Don’t put anything in writing ever again.
This is what my main boss, Teflon Don*, told me after I reported one of his subordinates, Dutchie+ (who I also worked for as an assistant) to HR after over two years of escalating unhinged aggression and anger increasingly directed towards me.
So because of Teflon Don’s caveat, I’m going to put everything in writing from now on. And blog about it, in case someone else finds themselves in a similar situation.
Teflon Don was seething that I went to HR but we’ll get into that later.
I think Dutchie has been at my workplace for over 5 years. I’ve worked for him for I think about 3? I lose count. Time drifts away from you in cubicle land. Shortly after he went from being a temp lawyer to a permanent associate, he began his freak-outs.
His freak-outs entail any of one (or more) of the following —
- banging on his desk with a clenched fist
- stomping/jumping up and down – at least it sounds like that – thank god we do not have see-through offices – I do not want to see something I can’t unsee
- throwing things
- slamming his office door
Some people were always disturbed by his behavior. Several lawyers asked to be moved from offices next to his. I was also disturbed but concerned as well asking, “Hey Dutchie, are you ok?” “You’re going to give yourself a stroke.” We used to have a friendly rapport. And he never took his aggression out on me or any other staff that is until this past year or so.
Then his freak-outs became an almost daily occurrence and several times a day. Teflon Don told him he couldn’t take out his aggression in his office since it disrupted everyone else in the office. So what did Dutchie do?
He started taking out his stress and anger on me and a female paralegal also around his age. It became apparent that he could be selective with his anger and abuse.
His unhinged behavior escalated every holiday/early close and almost every Friday or inclement weather closing. Basically, any time staff was leaving early. I wasn’t even working on anything for him, so he wasn’t freaking out that I would leave before the work was done but still he would behave this way. It became clear, he was angry anyone could leave early, before him. But then again most staff and lawyers show up to work before 10 am.
He would arrive at the office seemingly any time he wanted. 11 am, 11:30 am, noon, 1pm? There was no rhyme or reason to it except if there was a closing, he would be especially late. And if the office was closing early (like 1pm) due to inclement weather, he’d be sure to arrive in the office right before the early close so he could create as much stress as possible. He rarely responded to my emails about who called before he arrived in the office, no matter if the messages were urgent. He wanted me to call him on his cell but I never knew what state he would be in and I also wanted a written record that I emailed him.
He snipped about any vacation time I took saying, “You, you, you are always on vacation.” He’d say “I can’t take vacation” about himself. I would laugh it off and say “that’s why you make the big bucks.”
Dutchie’s office is directly in front of my cubicle but he began to intercom me angrily and loudly mispronouncing my name. Everything became a rush, everything had to be done IMMEDIATELY!!!! – he would say through gritted teeth. If I got up from my desk to go to the kitchen, to the ladies room or to the copier/scanner and he spotted me he would often point at me saying uh-uh-no! He is about 45 years old, much too old to be behaving this badly.
[I worked for four other lawyers besides him so everything couldn’t be immediately all the time]
I would always do his work as promptly as possible but sometimes I would be working on a time-sensitive project for another associate and I said he would have to wait, usually giving him a reasonable time estimate of when I could get to his work and he’d snipe that the two other associates were lowest on the totem pole and stomp away.
Frequently, he’d come behind my desk and jab at what he wanted me to do while leaning with his full body weight on my chair’s left armrest. I asked him a dozen times to please stop leaning on my armrest because he would break it. He said “I’ll buy you a new chair.” He would lean even more aggressively. Eventually he stopped doing this because I stopped saying please.
I never knew what he wanted. His behavior became unpredictable. He would want me to interrupt him whenever his second line rung and he was on the other line with his door closed. I’d put it on hold and start to type him a message but he’d dart out of his office seething, Who is it!? Who is it!?
