Get in line.
There are few of us fortunate to like our bosses. Notice the tactful way I phrased that? Unlike you, my boss reads my copy.
The “Hooksett Four” were fired for gossiping about their boss, who just happens to be the town administrator up there in the quiet, little New Hampshire town. The four women — yes, they’re all women and I’m not commenting — want their jobs back and two of them have filed suit in U.S. District Court. They want to talk to a jury. The other two women have filed suit in state court.
I’ve never been to the Hooksett Town Hall, but I imagine it’s a pretty small place where gossip spreads like wildfire. Say something at one end of the building and it will beat you to the other end.
From what I’ve gathered, the gossip involved the boss’s alleged tryst with a temporary employee who was actually getting time-and-a-half for “working” overtime. Well, if this is true, and I’m not for an instant saying it is, who wouldn’t be upset? I’ve seen co-workers get upset about a lot less.
So back in April the nine-member Hooksett Town Council voted to fire the four women based on a decision by the town’s attorney. Talk about a stacked deck. To his credit, the lawyer recommended some sort of discipline short of termination. The council did that all by themselves. They called the gossip “malicious slander.”
My question is, were the four women the only people gossiping about the boss? Somehow I doubt it. At every job I’ve had, the underlying principle has been, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, let’s hear it.”
The women say that as department heads, they can only be fired by the town administrator. That didn’t happen. They say they were never given the right to defend themselves, a violation of due process guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.
And what about the boss? Anybody looking into the veracity of these claims? I’ll point to our neighboring town of Tyngsboro where a former town administrator was suspected of behaving inappropriately with a subordinate. Think there wasn’t an awful lot of talk around the water cooler back then?
I’ve had bosses over the years upon whom I could have easily blown the whistle. At a sheet metal company I worked for back in the ’80s, the boss would put a six-foot sheet of beryllium copper on a punch and die machine and make fake quarters. Boxes of them. We talked about it, but the owner didn’t take notice until the copper slugs started turning up in the vending machines.
I’ve had the bosses who loved those extra-long lunches with their secretaries. Take the word “secret” out of secretary. The behavior was blatant and added grist to the rumor mill. I remember the vice president of the company I worked for that used to like his weed. Another kept a flask in his toolbox.
But what’s happening up there in quiet Hooksett is like high school. Make that junior high school. Nobody has called the town administrator on the carpet, in closed session, with the women’s attorneys, the Town Council and its attorney present to ask this guy the tough questions.
And I understand the administrator’s frustration if the rumors are false. It could ruin his marriage and his reputation. All this publicity has probably already put a strain on his family. But a couple of things are wrong here. Why is the town paying for the boss’ lawyer? And why didn’t he handle this issue in-house instead of running to the council, where it was sure to come out publicly? One thing is for sure. The town administrator mishandled the situation from Day 1 and for that, he should be held responsible. He added fuel to the fire by making life hard for those four female employees.
Admit it. There is gossip in every workplace. Some people jump right in and some stay clear. Maybe the four women are wrong. Maybe the town administrator didn’t handle the situation properly. Maybe they should all grow up.
Back in January, I wrote in this space that I would try to keep my big mouth shut. I think I’ve been pretty good. I listen to the gossip around the newsroom, but I try not to participate. I try not to. But sometimes it’s just too easy. Like the one about…
E-mail Dennis Shaughnessey at email@example.com.