An excerpt from Chapter 6.
We Swear to Tell Lies, Whole Lies,
and Nothing but Lies, So…
Help Us God to Cover Up Those Lies.
So now we’re all up to speed and can return to that magical experience with Rock Underwood that kicked off our whole story. Quick review of how it all went down: one evening in late September 2002, Rock Underwood tormented me into silence, ripped my headset from a Boeing 757, and ordered me to go home for refusing to operate an Airstart solo (something I believed would risk the safety and even the lives of the ground crew). This incident would lead to several months of denied grievances and endless legal proceedings with Brown, all of them revolving around the question of what did or did not go down on that strange and troubling day. The whole debacle would culminate some seven and a half months later by way of an arbitration to discuss the matter of my termination.
It was April 14, 2003 when I found myself sitting in the small conference room of a hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, staring down the official arbitration hearing that would decide whether my termination from UPS should hold up or not. Seven company representatives had packed shoulder to shoulder in the undersized room. Listed alphabetically (lest I offend anyone): Darrell “Skip” Cryer, James Gasaway, Warren Johnson, Mark Meeker, Jeff Moore, Bob Ragar, and Rock Underwood would all work in concert to determine my fate….
As my union attorney gathered his notes and organized his files, I studied the layout of the room. This was not a roundtable meeting. The company and union sat in opposition to each other, the battle lines drawn right down the middle. The organizers had assembled the tables into the shape of a horseshoe. The impartial arbitrator sat at the center of the bend along with four other members of the panel. Two of the members were from the union’s executive board; two were from UPS management. A nice, even, theoretically fair arrangement (if you can ignore the fact that the company’s objective was to do away with me forever)….
I recognized all of the UPS representatives in the room. They looked as glib and happy as always—the kind of people who could shake your hand, smile at you warmly, and then stab you in the back with their free hand. As I studied their mirthful expressions, I knew I had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning my arbitration without the names of the two most important witnesses to my case. The truth was that just before Underwood arrived to be all belligerent with me that day, I had noticed a pair of ground crew—kids, really—standing at the belly of the plane near the Airstart’s hoses, completely oblivious to the danger such a thing posed. It was those kids who I felt would be most helpful to the point I would try to make during this hearing: that Underwood had ordered me to rely on ground crew who were clearly unqualified. But UPS had done its level best to decimate even that slight advantage. In typical UPS fashion, and no matter how many legal channels I attempted, they refused to release the names of the kids. Without testimony from the missing ground crew, my case had a huge hole in it.
It’s a strange thought, looking back on it. If Brown had nothing to hide, then they should have freely and willingly produced the names of those employees. Their omission had “guilty” written all over it. As a side note: later, when I finally filed a lawsuit against the company, Brown again refused to provide these men’s names. So in other words, they suppressed this evidence twice. There is nothing equitable or lawful about UPS. If they need to withhold evidence then they will, case closed….
I guess that’s just one of the luxuries of being a sprawling and startlingly powerful international corporation blessed with large teams of low-quality, high-paid lawyers: you can bend the rules, depose who you want to depose, ignore who you don’t want to depose, withhold exculpatory evidence, and grill a person’s counselor all with total and absolute impunity.
The more litigious among us might ask why the union didn’t press a little harder to get the names of the witnesses working the aircraft on the night in question. I don’t know the answer to that. I had already talked to several union executive board members and with Roland Wilder (my attorney on that day in April 2003) about mentioning the UPS refusal to release these important names, but the union never filed a subpoena on my behalf. Wilder didn’t even bother to let the arbitrator know that our case had been hindered by barred access to the most important witnesses to my case.
Without those names in particular, we were forced to contend a number of less-compelling points that were central to Big Brown’s case against me….
I was so deep in thought when arbitrator Dana Eishen called the hearing to a start that I was actually startled. He began by greeting everyone in the room and introducing them by name then offering a longwinded summary of the matters under debate. I watched the stenographer’s fingers blur over the keyboard as she took it all in. I knew at the time that her presence there was important to my future at UPS. Little did I know that her product would one day be used as source material for the book I would write about my mistreatment at the hands of one of America’s most high-profile companies.