Other times he would be furious that I interrupted him to tell him who it is. Recently, a week or so ago, it was a partner on the other line (who he was working on a closing with at the time), I emailed him and Dutchie shouts “I’m on a conference call!” to me. Furious almost hyperventilating. He then goes into his office and picks up the line says very nicely, “Hello Partner…I’m on the phone with so-and-so.” So it was obvious he could choose his behavior. It wasn’t out of his control, it just depended on your job title.
Everything became a problem, he acted as if he was being put upon. He could never find an email in his inbox, he couldn’t pick up a call on hold, he never understood the blinking button was the line on hold no matter how many times I explained it to him. Simple things he lost control over.
About 6 months ago, I spoke to HR about him because things reached a head. He wasn’t allowing work to get done for the Teflon Don, the head of our department aka his boss and other attorneys because of his disruptive antics. HR asked me if I wanted them to speak to him. I said I didn’t want to blight our working relationship so they suggested the Teflon Don speak to him. Teflon Don did not speak to him explaining to me along with HR that Dutchie had been under so much stress because he had 3 closings that week. [But there are always closings in real estate, just saying]. But Teflon Don told me that I should inform him first before informing HR and he would speak to Dutchie, but there was no reason to speak to him now since the 3 closings were over.
Things cooled down until about 4 months ago when he became impossible yelling and shouting making it extremely difficult for me to get year end billing stuff done for an entire week. I told Dutchie, I have to get this stuff done but he kept disrupting me with things that did not need to be done immediately. I came home angry and stressed out, chest tight for weeks. Mark said I needed to talk to HR but I didn’t want to bother anyone.
So instead, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Most of the time at these day jobs, people make me feel like I have to handle these things on my own. That I have to be tough.
So I started not being outwardly friendly to him, just strictly professional, no chatting. Pretty immediately, he noticed and would try to engage me in conversation. I just kept saying ok to whatever he said or I’m just really busy. Purely professional. He never asked me directly if I had a problem with him or if he had done something wrong. He then took to standing in front of my desk / ledge and just staring at me for minutes at a time not asking me to do anything.
It was difficult for me not to be friendly and to ignore him because I’m a naturally friendly person but I noticed he started to restrain himself and say, please do this when you get a chance and differentiating when something truly was urgent. But that restraint didn’t last long. There were many times it was visible that he was barely holding onto his rage. I did not feel comfortable when it was just me and him in the office.
Then the final straw happened on Monday,
I get into work by 9:30, sometimes 10 or 15 minutes earlier. I turn on my computer and go through any overnight issues and requests. [I am non-exempt staff and am not required to check email in the off hours.] I completed all the print out requests from Dutchie and others by 9:45 am. Then Teflon Don called me into his office to go over billing issues and other matters. During the ten minutes I was in Teflon Don’s office, Dutchie sent me an email at 9:52 am requesting a conference call be set up. In that email (attached), he provided no information as to the start time and for how many people. I learned later that the start time was 10 am. He then proceeded to call me 4 times from 9:53 to 9:55 am and then had me paged 5 times in the space of 2-3 minutes. Neither Teflon Don nor I could hear the page [our page system is bad and also the receptionist mispronounced my name as Dutchie instructed her – Auhndrea DesAngelease instead of Annedrea DeAngelis [think Los Angeles]]. Reception then called my entire assistant workgroup [my backup] at Dutchie’s behest.
One of them tracked me down in Teflon Don’s office [the door of which was open and is diagonally across from my cubicle] and I called Reception. They put Dutchie through to me. That was at 9:58 am. He was very aggressive and angry on the phone. He was saying he needed this NOW and he needed me to send to all these people in his email. I said there was only one person listed in the email he sent to me several times until he finally listened and said it’s in an email “from this asshole” in his inbox and couldn’t find it. “Forward the conference call info to them, the call starts in 2 minutes!” he shouted. So I did, shaking with stress and anger.
I noticed that the email with the information requesting a conference call be set up was sent to him Sunday night at 7:22 pm. I am not sure why he couldn’t have sent this to me to do as soon as I got in, instead of waiting until 8 minutes before the actual call. Actually I am sure – he didn’t want to come in for 10 am conference call and took that out on me. He enjoys creating as much stress as possible.
