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Social Services Mon Jul 26 2010
I'm going to relate a story to you for the sole reason of awareness. I know I'm not the only person that this sort of thing has happened to, but I happen to have access to an outlet through which my story can be heard by a larger audience than most.
I was laid off from my job in February of this year. The money had run out, they told me, and in a month they'd have more contracts and I'd be able to come back to work. So I laid low, kept the spending down, and waited until the furlough was over. I returned to work promptly in March, happy to be back. It wasn't always the most enjoyable job, but having been laid off a year before from another job, I was well aware that to have is better than to have not.
At the end of the week the business manager pulled me aside. Bad news. The contracts they had anticipated fell through. It had nothing to do with me or my performance, he said. It was just a lack of money. They were going to have to lay me off indefinitely.
It was a small company, a sort of "mom and pop" operation, so I inquired about my applying for unemployment. I didn't know whether or not it would cost them any money for me to collect unemployment benefits; I didn't want to further their dire economic straits. The business manager said he'd look into it. He got back to me quickly, telling me who to call, where I could go, and even how much my benefits would be. Things seemed to be as positive as they could be in those circumstances.
I then began to look for work, but in the industry that I've been pursuing (TV and film) work is sparse unless you're very well connected, especially in Chicago. I decided in May, nearly two months after being laid off, that I should go ahead and start taking unemployment to keep myself afloat. Savings had been depleted so this was my last hope before raising the white flag and moving back in with my parents. So, for the second time in two years since graduating college, I applied for unemployment.
A week later I received a letter in the mail. I thought it was going to be my state debit card, or maybe a pamphlet about "how to be a job seeker." It was not. The letter informed me that my benefits had been denied because it was found that I had been "discharged" from my last job "due to misconduct/insubordination." I was baffled. I assumed it must have been some ridiculous bureaucratic error at the Illinois Department of Employment Security, since that was so completely opposite of what had actually happened. I called the business manager who laid me off and told him about the letter. "I'll look into it and get back to you" he said. I figured it would be some annoying paperwork, but it would be easily remedied.
Dammit. Wrong again. After filing my appeal at the I.D.E.S. office in Maywood, I called the business manager to see if he had found out anything. What followed was one of the most disappointing conversations I've ever had.
"I asked around and I found that there had been some problems with you and your attitude," he said, hesitant and clearly uncomfortable. "I think you should just drop it and move on. Find another job. I don't think I should say anything else." Shocked, I inquired for more detail. This was a completely different version of reality than what I remembered; I was fairly sure I wasn't living in a J.J. Abrams television show. He was lying to me -- lying about me -- because of money.
His responses to my questions were variations on the same theme. I had been insubordinate in some unspecific way in the past, and he had somehow retroactively fired me, or something. "You should just drop it," he said. "Move on."
There was no paper trail to prove my side or his. The company was four people total; we didn't do performance reviews or formal disciplinary actions. Getting laid off didn't involve a memo on corporate letterhead, it happened as I drove with him to pick up his wife's minivan.
Rarely do people get to experience such a mix of pain and pleasure. Pain from having been so grievously wronged by someone you trusted, your name and reputation slandered with almost no simple recourse available for vindication. Pleasure from knowing -- without a shadow of a doubt -- that your anger is the righteous kind. This is not a grey area. I know I'm in the right. It's an odd kind of empowering powerlessness.
I had my appellate phone hearing last week, and am supposed to receive the decision later this week. Although the money would certainly help alleviate my mounting credit card bills, at this point I'm more concerned with the truth. Either way, I finally feel like I can listen to Rage Against the Machine legitimately. I can thank them for that.
This isn't an uncommon occurrence. I know I'm not alone. Do you or someone you know have a similar story? Or are there any attorneys out there willing to throw their two cents into the mix, or even I.D.E.S. employees? Post it in the comments and let's get a dialogue going.