When the arbitrator finished, Tony Coleman, the attorney for UPS, rose to present his case. He was a typical corporate attorney. An arrogant peacock. A dandy man. Unkind and unflinching. He stood in sharp contrast to my attorney, the union’s Roland Wilder, an older, grandfatherly type who demonstrated an uncommon politeness that felt entirely out of place at a hearing like this one. After the two of them postured on who would provide their opening statement first, Coleman began to present the company shtick.
“We, on behalf of UPS, believe that the evidence as we will present today will demonstrate that there was just cause for the decision to terminate Debbie Simpson’s employment.”
As Coleman went on to explain in excruciating detail the wonderful background of UPS as a company, the whole scene felt more and more like Debbie versus Goliath. Not only would Brown be using all its power and might to crush me under the weight of their legalese, but they would be making damn sure the arbitrator was aware of how big and influential they were. After ten minutes or so of pontificating on the grandeur of UPS, Coleman finally returned to the specifics of the case at hand. He framed the company’s stance like so:
“Beginning in January of 2002, her supervisor was an individual by the name of Rock Underwood. The union will present a number of factors they believe will help make a case for Miss Simpson’s right to be reinstated to work, but the facts will show that this is a simple discipline case. A case where the offense Miss Simpson received progressive discipline for was insubordination.”
Coleman cleared his throat and shoved his hand inside his suit jacket, taking on a taller version of that famous Napoleonic stance….
So here we have the first appearance of just why the wording on these trumped-up warning letters became so important. Because the company could use broad, sweeping terms like insubordination, literally anything I could be written up for could come back to haunt me. Insubordination for allegedly failing to report my departure following an accident was the same as insubordination for refusing to endanger the lives of my coworkers. Didn’t matter what the infraction was for; it all counted the same. And two of the same infractions would be cause for termination—black-and-white rules against the backdrop of plenty of gray UPS LIES….
The corrupt corporate attorney, Coleman, purposely omitted the most glaring and obvious piece of evidence of the day. He completely glossed over the fact that the two mysterious vendors that had been expected to disconnect the hoses from the aircraft were decidedly absent from his bag of tricks. But then again, that would have required the company to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth….
As the hearing unfolded, I would be shocked again and again by how Coleman and UPS managed to paint their false picture in a compelling light based on fabricated or at least artfully tweaked evidence.
It began with the video Coleman played at the tail end of his opening statement. The video—hastily assembled by UPS on what looked like a handheld camera—featured Rock Underwood in what looked like the mechanics’ uniforms we wore at the Columbia gateway: a black jacket with the CAE logo, a white shirt, and brown pants. It also featured one of his best buddies (Mack) at the gateway dressed in identical fashion. Now here’s the tricky part: because the video was shot from a great distance and carefully edited and spliced, the viewer could not tell that two men (and not one man, as the case was presented) had been involved in the Airstart operation depicted in the film. So in a sense, arbitrator Eishen watched a video that suggested how easy and safe it would be to operate an Airstart solo, but that video actually featured two men performing the operation in the safe and UPS-approved fashion. Remarkable trickery (and completely unethical for a company that prides itself on honesty and integrity as a corporate policy).
“Miss Simpson arrived at the aircraft,” Coleman said as he pointed at the screen flickering with the video of the Airstart process, “and connected the Airstart unit to the aircraft. Several minutes after she had arrived there, Mr. Underwood, who was in another cockpit of another aircraft with two other mechanics, heard the captain of the 757 making a statement. To paraphrase, ‘It doesn’t look like we’re going to be going anywhere for a while. The mechanic needs assistance departing this aircraft.’”
Coleman held a finger aloft as if to emphasize his point. “As Mr. Underwood will testify, he waited for a couple of minutes to see if Miss Simpson was going to call him on his radio.” Coleman shrugged theatrically. “Did not hear anything from her. Contacted her on the radio and asked her what was going on. And she took the position that she needed another aircraft mechanic to depart the aircraft.” Coleman had been inducted into the UPS Cabal of Liars.
