Almanac

Viewpoint - March 6, 2013

Letter: Supervisor failure or discrimination?

A lot of negative attention has been directed at the couple who complained about the city of Menlo Park's gymnastics instructor Michelle Sutton. Most of us may find it difficult to empathize with someone who is willing to try to "get someone fired" based upon a misunderstanding or otherwise, particularly when we care about the person on the other side of the debate. Despite this, generally speaking, I think we would all agree that there is nothing wrong with lodging a complaint if you feel you have been mistreated.

Whether or not we agree with what they did, the complaining parents are not the real issue. The real issue here arises from either: (1) a total supervisorial failure, at best; or (2) outright discriminatory conduct and/or retaliation, at worst.

To the extent the employment decision was actually related to the parents' complaint, before jumping the gun and placing blame, the supervisors should have both investigated further and intervened to attempt to resolve the issue.

As I understand it, Ms. Sutton was merely attempting to enforce the policies set forth by the operators of the gymnastics program. The supervisor should have intervened to ensure that these policies were explained and understood by the parents, so that they could be assured that they were not being singled out or picked upon.

In the event the parents still believed they had been mistreated, witnesses should have been contacted and an attempt should have been made to reconcile the issue. To the extent that the parents were still not satisfied, they could have been offered a spot in another class and/or a refund — which, incidentally, is what we are currently being offered as parents of a child who has been waiting for an open spot in Ms. Sutton's class — yes, we are among those parents who waited up in order to get into her class.

The utter lack of investigation into both the incident as well as alternative, and less drastic options than termination of a beloved instructor, leads me and many of us in the community to believe that in fact it was the latter, outright discriminatory conduct/retaliation, which was at work here.

Please note also in this regard that the termination occurred 12 days after the parents' complaint was lodged, but only 6 days after Ms. Sutton began making inquiries into the process of lodging a formal complaint against her supervisor(s) for harassment. Adding up these and the other factors in this case leads to but one conclusion; namely, wrongful termination based upon discrimination and/or retaliation.

Up until now, the city's response to this situation has wavered between the shirking of any responsibility — i.e., "I am not responsible for this issue" — to outrageous cover-up conduct akin to the recent Applebee's fiasco, dubbed by some as "social media suicide."

Despite this, there remains a limited window of opportunity for the city to step up and make this situation better, before an indelible stain is left on the beautiful new gymnastics facility. Accordingly, before the situation spins even further irreparably out of control, we once again urge the city to take responsibility and get to the bottom of this issue now.

It is not just "more" investigation that is required. It is "any" investigation and, quite frankly, just a modicum of common sense.

Laura Ruettgers, Ringwood Avenue, Menlo Park

Comments

Posted by Scott, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 5, 2013 at 10:41 pm

City Hall is run by outsiders -perhaps even space aliens - whose ideas about serving mankind can be found only in a cook book.


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