• author
    • Terri Connett

    • November 13, 2013 in Columnists

    58 and fired

    It’s taken me a year to write about being sacked by corporate America.  Not out of sadness or shame or writer’s block.  No, it was hope. Hope that I would be hired by another company and then fear they might Google me, find this column and see me as damaged goods.

    On November 15, 2012 (exactly a week before Thanksgiving) and after a successful, 16-year career with a Fortune 500 company, I was literally walked out the door.  Fired for “performance issues.”  Not a dime of severance pay.

    Six weeks earlier, I was told by my 40-year-old boss and the 28-year-old HR manager that I was not cutting the mustard.  They gave me 42 days to find another job within the company or I was toast.   I didn’t like where this sandwich was headed.

    I thought, as a senior manager with an impeccable work ethic and stellar track record, I could find something else.  In the past, I’d seen the company help those in “job jeopardy.”  Surely they would not let me go.  But they sure as hell did.

    I didn’t, and don’t, think of myself as old.  I didn’t, and don’t, want to play the “age card.” But I have no other explanation.

    In the five or six years since the Great Recession, corporations have tightened their belts and fired or laid off workers.  Even after seeing their profits on the rise, they have decided to keep the cash and continue squeezing their beleaguered, remaining employees.  These companies have gained a new sense of confidence; cocksure their workers will stay no matter what.  They watch the news and see former marketing executives serving coffee at Starbucks. It’s an employer’s market.  Dime a dozen, bitches!

    Older workers are seen as liabilities.  Their salaries are generally higher and their health care costs, for the most part, are more expensive.  Younger workers have more recent training and better, more organic technical skills.  After all, they grew up with computers.  I was in my early 30s before I touched my first keyboard.

    After a year in the trenches, applying for well over a hundred jobs, I finally get it.  I’m not getting another job.

    Currently there are 31.6 million unemployed workers aged 55 and over – up from 25.9 million in 2007.  According to a New York Times article, a worker between 50 and 61, who has been unemployed for 17 months, has only about a nine percent chance of ever finding a new job.

    And although age discrimination is against the law, it’s nearly impossible to prove, in part, due to a 2009 Supreme Court ruling making it more difficult to show bias.  Thanks again, Supremes, for climbing into bed with corporate America and screwing the little guy – just as the economy was at its lowest.  About 23,000 age discrimination complaints were filed with the EEOC in 2012, up 20 percent from 2007.  But most lawyers won’t go near an age discrimination case.

    So after a year of unemployment, I look back with much more clarity.  This wasn’t personal.  My years of service, the quality of my service, the number of my successes – none of it mattered.

    I don’t feel the need to call the company out by name. They’re pretty much all the same. But in order to tell my story, I will need to call them something. Okay, I’ll just make up a random name.

    Two years ago, in October of 2011, Squirrelpool reorganized due to the recession.  We manufactured home products and took a direct hit when the new home construction industry tanked.  My group marketed to builders and developers, so we were much more vulnerable than the retail side of the business.

    My department was blown up.  My four direct reports were either let go or placed in other divisions.  My boss, in his 50s, was let go after 30 years.  My boss’s boss, our group vice president, was offered a lesser position within the company.  He had a 35-year mega career and had actually built our group from nothing to a $2+ billion business. Jesus Christ, the criminals at Freddie and Fannie were treated with more respect!  My VP told Squirrelpool to go fuck themselves and left.

    So I was merged into a newly formed mishmash of builder and retail business.  My new boss was 40 years old – 18 years younger than me.  I’ll call her J.Lo.  Oh she’s no Jenny from the block.  More like Jay Leno with a blonde pageboy.   I didn’t know her.  I heard she was intelligent but not very nice.  I got along with most people and figured I could make it work.

    In the summer of 2012, six months into her leadership, she dropped the first turd in the punchbowl and told me I didn’t have the “energy level” she and her 30-someting boss (picture a blonde Eddie Munster) were looking for.  I was stunned and told J.Lo I felt we had very different styles.  She disagreed with my assessment.