Okay, so the first point of note in Coleman’s statement was that he was claiming I had responded to Underwood on the radio. Their lies were burning a hole through my soul. I wanted to cry out – Stop It!
“At that point communications broke off and Mr. Underwood went directly over to where Miss Simpson was located in front of the 757. When he got there, Miss Simpson had the headset on and was standing there.”
I would like to take a moment here to include a pair of statements from two company witnesses, James Whitesell and James Gasaway, because they directly contradict Rock Underwood’s testimony as delivered by Mr. Tony Coleman.
[retyped statements for legibility]
On Tuesday September 24, 2002 air craft N463UP was being loaded for a flight to PHL. We had been requested by maintenance to notify them when we were close to being loaded so they could make their preparations, which we did. When the aircraft mechanic arrived at the plane we were wrapped up and waiting on them to move the stairs and final chocks. Debbie arrived and proceeded to crank up the air start and went back to the nose gear. The maintenance supervisor arrived at the plane and tried to talk to Debbie but more than once she turned away from him and took a few steps away. She then took off her headset and gestured with them as to say, here you take them, which he did not. After this Debbie left the plane.
I was at the airstart during this entire event, with it running, so I did not hear any of what was said by either party.
James Whitesell Sept. 25, 2002
September 25, 2002
To Whom It May Concern,
In regards to the incident of Tuesday September 24, 2002 concerning UPS Flight 0319, Tail # N-463UP to PHL. The aircraft was being loaded and we were requested by Aircraft Maintenance to notify them prior to our completing the load so they could make their final check and preparations, for an airstart was required to start the aircraft. Maintenance was notified and Debbie arrived at the aircraft. Debbie proceeded to crank up the airstart and walk to the nose of the aircraft. After several minutes of no noticeable progress being made, Rock the maintenance Supervisor rode up. He exited his vehicle, approached Debbie and tried to talk with her. As Rock was talking Debbie turned her back and took a few steps away. Again Rock approached her and again Debbie turned her back and took a few steps away. This happened at least 3 times when finally Debbie just took off her headset and extended them out to Rock, which he did not take. After that she left the aircraft and another mechanic had to be called. After the other mechanic arrived, the aircraft was started, but it departed late.
Eagle Aviation, Inc
As the witness statements demonstrate, I called Underwood first to request help. There is no mention in their statements of my answering a call on the radio. After all and according to Coleman’s opening statement if I had been standing there with the headset on as Coleman had suggested, how exactly had I heard the radio call from Underwood and responded? There was absolutely no way I could have heard that radio call if I were on the headset—and besides, my radio was sitting in the truck.
Logical or otherwise, this would be the crux of the UPS case against me. And, predictably, Underwood would be the star witness.
* * *
“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?”
“I do, yes.”
“Will you state your name for the record, please?”
“By whom are you employed?”
… “Now,” Coleman said dramatically, “at some point subsequent to Miss Simpson’s leaving to go depart the 757, when was the next time that you received any information concerning the 757’s departure?”
“I was in the cockpit of the A-300 when I overheard on the operations channel that the pilot on the 757 said he would not be going anywhere anytime soon due to the fact that the mechanic who was kicking out his airplane needed help.”
That was a lie. I had called Underwood directly on the radio immediately after I’d realized the situation at the 757. My mind swirled. Next thing I knew, Underwood was coming to another bold-faced whopper of a lie.
“I waited approximately a minute to see if Miss Simpson was going to call me on the radio. I didn’t hear anything on the radio and stepped out of the cockpit and asked Miss Simpson if there was a problem on the aircraft she was on. She said, ‘Yes, I need some help over here with the Airstart.’ I said there was nobody available and that she would have to depart the aircraft herself.”
I felt like the room was spinning. Here my career stood on the line, and Underwood couldn’t stop stretching the truth. But then I guess he had to continue the lie. Had he told a different story now; he would have lost all credibility.
“What did you do after having this conversation with Miss Simpson?” Coleman asked.