Even Teflon Don commented on what was going on, “Why isn’t Dutchie in yet?” When I went in to talk to Teflon Don about it, he prodded me to say I could handle the situation with Dutchie.
Then Dutchie sauntered in around 11 am and said, “Thanks for that.” No apology like he acted like a normal human being. I said ok coldly and he started his whole – are you all right thing again and I said my usual – I’m very busy. That’s when I informed HR of the incident and other such incidents. I didn’t ask to be re-assigned but I did say I wanted HR to officially talk to Dutchie.
The next morning, Teflon Don called me into his office and asked me to shut the door. He proceeded to tell me the following [paraphrased] that –
I should never have put that in writing about Dutchie’s behavior and that he would have handled it. I should have come to him again after I said I could handle it. [I only said I could handle it yesterday because I felt pressured to] Once I put it in writing it’s on Dutchie’s record and could affect his career and bonuses. Now the whole firm is involved. You shouldn’t have said he’s aggressive and has anger problems. Who told you to say that? Mark? Now HEAD HONCHO thinks Dutchie can’t handle his own assistant.
He demanded explanations as to why I did this. I said I felt I needed to tell HR about Dutchie’s behavior and that I was getting blamed and called out for having been away from my desk for 7 minutes (doing something for him) and that I had to apologize for Dutchie’s behavior to reception and my work group for him creating a nutso fire drill.
I know this seems mild but Teflon Don is named appropriately because when one of his associates/partners is being abusive, it’s the assistant’s issue – they are too sensitive. I was being political. I knew I wouldn’t win this conversation.
Teflon Don firmly placed the majority of the blame on me. You were all right yesterday, he said.
But I wasn’t all right. I was having an out of body experience talking about it yesterday morning. I even said that to him. I was visibly upset. I told him that I dread coming into work every day because of Dutchie not knowing how he will behave and that I didn’t tell him because I didn’t want to bother him when he had two broken ribs. I felt bullied into saying I’m all right because that’s what Teflon Don wanted to hear.
Teflon Don said I would have told him that he can’t act that way regardless of whether I’m here or not.
He’s not Psycho Barbie*. Psycho Barbie was a bad person and we got rid of her.
[Barbie was an employee that was fired. She also had anger issues and a rumored substance abuse problem. I sat next to her assistant for years and she treated her terribly. I was asked by Teflon Don to keep track of when she arrived every day while they were building a case to let her go. Barbie was consistently late after 11:30 most days. Dutchie also has a late issue as well – which wouldn’t matter if he didn’t take the stress of piling on emails and calls out on me]
When I tried to counter that Dutchie shouldn’t behave like that. Teflon Don said I could have asked him to talk to him. I said, “But you talked to him before and it didn’t work for very long.” He said “sometimes you have to talk to someone 32 times.”
But I have to be abused those 32 times until he potentially stops behaving like.
Teflon Don ended the conversation saying “Don’t put anything in writing ever again.”
I left this closed door conversation with Teflon Don feeling like I was the one who screamed, stomped, banged, cursed and made everything a high stress aggressive abusive situation when this has been how Dutchie has behaved for the past two years.
Dutchie was re-assigned to my former cubemate, Barbie’s past assistant. I won but someone else loses, but at least now his abusive behavior is on his record.
I suspect his late arrivals at work, heavy cologne, huge stash of gum, inability to find emails, confusion over a call on hold and aggression are due to substance abuse problems. Uncontrollable rages are a byproduct of alcoholism.
My HR department handled this well but Dutchie is the kind of person that if he does get fired, I would call out sick the next business day in case he does something.
Honestly, I don’t look forward to writing these posts. I really wish I didn’t have so much material.
*names have certainly been changed, mostly because the changed names are more appropriate than their given names
+ short for Pass the Dutchie
live version for fun.