    Over the next four months J.Lo would do little things like:

    • Grab my mouse out of my hand if she didn’t think I was moving quickly enough to show her something on my computer
    • Disagree with me publicly in meetings over trivia
    • Correct me privately about anything and everything
    • Roll her eyes when I chose the elevator over the stairs
    • Complain I forgot things she told me to do (yet when asked, she couldn’t come up with any examples)

    I was miserable working for this bully and went to HR for help to find a job in another group.  I met with a 30ish senior manager and the aforementioned 20ish twit.  Young and Younger didn’t know me and were noticeably careful with their words.  It was apparent J.Lo got to them first.  But I still believed Squirrelpool would want me somewhere within the company.  On my own I found a few positions using the internal career portal.  I had two interviews, but nothing panned out.

    Squirrelpool had directed me not to say anything to my colleagues about my impending doom. I hung onto the hope that on my way out the door they’d throw me a Hail Mary of a job.  But they just wanted this under the radar.  I learned there were others like me.  Our exit dates were staggered to keep things on the down low.  I had nothing in writing, just a verbal edict that November 15th would be my last day.

    One of my properly outraged friends suggested I bring in cupcakes on the 15th.  “Later, when they realize you gave yourself your own going away party, you will be LEGEND,” said my always funny and often dramatic pal.

    So I baked cupcakes with “pink slip sprinkles” and explained to the gang I wasn’t going to make it for the Thanksgiving potluck the next day.  I had quietly cleaned out my files and took my personal stuff home over previous weekends.  Mid-morning I received a call from the receptionist.  My former group VP sent me an enormous bouquet of flowers.  Earlier in the day he had emailed a soul-nourishing note outlining my contributions over the 12 years I worked for him.  And just like they tell abused wives, he told me this wasn’t my fault.


    So I baked cupcakes with “pink slip sprinkles” and explained to the gang I wasn’t going to make it for the Thanksgiving potluck the next day.

    J.Lo was out of town that day, so I didn’t have to deal with her.

    The HR kid met me in a conference room at 1 p.m. to turn over my laptop, ID, corporate VISA and Blackberry.  I dumped it all on the table and as I turned to leave I noticed she was standing next to me.  I thought,  “What, you want to hug it out?”   I had no clue she was planning to further humiliate me by escorting me to the door. I passed Eddie Munster and a few others I knew.  I couldn’t stop the tears.

    Then I drove to the unemployment office.  Two firsts in one day!

    I had no idea how long it would take to get my first unemployment check, but started to get a little antsy around Christmas.  On December 30th  I received a letter stating I was denied benefits. Squirrelpool said I “voluntarily quit.” Apparently this is SOP, maybe for many companies, in hopes the unemployed would go down without a fight.  It dawned on me perhaps this was why I received nothing in writing.  I filed a protest.  Squirrelpool protested my protest.  A week later I finally got through to a live person at the Michigan Unemployment Office and explained what happened.  It seems, she had been down this road with Squirrelpool before and reversed the decision on the spot.  I was paid retroactively in late January, and have received bi-weekly checks ever since.

    My unemployment benefits will end in two weeks.  The sequester put an end to that 99-week federal extension thing.

    But here’s some good news. Because I was over 55, after I was fired, I retired. I was very lucky to have been fully vested in Squirrelpool’s pension program before they pulled the plug, as many corporations have.  Earlier this year, I received the first of a lifetime of modest monthly pension checks.  And as a retiree, I have health insurance for a mere $150 a month.  In a little over two years I will get Social Security, 36 percent less than if I’d been allowed to work until age 66, but I will welcome the income just the same.

    I put myself through college.  I worked hard all my life.  And once I divorced my workallergic, spendaholic husband in 1991, I started saving.  I planned to work longer, but honestly how many of our plans get blindsided? I can’t live like I used to, but I can make it. I worry about those unemployed millions who played by the rules their entire lives and have lost their homes and are struggling.  I realize how fortunate I am.

    Unlike “16 and Pregnant,” I don’t see anybody making a reality series about being fired in your 50s.

    But the reality is the only thing I don’t have is a job.  My life going forward is on my terms.  I didn’t choose this path.  But neither did my mother who died at the age I am now.  I wouldn’t have voluntarily walked away from that life and that income. But my life now is so much more meaningful than pointless PowerPoints and corporate profits.

