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Eva’s Journey from Abra to America

John MelegritoBy Jon Melegrito

It hurts. Getting laid off can be very stressful, especially if you have mouths to feed and bills to pay.  I’m sure you know of friends or loved ones who are out of work through no fault of their own.

And then there’s the case of Filipino teachers at Prince George’s County Public Schools who lost their jobs because the school system bungled its recruitment process. They had to uproot their families once again after selling their possessions in the Philippines just to fulfill a promise that they thought would not be broken. Picking up the remnants of shattered dreams, many have relocated to Arizona where, thankfully, their special skills are still appreciated.

But what of the individual who has worked hard not only to keep her job but tried her best to excel in everything required of her, only to be dismissed by a supervisor with an axe to grind, who sorely lacks any skills in cross-cultural communication, treats subordinates like chattel and rules with a heavy hand?

Such was the case of Eva Balino of Arlington, Va.

A 45-year-old patient care assistant at the Virginia Hospital Center for nine years, she was terminated in December last year for “poor performance and insubordination.” Knowing that her firing was grossly unfair, having consistently received superior evaluations from two previous supervisors, Eva chose to fight. “I love my job,” she says. “But I was set up to fail because my supervisor singled me out for harassment.”

It all started when her father died a year ago and she had to take an extended leave to go home for the funeral. “She held it against me, taking time off from work,” Eva recalls. The next time she requested a one-week vacation to be with family during the Christmas holiday, the supervisor promptly denied it, claiming inadequate coverage. Granted, that’s a supervisor’s call. But when Eva found out that there was, in fact, enough personnel to cover for her absence, she tried to seek her supervisor’s reconsideration. That’s when cross-cultural communication broke down. The supervisor wrongly assumed that Eva defied an order and promptly wrote her up, citing her intent (including purchase of plane tickets) as sufficient grounds for insubordination. “How could that be, when I complied, cancelled my tickets and never took my vacation?” Eva was baffled, angry and frustrated. Shortly thereafter, she received a letter of dismissal.

She appealed, but the deck was already stacked against her. The termination was upheld. Her designated representative at the review hearing  chosen by the Human Resources director  acted not as Eva’s advocate but management’s tool to legitimize the process. The “poor performance” issues were questionable at best because, according to Eva, “the supervisor was already biased against me. She expected me to do my hourly rounding and if I don’t finish on time, she’d write me up. But I am also expected to attend to the needs of patients and some require more time and attention than others.” In other cases, there were extenuating circumstances that the supervisor chose to ignore, even when patients themselves said it wasn’t Eva’s fault. In a couple of instances, the charge nurse was partly responsible.

During Eva’s interview for unemployment compensation, the hospital’s Human Resources director tried to justify Eva’s firing. I personally intervened by writing the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) that the Virginia Hospital Center erred in terminating Eva, who served commendably for many years. The VEC agreed, decided there was no “misconduct” on Eva’s part and approved her claims.

Vowing to fight further, if only to bring attention to egregious management practices at the hospital, Eva plans to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “I know of co-workers who are being mistreated but are afraid to speak out,” she says. “I don’t want to see anyone harassed and intimated on the job.”

Born in Abra, Eva was barely 20 years old when she, like thousands of overseas workers, went to Saudi Arabia to work as a care giver for a diplomat’s family. Another diplomat brought her to the United States several years later where she worked as a nanny for the family’s children. Meanwhile Eva’s sponsors got her a green card so she could find other employment. The Virginia Hospital Center hired her as a nurse aide and also paid half of her tuition fees while taking courses to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN).

Care giving is back-breaking chore. “My patients have been very happy with my work and have even written good commendations about me, which are in my file,” Eva wrote to the hospital’s Human Resource Director in September, three months before she was fired. Her letter basically disagreed with her supervisor’s oral evaluation that “I do not belong in her unit, I am better off working in a nursing home, I never learned to work well with others.” Apparently, the supervisor found Eva’s defiant spirit too much to handle and singled her out from then on, suspending her for petty reasons, even warning her “to leave if you don’t like it here.”

Eva may be out of a job for now but she is determined to find employment at another hospital, preferably one where her skills and work ethic are appreciated, where she is treated with dignity and respect.

She’s come a long way from Abra, via Saudi Arabia, to America and she’s not about to let a temporary setback stop her now.

E-mail your comments to jonmele@aol.com

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