About three and a half years ago, one of my coworkers, Lea, discovered evidence of illegal hiring practices and discrimination. Favoritism and inappropriate behavior between bosses and their employees. She tried to bring it to the attention of her immediate supervisor but while her initial reception was good, eventually her boss closed ranks with the other managers who were involved, leaving my friend out in the cold and in fear of retaliation.

Lea was volunteering on the side to assist teenage girls who were in juvenile detention, trying to give them useful and fun activities. The county, which was both her employer and the provider of juvenile detention, publicly praised Lea as a positive example of a public employee involved with the community, putting in more than her share of time and effort towards those who most needed help. Upper management encouraged Lea to work on what she called the Hope Dolls project during work hours, provided her other work was also done.

But the feared retaliation came. It came, at first, in small ways — managers cutting her off in mid-sentence, rolling their eyes when she spoke, speaking against her to other employees. As the whisper campaign against Lea spread to the higher managers, they cut back on the time she was allowed to work on Hope Dolls. Then they cut her off completely.

Lea saw the writing on the wall. Being a public employee, she knew that, in theory, she had the protections provided by her union, AFSCME Local 88. She turned to me.

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