    I am 59 and free.

    • Wow, wow, wow. This column makes me FURIOUS. And you are just ONE person amongst thousands and thousands who have been slapped in the face for decades of knowledge and experience, and kicked to the curb like trash. As for “J.Lo”… I hope karma deals with her one day. GRABBED THE MOUSE OUT OF YOUR HAND? Oh Terri… you are a calmer more patient person than me… I’d have slapped that hand and grabbed it back.
      You are SO much more than this one job – and the lousy way you were treated. I hope karma also brings to you what you so richly deserve: respect, success and satisfaction.

      • Terri Connett

      • November 13, 2013 at 8:37 am
      • Reply

      Thank you Debra! Your kind words make me feel so good. I worry about all the others, kicked to the curb as you say. And YES I do believe in karma. My hope for J.Lo is that when she is in her 50’s her boss will treat her in the same manner she treated me.

    • I am saddened for you by how you were treated. I am curious if you filed a claim against the company? I know it would have been hard to prove but I wonder if the threat of a lawsuit would have moved them enough to offer a buyout. I can’t believe they had the nerve to try and say you quit. Who would believe that after what you wrote? Glad you got your unemployment. More happy that you prepared for your retirement and are free now from all things corporate.Sad what America has become to it’s tried and true employees.

    • Terri you’re absolutely correct in your assertion that Squirrelpool’s cutthroat environment is pretty much a universal approach to “how we do things” in today’s business world. And don’t for a moment doubt, AGE does matter! Excellent article by the way. Wishing you the best.

        • Terri Connett

        • October 28, 2016 at 7:23 am
        • Reply

        Pat, thank you so much for this supportive comment. It only took me 3 years to respond 🙁
        I just got a fresh comment and as I was scrolling down I noticed this. I hope you are well!

      • Quinton Santini

      • November 13, 2013 at 1:48 pm
      • Reply

      Terri – I feel very fortunate as a former co-worker I know the players in your story. J Toes will get hers because in the end she is a sub par individual performer and a horrendous manager of people so Whirlpool will eventually “tree” her for it. It just takes longer when there is not an agenda in play.
      I am sure many people there already miss you and the work you did, no doubt. But Whirlpool does not breed the type of people that would have went as far as to stick up for you at risks to themselves. That kind of passion is not rewarded anymore. Spreadsheet maintenance is the key to success and you can imagine the “leaders” that type of value proposition creates.
      All the best of luck and if you ever want to move to Houston, Tx there are jobs for you here, I guarantee.

    • You’re amazing, Terri. Squirrelpool ‘s loss. The b’tards.

        • Terri Connett

        • October 28, 2016 at 7:25 am
        • Reply

        Kathie, I just received a new comment on this column and as I was scrolling down to reply I noticed I didn’t respond to your very sweet and supportive comment. You are the best! Sorry it took me 3 years to get to this! 🙁

    • Love the outing of Whirlpool. I fought with them over my washer and the mold. Took energy but they replaced the part for free. Horrible to deal with.

    • Thanks for the insightful article. My next washer & dryer will not be from squirrels. I believe in integrity.
      If a company treats their employees that way, they don’t deserve my money.
      I heard about those moldy washers & lack of customer service.

      Good luck to you. Now it’s time for ‘present adventure in progress’!

    • Terri – thank you for sharing your story, and for inspiring us all with your resilience, optimism, candor and wisdom. You are one Modern Goddess.

      • Jesse

      • November 13, 2013 at 9:25 pm
      • Reply

      Terri, Thanks for the insight. My mom experienced the same thing. She worked for Playtex, they were a good company, then merger, merger, bought out, then sales forces were fired and merchandisers were hired at a fraction of upper sales. She got fired, and it devastated her. Bounce baby, don’t let it eat your brain or your soul. Jesse

    • Exactly! You are free to do something you enjoy doing, life will be grand!

      • Terri Connett

      • November 14, 2013 at 7:49 am
      • Reply

      Thank you Pat! I enjoyed your recent, and beautifully written, column and felt an instant kinship. I wish you all the best as well!

