The University of California San Diego promulgates a list of nine "Principles of Community" to its faculty, staff, and students. The second principle states, "We affirm each individual's right to dignity and strive to maintain a climate of justice marked by mutual respect for each other." The eighth principle asserts, "We are committed to promoting and supporting a community...free of abusive or demeaning treatment," and the ninth stresses, "We are committed to the enforcement of policies that promote the fulfillment of these principles."
In addition to these principles, the university also has a "Workplace Violence Employee Handbook" that clearly lays out its "Zero Tolerance Policy": "Any intentional act of intimidation, threat of violence, or act of violence committed against any person or to the property of another...is prohibited."
Paula Schacht read these principles and policies when she was hired in June of last year to be an administrative assistant to Dr. Thomas Kipps, deputy director of research operations at the Rebecca and John Moores UCSD Cancer Center. That's why she doesn't understand how the university hasn't fired or even suspended the co-worker who, she says, threatened, intimidated, berated, and physically assaulted her on a near-daily basis for the entire nine months she worked as Dr. Kipps's assistant.
When Schacht, a diminutive woman who speaks with a soft Texan accent, first took the job, she was told that Dr. Kipps, a renowned leukemia researcher trained at Harvard and Stanford, would be her immediate supervisor. But it soon became clear to her that not Dr. Kipps but his other administrative assistant, Mary Carpenter, was her de facto supervisor. Everything was fine for the first three weeks of the job, Schacht says. "Then it suddenly turned."
The first incident, Schacht recalls, "was on a Friday. I remember she [Carpenter] was screaming and being verbally abusive to me." After that, Schacht says, abuse from Carpenter was nearly perpetual. "She would constantly be in my face. She would come in and ask me for a file, and if I couldn't find it immediately, she would start going through the file cabinet and literally throw the files out onto my work area. She would stand by the door if I were making phone calls. And if I wasn't saying what she thought I should be saying to the person at the other end, she'd grab the phone off my ear, sometimes pulling my hair out in the process. She once threw a handful of sharpened pencils onto my desk that bounced up toward my face. She called me 'stupid liar' and 'idiot.' "
After a couple of months on the job, Schacht says she was at her "wit's end" with the treatment she was receiving from Carpenter. When she asked her co-workers what had happened to the administrative assistant who had the job before her, she was told that the prior assistant, Reneé Johnson, had transferred to a job on a different floor of the building. Schacht contacted Johnson and the two met. "We compared notes," Schacht says, "and we found that we were treated [by Carpenter] in an identical fashion."
"It was kind of frightening to discuss it," Johnson says. "We realized it was a pattern of behavior, and we determined that it wasn't we who were the problem. Because we had both been psyched into believing that maybe what was going on was because of our job performance."
Not only had Johnson worked at the cancer center, she was a cancer patient there. "Come December," she says, "I will be in my fifth year of remission."
While working under Dr. Kipps and Mary Carpenter, Johnson says she suffered the same abuse that Schacht described. Often, on her commute home, Johnson says, "I would sit on the bus and the tears would just come. It was like a river of tears. And I'd be sobbing, and the other people on the bus were becoming distraught, because they knew me and knew that I'm a happy person. A lot of them were telling me, 'We have a job in our department, Reneé. Go and apply for this job.' "
Johnson did just that, after her oncologist told her that the stressful work environment was jeopardizing her recovery from breast cancer. She and Schacht both still work at the Moores Cancer Center, but not under Dr. Kipps or with Carpenter. Before she left Kipps's office, Johnson says, she attempted to address the situation with Carpenter woman-to-woman. When that didn't work, "I asked to speak to Dr. Kipps alone. He finally came in to talk to me. And I told him, 'This is not working for me...so I want you to know that I'm going to HR.' A couple of weeks after that, Mary came into my office...and she said, 'Do you know what, I can go to HR too.' That shocked me because I hadn't said it to her, I had said it to Dr. Kipps, and he must have told Mary."
On September 12, 2006, Schacht wrote an e-mail to Dr. Dennis Carson, director of the Moores Cancer Center and the immediate supervisor of Dr. Kipps, in which she stated, "I cannot describe how extremely disturbed I am by the abhorrent and abusive maltreatment I've been subjected to by Mary Carpenter. The culmination was last Thursday evening after three months of unbelievably insulting and disrespectful verbal onslaught. I was so severely affected by Mary's unceasingly harassing behavior that I had to hurry to urgent care with chest pains at the end of the day."
