New questions arise over firing
Hollister cut short Genice Rhodes-Reeds 90-day opportunity
to fix performance
This story may invoke irony. Imagine the city government gives you the
job of securing social justice and equal opportunity employment for
all city employees in the community. For years, efforts are praised.
One day, however, youve come into conflict with some colleagues
or your supervisor. A few weeks later youre on the street
no labor review boards, no labor unions.
You, the EEO person, are a mere at-will employee.
Rhodes-Reed had such an experience. For three years as director of Lansings
Human Relations and Community Services Department she fought for better
representation of minorities. Today, her name is included on a list
of African-Americans who used to work in high-ranking positions for
the city government but were let go under mysterious circumstances.
She didnt receive a severance package and her health insurance
Rhodes-Reeds personnel file, which City Pulse received through
the Freedom of Information Act, raises further questions why Lansing
Mayor David Hollister would force such a highly commended employee to
resign. In March 2000 Rhodes-Reed had received all outstanding marks
in 10 categories on her evaluation. On April 1, Hollister gave her unsatisfactory
marks in five of the same performance ratings. The key points of the
critique were: not working during regular business hours, not notifying
her staff and the mayors office of her schedule, and not improving
her relationship with staff.
After a glowing review in 2000, why just seven weeks after her second
review was she forced to resign and escorted out of her office in an
hostile and humiliating manner, as Rhodes-Reed described
it? A performance improvement plan set up together with the job review
on April 1 raises further questions: According to the personnel file
the city intended to re-evaluate Rhodes-Reeds improvement after
three months. In case of a positive performance, the improvement
plan would be extended through Sept 30. Instead, Rhodes-Reed was forced
to resign just seven weeks after being evaluated.
story lacks comment from the Hollister administration, despite
efforts by City Pulse to seek it. In May, Mayor David Hollister
banned city employees from speaking to City Pulse after stories
appeared that were critical of his administration.
is not a good approach, says James Dulebohn, a professor at MSUs
School of Labor and Industrial Relations, who teaches courses in human
resource strategies. He believes its unusual to fire a person
whod received perfect performance reviews before. To terminate
someone because of one evaluation is not so good. Giving
the employee no indication that she is going to be dismissed and giving
her just one single negative evaluation was a procedure Dulebohn said
was obviously unfair.
Bob Egan, whod resigned in protest from his position as chairman
of the Human Relations Departments Advisory Board after Rhodes-Reeds
dismissal, said, Last week David Wiener [Hollisters executive
assistant] explained to me that the improvement plan was to go six months,
and then a decision would be made. But they went seven weeks.
Egan said he stands by his earlier statement that the Hollister administration
has difficulty working with African Americans.
Rhodes-Reeds three predecessors, all of whom were African Americans,
were fired or forced to resign. Another African American, Freddie Thomas,
a special assistant to Hollister, was fired without public explanation
in February. Hollisters former chief of staff, Joe Graves Jr.,
was fired last year after he was charged with drunken driving.
is considering legal action against the administration, which might
be an uphill battle. Dulebohn points out: Even if it seems unfair,
an employer is legally allowed to fire at-will employees for no reason.
Basically at-will means employees serve at the will of the
employer and can be fired without reason, with few exceptions.
When Rhodes-Reed was appointed for her post of at the Human Resources
Department in 1998, she agreed to an at-will post.
Added Bill Strong of the state Department of Consumer and Industry Services,
The fact that they put that plan in her performance review really
doesnt mean anything, because the city government could terminate
her for any reason they wanted to.
Dulebohn believes at-will contracts are more frequent in Southern states,
where unions arent as strong. Dulebohn said that in northern states
where unions are very strong (like Michigan, Ohio and Illinois), private
companies and local governments have recently felt tempted to employ
city officials with at-will contracts to reduce costs, such
as health benefits and retirement pay, and create a more flexible situation,
in which people could be hired or fired on demand. The labor expert
called at-will employment a 19th century concept. If that was
the environment this woman was working in she might actually be better