Please Help This Veteran Fight Her Abusers
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44 Weeks left Ends Dec 31, 2019

My name is Shelley Fitch. I served as a Russian Linguist in the USAF in West Berlin during the Cold War. I am proud of the job we did and many of the good friends I made during those years are still friends. Shortly before I got out of the Air Force, I was violently sexually assaulted by another GI. I did not report it to anyone until a few years ago. At the time it happened, women were still commonly perceived as having provoked their assaults and I was too fearful and ashamed to report it. Later, as American society became more enlightened about the nature of sexual assault, I felt too embarrassed to report it after so many years and felt that I had lost my chance. After seeing a particularly encouraging documentary about how common sexual assault was and still is in the military, I finally reported it. It was shortly after that, that I was diagnosed with the PTSD that I have had for decades. 

Despite the aftermath of the assault and ongoing PTSD symptoms, I returned to the US and used my GI bill benefits to pay my rent while I put myself through college. Seven years later I went to grad school on a full academic scholarship. After that, I worked in Russia for a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) established jointly by the Department of State and my graduate school, in order to promote trade between the US and the newly former Soviet Union. Following that, I worked for a major American steamship line, running their Central Asia Operation from Kazakhstan. After the division I worked for was sold, I worked for the US Embassy and then for an NGO that established the insurance industry, the first central bank and the first stock market in Kazakhstan. During all of those years, and after, I was able to go to school and work successfully without my PTSD interfering.

In 2010, I started working for a federal agency in a call center where we facilitated payment and reimbursement for a health care program for the dependents of permanently and totally disabled Veterans. I loved helping the Veterans and their dependents, and felt that I was making a real contribution towards their well-being. In 2013, I took another position in the agency where, for the first 16 months, I wrote contracts with the community-based nursing homes that Veterans and their families had chosen for the Veterans' care. I loved this work, as well, but it was way too much for one person to do alone. Several months after finally being given help, circumstances that I had no part in creating caused me to be moved out of nursing homes onto another team.

Several colleagues warned me in advance about my new supervisor but, at first, I mistakenly chose to give her the benefit of the doubt. I realized my mistake very soon, as she began treating me with disrespect, which quickly escalated into hostility, obstruction of my work, refusal to provide training or to allow others to help me, personal and public humiliation, and multiple other forms of harassment. After three months on her team and multiple appeals to upper management to intervene, which were all ignored, I hired an attorney who wrote a request to the director for a transfer out of the office. The director told me that he would help me to transfer and I let my attorney go. He did not keep his word and I remained on her team for five more months, undergoing increasingly more frequent and severe harassment and hostility which caused me to have to leave work and go to the VA Medical Center ER on several occasions. Where I had previously rarely taken sick leave, I was now using it as fast as I earned it, it in order to handle PTSD symptoms which had been exacerbated almost beyond control. I was in constant physical and emotional distress.

During this time, various colleagues told me about the other women who had been bullied and abused by this supervisor. IT TURNED OUT THAT SHE HAD ABUSED EVERY WOMAN WHO HAD EVER BEEN ON HER TEAM. I WAS THE 10TH. I filed an EEO complaint on the basis of gender discrimination. Other women had made complaints to the director and filed union grievances, to which the union will attest, but this was the first EEO complaint ever to be filed against her. The director had been responsible for handling the complaints and making the final decisions on the union grievances, and nothing had ever changed. Now there was a legal action against her and the director couldn't sweep it under the carpet.

Within three and a half months of filing the EEO complaint, and after four years of having received only good reviews, including one from my abusive supervisor's own supervisor, and never having had any disciplinary actions, she gave me a "Fully Successful" Performance Appraisal in which she wrote comments contradicting every Fully Successful rating, and gave me a failing rating in Communication, which was the catch-all for anything a supervisor wanted to use against you that didn't clearly fall into another category. The damaging Performance Appraisal was followed by an Admonishment, after which I was put on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

Any employment attorney who has ever represented federal employees against a federal agency will confirm that being put on a PIP is the beginning of the end of employment with that agency and would, quite possibly, make employment with any other federal agency highly unlikely if they were to learn about it.