Schacht went on to say that Carpenter "comes into my office approximately every five minutes to stand suffocatingly close and demands [to know] what I'm working on. She demeans me when I tidy up the office and keep my workspace well organized. She threatens me on a weekly basis with my job or with going to Dr. Kipps about me. She throws paperwork at me that flies all over my desk. She uses abusive language to describe my work, saying that it looks 'shitty'.... She calls me stupid, and she calls me a liar. She raps her fist in anger on my desk without any provocation. She taps on the desk while rudely humming when I'm on the phone. She pulled the heavy desk chair over my foot today while I was on the floor plugging something into the computer. No apology followed when I exclaimed in pain. When [I was] trying to escape her right-in-my-face bullying, she grabbed my arm and blocked my path to taunt me further."
Carson wrote back the next day, saying an investigation would be opened. On the 17th of September, Schacht wrote Carson saying that nothing had changed and pleaded, "Please instruct her [Carpenter] to allow me to work in a dignified atmosphere and to immediately cease her violation of UCSD's Principles of Community."
Dr. Carson did not answer an e-mail seeking comment for this story.
Schacht said after her second e-mail to Carson, "The people from HR came up and said, 'Could you come down and talk to us?' So I went down. And they said, 'We were trying to get in touch with you, but your phone wasn't working.' " (Schacht disputes this, contending that her phone was working properly all during this period.) "So they talked to her, and for about a week she cowered in her office and didn't come near me. But then she came back, with a vengeance."
Dave Simonson, a manager at the cancer center's human resources department, didn't return calls seeking comment.
From September 2006 until February 2007, Schacht says she suffered through Carpenter's abuse but kept a log to document every occurrence. On February 20, 2007, in an e-mail to Chris Hertzog, chief steward of the San Diego branch of the Coalition of University Employees labor union, she declared her intention to file a grievance against Carpenter and spelled out Carpenter's offenses by date and category.
Under the heading "violence," she included: "1/18/07: threw telephone message book at my key pad with such force that it displaced everything on the desk. 1/23/07; punched my chair from behind hard enough to pitch me forward.... 2/7/07: pulled stacks of very heavy binder and journals from storage cabinets and threw them on my desk, nearly breaking a Lucite organizer I bought for myself."
Under "verbal abuse," Schacht noted: "1/19/07: Verbal abuse was so paralyzing that I had to go to another office to get my work done. Sometimes I'm so dazed that I just go sit in my car for a while. 1/29/07: 'You're so stupid...!' 2/7/07: 'You get more ridiculous by the day.' 2/8/07: 'Your work is just shitty.' "
The same day Schacht wrote this e-mail to Hertzog, she also called campus police, who suggested she get a temporary restraining order against Carpenter, which she did.
Reached by phone, Hertzog, the union steward, says he's never seen workplace bullying at this level. "Paula's case is extraordinary. I have never seen that kind of abuse in the office. Paula is a very tough woman because typically when the abuse reaches that kind of level, most employees leave. Reneé is tough as well. Reneé never came to us when she was going through those problems."
Though he says labor relations with the university's medical center are "very healthy," Hertzog complains that labor relations with the main campus's Department of Medicine, which includes the Moores Cancer Center, are much more difficult. "With the medical center labor department," he explains, "we're almost always able to resolve our disputes without having to go very high in the grievance department. But on the main campus, we typically have to appeal things to the office of the president."
As an example of the difficulty of resolving labor grievances with the Department of Medicine, Hertzog offers, "In the grievance process, the first step involves a meeting with the immediate supervisor. We have contract language to that effect. I requested a meeting with Dr. Kipps at the time, and he wasn't present for the meeting. When I asked the labor relations advocate why he was not there, she just shrugged her shoulders. I filed a grievance on that because it's a really serious infraction, as far as I'm concerned. It completely undermines the language of the grievance process and the contract which says the object is to resolve grievances at the lowest possible levels."
Hertzog continues, "We believe that in the whole school of medicine there is kind of a culture of, I call it willful neglect. I think a lot of people know this kind of thing happens, but they turn a shoulder to it. There is another employee who is currently out on a psychological stress leave, and she works for a very distinguished professor [at the] medical school. Apparently this guy brings all kinds of money to the Department of Medicine. And yet he is absolutely abusive. He worked this woman overtime without [her] getting paid [for it]. He kind of bullied her into thinking that she had to put in ten-hour days."
Despite over 20 grievances he's filed against her on behalf of Paula Schacht, Hertzog says Carpenter hasn't served a day of suspension, much less been terminated under the university's Zero Tolerance Policy. By contrast, he says, "I was suspended for two weeks last year because I was representing an employee at a grievance hearing and I yelled at a supervisor. I was, at that time, an 11-year employee with a perfect record, and I was suspended for two weeks, just for that single incident."
Neither Mary Carpenter nor Dr. Kipps answered e-mails seeking comment on these matters.