“I went over to the aircraft where she was, and she was at the nose of the aircraft. I told her, ‘Debbie, there is nobody to get you to launch the aircraft, so you’ll have to do it yourself. At a one-person (he said one-man, but “person” sounds more politically correct) gateway, you would be expected to do this, and it’s done [in] that manner all the time. If you would like me to go through it step by step, I would be happy to do that.’”
I watched with my mouth agape as Coleman led the conversation further.
“Now,” Coleman went on using what had become something of a catchphrase, “I’ve introduced previously, through Mark Meeker, Company Exhibits 4 and 5 concerning James Whitesell and James Gasaway. Do you know those two individuals?”
These were the supposedly Airstart-qualified ground crew on whom UPS based much of their argument.
“Yes, I do.”
“Do you know whether they were quote ‘certified and trained’ to operate the Airstart unit?”
“I did not know whether they were in fact certified,” Underwood replied—which was an interesting way to phrase the response because there is no such thing as a UPS certification for starting an engine using an Airstart. According to supervisor Moore, a few operations supervisors (like Gasaway, for instance) had been trained to do the job, but none were deemed qualified or certified. This is an important distinction for two reasons. First, the ground crew were only certified to turn the machine on, pull the air hoses out, and then, when the Airstart was finished, store the hoses back on the Airstart once the process was complete. Their certification did not allow them to do anything with the actual connection and disconnection of the hoses to and from the aircraft. Suggesting that these men were “certified” when no such certification exists likely did wonders for the perception UPS was trying to portray. It also happened to be a lie.
Coleman and Underwood spent the next few minutes bandying about the word qualified when speaking about Gasaway and Whitesell. They used the word so many times it began to sound like a drumbeat in my head. Not only did Underwood never use the term qualified with me during our little discussion in September 2002, but there was no such thing as an Airstart qualification to begin with. It all struck me as posturing on the part of UPS, an attempt to drive home the fact that there were qualified people to assist even if they weren’t technically qualified. Predictably, the arbitrator appeared to believe they were qualified based on what he was told by UPS.
From there Underwood seemed to tense even further. He was shifty and often too quick and adamant in his responses. It could have been because he was nervous. But then it could have been because the lies now just dripped from his lips—and the more lies one tells, the more careful one must be to not contradict those lies. He perjured himself about the details leading up to my first hearing about my desire to wait for help on the Airstart. (Q: “How long was Miss Simpson at the aircraft prior to you calling her?” A: “Approximately ten to eleven minutes.”) He perjured himself about whether he offered me help. (“Miss Simpson didn’t seem to be interested in my help one way or the other.”) He perjured himself in suggesting that he had never yelled at me or Weston that night. He perjured himself about whether he had actively sent me home. He perjured himself about calling me on the radio.
Fortunately, by the time union attorney Roland Wilder finished carving him up with kindness, it appeared clear to everyone in the room that there were more than a few holes in his tall tales. I know this because following Underwood’s testimony, Eishen called a much-needed recess, allowing me the time to meet outside the hotel with Jeff, who had driven all the way to Charleston with his daughter so he could testify on my behalf. He would testify on that day, but the key piece of testimony he would provide on my behalf would come later, during his deposition. In his statement he would recount a conversation with Gasaway wherein Gasaway explained that company representatives had suggested to him that he make his official statement on the matter look like Whitesell’s. In other words they’d asked him outright to fudge facts so their stories would coincide….
* * *
The rest of the hearing would pass in a bizarre fashion. Skip Cryer would take the stand and offer his bureaucratic take on the whole scene. By the end of his testimony, it had become clear that he was the ring leader hiding behind the curtain on all of Underwood’s untruths. The verbal gymnastics he performed in his attempts to bend the truth back against me made me exhausted just to watch. He stuttered and sweated bullets on the stand as he provided his account of why the company had chosen to terminate me. He tried to keep his testimony on the warning letters, but Roland just kept grilling him on why Underwood had refused to help me himself—and why it was that the company hadn’t seemed to take that factor into consideration when they were leveling their judgment about my alleged “insubordination.”