Before they had a chance to fire me, I accepted a position that I had applied for several months earlier in order to get away from this supervisor. On my last day at work, the director and I signed an agreement saying that I would drop the EEO, to which his name and a charge of retaliation had been added by then, in exchange for which he would do three things: The libelous Performance Appraisal would be rectified; the Admonishment would be taken off of my record; and the final Performance Appraisal that my supervisor would write for me would be Fully Successful and contain no comments. This last action would have the effect of nullifying the PIP. By the time I left that office, I was emotionally and physically exhausted, and just wanted to put everything behind me. At the director's request, I dropped the EEO complaint the same day we signed the agreement. The director has never fulfilled the third term of his part of the agreement, which has had disastrous consequences for me.

What I did not know when I arrived to work in the new office was that MY NEW SUPERVISOR HAD CHASED A FEMALE COLLEAGUE, WHOM HE HAD PREVIOUSLY ABUSED BOTH PHYSICALLY AND VERBALLY, DOWN A HALLWAY, LUNGING AND YELLING AT HER, RESULTING IN A POLICE REPORT BEING MADE AGAINST HIM. The following day, while driving to work, she had such high anxiety that she began having heart palpitations. When they hadn't stopped more than an hour later, she was taken to the VA Medical Center where they had to stop her heart and start it again. She had never had heart problems in her life before that. She lost her bonus that year and was disciplined for yelling at him to get away from her that day. THIS SUPERVISOR HAD ALSO ATTACKED A FEMALE SUPERVISOR IN THE OFFICE SO MANY TIMES THAT SHE HAD FINALLY FILED A COMPLAINT WITH HUMAN RESOURCES AND, WHEN I ARRIVED TO WORK THERE, WAS STILL AFRAID TO BE IN THE SAME OFFICE WITH HIM. I learned about these things from other colleagues and from the two women themselves. 

After a honeymoon period of roughly a month, my new supervisor began began showing overt hostility towards me. He disrespected, humiliated and harassed me regularly. He played mind games with me. For example, right after I had told him what I had just finished working on and what I was going to do next, without missing a beat he would ask me what I had just finished working on and what I was going to do next. He ignored me when I talked to him in person, would rarely return my phone calls or emails when he was teleworking, and refused to train me. He delayed in reviewing my work for weeks at a time, causing me to appear to have gone way over the time we were allowed to complete those types of contracts. I began to be extremely afraid of him.

About four months after I started working for him, he set out to find out who my previous supervisor had been, contacted her and asked her for a copy of the PIP she had put me on. He knew about the PIP because, not long after I left my previous office, my former director threatened to call him and tell him that I was harassing him (the former director) about fulfilling his end of the agreement we had signed, which was taking an unreasonably long time to happen. I believed he would do it, so I preemptively told my new supervisor about what had gone on at my previous office, without naming names, and how it had affected my PTSD. It was still very early in our relationship and I had no reason to mistrust him. I wanted him to hear it from me first. My former supervisor eagerly shared the PIP with my new supervisor and offered to help him in getting me onto a PIP in the new office, i.e., in getting me fired, which she and my previous director had failed to do.  

Prior to contacting my previous supervisor, my new supervisor had attacked me verbally, so viciously that I had been afraid he was going to hit me. The attack took place behind his closed office door, so there were no witnesses. Immediately after the attack, he asked me to keep it a secret from our director and, out of fear, I agreed. Eight days later he attacked me viciously again, once more behind his closed office door. Once again I felt that it might escalate into a physical attack. At the end of the second attack, he triumphantly announced that he had my PIP from the previous office. By then, all of the PTSD symptoms that had subsided somewhat during the brief time I was off between the two jobs, and during the honeymoon period at the new office, had returned. 

After that attack, I considered that I no longer had a duty to keep my promise to keep his first attack a secret and reported both attacks to our director. I told her about his hostility and abuse, and made it clear that I was terrified of him. I told her that he wasn't training me and asked her to take me off of his team. She refused and I was forced to remain on his team for over six more months, during which time I asked her countless times more to take me off of his team, reported dozens of things to her that he had done to me, and forwarded emails to her that he had written to and about me. She would either ascribe his actions to innocent motives or ignore me. After I gave her a letter written by my psychologist, requesting that I be transferred out of the office, Human Resources offered me 'Reasonable Accommodation'. I refused it because the only things that could possibly have been done to accommodate my PTSD, which were to be taken off of my supervisor's team or to be transferred out of the office, had been denied. I also knew that, if an agency can demonstrate that they tried to provide reasonable accommodation but were unsuccessful, they can let you go. I believe that the arbiter of what constitutes "trying" and what constitutes "reasonable accommodation" is the same agency office that is responsible for trying to accommodate you.