    • I loved what you wrote. Same thing happened to my dad six years ago. By the way, the profits come by slashing the labor market, not because the economy is doing so well. I know you knew that but I felt like I needed to restate that fact.

    • Rock on, Terri. I hope my secret wish that you could get out from under corporate America didn’t have anything to do with you being “shown the door”. :-0. And I am not so secretly thrilled that you’re enjoying your freedom. Carry on, you wonderful, funny, talented woman! Carry on!

      • Carole Kauffman

      • November 14, 2013 at 5:36 pm
      • Reply

      Dear Sister,
      You must send this to the NY Times in response to their article. You write from your soul, your wit and wisdom.
      I can so relate to what you wrote. Non-profit organizations, especially those that are large and well financed, act very much like the corporate world They are cut from the same cloth and have listened to the same consultants. They seem to have the same ring to their mission statements, the same platitudes in their long-range plans, and the same insensitive cost-saving measures. Whether you are a customer, a patient or a recipient of a service you know what the results are, and they are not pretty. It just makes me sick when I think of the salaries the chief honchos of these entities make and what happens to their employees. I could go on and on, but this is not the place to ramble on.
      This place is a time to say THANK YOU Terri for giving a voice to what so many of us have experienced and felt.

      • Terri Connett

      • November 15, 2013 at 2:21 pm
      • Reply

      What can I say Q? You are an awesome friend!

      • Fred

      • November 15, 2013 at 2:31 pm
      • Reply

      Loved your column Terri. A wonderful statement that clearly catches the tenor of the times and merits nailing to Squirrelpool’s front door! But more importantly, your column is soul warming and points to a brighter future. We will be there you.

    • Terri, You heart felt story sounds like a page from a 19th century Dickens novel. The company used 16 years of your life force to make huge profits ,threw you into the streets in the worst recession with out any consideration of how you would survive and then tried to screw you out of unemployment benefits . How is possible that all the progress for social and economic justice made since the last great depression could so quickly disappear ? The norm should be that because you worked so many years for this company you should be receiving a piece of the companies profits for the rest of your life. I moved to France many years ago and started my own little business . My home and painting studio in an old water mill is now a boutique hotel. The folks who work with me are like family , we work as a collective. Everything is shared . The aim of our business is to preserve the beauty of the French countryside and the money we make is a means to an end, It goes into renovation and protecting our refuge. I could not image throwing anyone into the streets. One of our crew members was 60 when she joined us. We value her life experience . Don’t give up on working . Your life force ,experience and know how can create vast amounts of abundance that can benefit the world.

    • Fantastic article, Terri, and I’m delighted a friend of mine shared it on Facebook so I could read it. It’s unfortunate that you are not alone, and your story is being played out in many companies with many people. I grieve for all of you who started your careers when loyalty, experience and wisdom meant something. When ethical behavior and the true values of teamwork were lauded; when “the bottom line” wasn’t the only line that mattered. It’s sad to see them sowing the seeds of the disasters that will surely follow on this path, for it is the road to destruction. I teach about money in my Financial Stress Reduction® workshops, but only in the context of living a rich life inside AND outside. If you still want to work, you can start a business – with your knowledge and experience, you’d be a fabulous consultant! One of the best things about having my own business is that the only person who can fire me is me 🙂

      • Ronald Jarvis

      • January 22, 2014 at 10:14 am
      • Reply

      You should call my significant others lawyer.. The contingency part of her case is going class action. He is in Detroit!!

      • Africa

      • October 24, 2016 at 7:00 pm
      • Reply

      You will be just find. I was fired after 17 years
      I was wrongfully fired by Arkansas School for the Deaf
      I hired a attorney and won my case, they had to re-instate me, take
      The write up out of my file, plus had to pay me.
      I resigned. I no longer wanted to work for
      Place that treated me like that. All my evaluation
      Was always excellent. I was never late for work, never miss
      To many days from work. I found a part-time job. I
      Prove myself to the company, they made me
      Full-time employee. I am making more money.

        • Terri Connett

        • October 28, 2016 at 7:20 am
        • Reply

        I’m happy you got justice. Good for you!! And I am fine, thank you. And thanks for reading!!

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