And then the whole thing turned on its head. In an effort to help substantiate some of Cryer’s bogus claims, Coleman submitted into the record Company Exhibit 15—in effect a series of meeting notes supposedly taken during my termination hearing. When I first laid eyes on the exhibit, I noticed that these notes had been taken with incredible detail. The taker of those lengthy notes? Rock Underwood.
Feeling my heart skip, I quickly scrawled a message on a piece of scratch paper and passed it to my attorney. “Was this tape-recorded?” it read.
Wilder furrowed his brow as his eyes scanned the exhibit. In time he nodded, seeing my point. Immediately he chimed in to question the validity of the notes. Roland noted the fact that Underwood had supposedly written these incredibly detailed notes by hand—all while testifying personally at the hearing. So he had been writing them even as he spoke and getting them down with startling detail. Second, the notes provided in Exhibit 15 were in fact typed, meaning that somebody had taken Underwood’s handwritten notes and transcribed them into a computer. That someone?
“And what you’ve told me, I thought, is that Mr. Underwood took notes during the hearing and then after the hearing reduced them into typewritten form,” Roland asked of Cryer. “Is that correct?”
Like nothing out of the ordinary had been asked, Cryer replied, “That’s a true statement.”
So as Cryer would go on to testify, the literal hinge point—the one solid piece of “evidence” that had been used to inform UPS’s decision on whether to terminate me—had been the notes supposedly handwritten and then transcribed by my very accuser.
“How long after the close of the hearing did you decide to discharge Miss Simpson?” Roland asked, a new bounce in his step.
“I’m not sure of the timeframe,” Cryer replied, squirming. “It was that evening sometime.”
“Within an hour or two hours?”
“I don’t recall how long it took.”
“Is it your testimony that Mr. Underwood produced Company Exhibit 15 prior to the discharge of Miss Simpson?”
The squirming deepened. “I don’t recall.”
Roland raised his eyebrows. “You don’t recall?”
“I don’t recall.”
My attorney appeared to have to suppress a chuckle. “Well, as a matter of fact, Mr. Cryer, a decision to discharge Miss Simpson was communicated to her within thirty minutes of the end of the hearing, isn’t that correct?”
What followed was a flurry of denial and backtracking unlike anything I had ever seen. Suddenly the validity of these typed notes was thrown into unassailable question, and the dance Cryer and his lawyer did to weasel their way out of the record was downright spellbinding. Essentially the company had tried to add the typed notes of my accuser to the record. They had attempted to introduce evidence that hadn’t even been present when UPS had rendered their termination opinion against me. Coleman could clearly sense this because he nervously asked for a recess so he could speak to his client off the record. The moment the recess ended and we had all reassembled in the conference room, Coleman stepped in and snatched the exhibit off the table. He then respectfully requested that all of the copies of the exhibit be returned to him. I’m not sure what made me comply with that request, but I slid the paper down the table and into Coleman’s waiting hands. Then I watched in awe as union president Darmento tore up his own copy and laid the pieces in a pile in front of him.
After eight grueling, sweltering hours, the hearing finally ended. Just as I was thanking my attorney for the wonderful job he had done, I noticed Darmento dropping the scraps of Exhibit 15 into the trash can. So Coleman had made off with most of the copies, but Darmento essentially left his behind in the trash can for the taking.
As I departed the hotel, I had no idea what the outcome of the hearing would be. I was in a daze. Drained. Stressed. Sick. From the arbitrator’s closing words and body language, I felt like maybe Roland had done his job and gotten me reinstated. But then I knew that even if I got my job back, it would be a pyrrhic victory. On the one hand, I’d be able to start collecting a paycheck again. On the other I would have to return to a hostile work environment and report to an array of people willing to lie under oath in an effort to protect the company image. If reinstated I’d be turning wrenches again, but I’d be surrounded by people who had committed perjury, a federal offense punishable by imprisonment. No matter the outcome, the sad part would be that Brown had gone beyond the call of duty to harm me emotionally, physically, and even spiritually. And they had done so with darkness, revenge and evil in their hearts.
The lesson: Never ever ask [UPS] for help. Because if you do….