I was forced to attend an unlawful mediation, arranged by my director, in order to resolve our "communication problems", or risk appearing to be unwilling to work towards resolution with this supervisor. He used that occasion as an opportunity to humiliate, mock, bully and abuse me in front of an unskilled and easily manipulated mediator who, when he discovered that the mediation was unlawful, allowed it to continue rather than stopping it as he should have done. 

After I had been on my supervisor's team for over ten months and had refused Reasonable Accommodation on the grounds that my PTSD was not causing the problems with him but that he was causing the problems with my PTSD, Human Resources conducted a sham investigation. I found out by accident that it was about to be concluded without any of my witnesses having been interviewed, and objected. Human Resources then sent my witnesses an email form to fill out which made it clear that, if they had not been eye witnesses to my abuse, they could not claim to have direct knowledge of it. At the end of the form, my witnesses were forced to sign a statement swearing that this was their entire testimony and confirming their understanding that they would not be able to add anything to it later on. When I found out about this, I objected to Human Resources. I requested that they observe legal precedent which has established that, in cases of crimes that often take place without witnesses, witnesses are allowed to testify as to what the victim told them about what happened, and to what the victim's demeanor was when they were telling them about it. I don't know if they ever sent a new form out but I believe they didn't because no one ever told me that it had been done.

I filed a new EEO complaint for retaliation against my previous director and supervisor for making the PIP available to my new supervisor and, shortly after that, added my new supervisor to it. I was allowed to include the retaliation that I had experienced in the first office after filing the gender discrimination EEO complaint that I had dropped on my last day of work, since I had dropped it in the belief that the director would adhere to the agreement we had signed and he had not. The EEO office came back to me several months later and told me that I would have to file a separate EEO complaint against my new supervisor since the two offices were under separate divisions of the agency. This caused the official filing date of the EEO complaint against my new supervisor to appear to have been several months later than it actually was. The separate EEO complaint against him was filed on the basis of gender discrimination, disability discrimination and retaliation. 

While I was on his team, my supervisor solicited complaints about me from my colleagues to use against me at a counseling that he had already scheduled, but for which he had no evidence. Several of my colleagues told me that everyone was being solicited. One of them told everyone in the office that I was being bullied and that she would not stand for it. Unfortunately, it was out of her hands. By the day of the counseling, my supervisor hadn't gotten anything that he could use against me, so the counseling had to be turned into a training meeting. He later sent a fabricated memo to the EEO investigator on his case, representing that training meeting as a counseling anyway. He viciously verbally attacked me multiple times more; libeled and slandered me to our director and my colleagues; obstructed my work; refused to help me or answer my questions; libeled and slandered me to internal customers and outside vendors; mocked me; denigrated me; alienated me from my colleagues; libeled me all the way to the top of our division; encouraged internal customers and support personnel to disrespect me; lied to and about me; and gave me a fabricated counseling. I ended up at the VA Medical Center ER several more times and could hardly build up any sick leave, due to the rate at which I was using it. He was so manipulative that he was able to have our director believing one thing and our internal customers believing another thing, while he was telling me something else. All of this would ultimately add up to give the impression that I had no idea of what I was doing. He enlisted an internal customer to report on me to him, behind my back. Work would disappear from my computer. Work disappeared from an unlocked cupboard, then the cupboard was locked with the key that always sat in the lock, the thief probably having forgotten that the cupboard was unlocked when they first opened it. I arrived one morning to find a huge thumb or fingerprint in a nectarine I had left on my desk overnight. 

My supervisor also persuaded his former victim - the female supervisor whom he had attacked multiple times and who had been too afraid to be in the same office with him - to aid him in making me appear incompetent and ill-behaved. One morning, he somehow convinced her to go into his office with him. They spent about four hours together that day. My desk was close to his office door so I saw them go in and close the door behind them. I remember the day very well because I was shocked that she had agreed to be alone with him in a closed room. I believe that she was so relieved to have his attention off of herself and onto me, and that she was afraid that I would tell my supervisor what she had recently said to me about him, that she was eager to support him in whatever he had planned for me. I believe he may even have persuaded her to withdraw her complaint against him.

Her major contribution towards getting me onto a PIP and fired came when she volunteered (after being asked to by my supervisor) to review one of my contracts, in the name of helping me to progress in my career. My supervisor had already delayed the completion of that contract by three months, which was far beyond the amount of time I was allotted, when he told me to give it to her. She made pages and pages of findings of my supposed errors, in which she made so many errors herself that she had to rewrite the review after she found out that I had discovered them all. It still had errors in it after she rewrote it. I am able to rebut the vast majority of her findings. I could not argue with the ones that were not mandated by regulations, but were just her personal preferences. It was the first, uncorrected version of that review that provided the basis for the counseling that my supervisor had finally maneuvered into being able to give to me. He would use the language verbatim from that review, not only in the counseling but in a draft PIP, in a mid-year review and in an End of Fiscal Year Performance Appraisal that is now in my personnel file. 

The female supervisor later accused me in a letter to our director (who was, by then, our division chief), which she planned on sending to the director of my old office (whom we now worked for, since our office had been put under him during the agency reorganization of 2016), of charging her, knocking her down, hitting her in the head, scratching her and calling her a "bitch", after I tried to save her from a bad fall. She accused me, among other things, of carrying a knife to work and of being a danger to my colleagues, implying that I was crazy and that everyone in the office needed to be safeguarded against me. Meanwhile, I had been and was still getting along with all of my colleagues. When I learned that she had accused me of a felony, I went to our division chief to let her know that I would not stand by while she did this. The female supervisor then changed her mind and said that she didn't want to pursue the complaint against me, yet she felt free to submit it to the EEO investigator on my supervisor's case. 

Prior to working in these two offices, I had been able to fulfill my school and work responsibilities, including at the agency, without my PTSD symptoms interfering. During the time I worked for these two supervisors, I experienced heightened fearfulness; anxiety; panic; deep depression; hyper-vigilance; suicidal ideation; uncontrollable crying; startling easily; dizziness while sitting; stabbing pains in my stomach and in the right hemisphere of my brain; nausea; vomiting; diarrhea; sleeplessness; and nightmares. The physical symptoms, including the stabbing pains in my brain and stomach, were all investigated by my primary care doctor at the VA Medical Center and were not found to have physical causes. Specialists also investigated the brain pains and found no physical causes. Many days, I would sit at my desk, frozen in fear of turning my work in, because I knew that it would be torn apart. I was afraid to write an email, or to make a statement or ask a question. I was chastised for not taking the initiative and not coming up with solutions to problems although I was cut down and ridiculed every time I did. One morning I had to call my psychologist because I could not bring myself to grasp the door knob and open the front door of my apartment in order to leave for work. I was frozen in terror and dread.

After being bullied and abused by my supervisor for over ten months, and never having received any help in dealing with him, although I had asked for it actively over and over again, I fell into such deep despair that I finally decided to commit suicide. I made a plan to go out at night to an isolated area, lay down in the snow and freeze to death. At the last moment I forced myself to go to the VA Medical Center ER. They sent me to a psychiatric hospital where I spent five days, When I left, I was put on an almost four-month Leave of Absence by my psychologist. About a month and a half of it was unpaid.

While I was on Leave of Absence, I found out through a FOIA that my former director and supervisor had sabotaged a chance I had had for a position outside of my current office. As a result of the slanderous reviews they gave to the hiring official, I did not even receive an interview although I had ranked among the top five candidates for as many openings. The worst part of this for me was that I had applied for that position in order to avoid having to work for my previous director again, having found out that my current office was going to be put under my previous office during the agency reorganization. I was trying to avoid having to work with all of my abusers in one place - my previous director and supervisor, my male supervisor in the second office, and the female supervisor who was helping him to get me onto a PIP. (This is where I work now. I have to talk to the director from time to time. I have to see all three supervisors regularly. When I hear the male supervisor's voice, it makes me feel nauseous.)

Ten months after I started working for my male supervisor in the second office, and seven months after he enlisted the help of my previous supervisor in getting me onto a PIP, he finally manipulated me into a position where he could actually give me a PIP himself. He sent me the draft PIP the first day I was in the hospital after planning to kill myself. While I was on Leave of Absence he sent me an email letting me know that he was going to give me a mid-year review based on the draft PIP and put me on a formal PIP on my first day back at work. He was prevented from doing so because, when I returned, I was assigned to the supervisor whose team I had asked to be transferred to so many times before I decided to commit suicide. Since he hadn't been able to give me the PIP, he proceeded to use the PIP language in the mid-term review that Human Resources later allowed to be made a part of my End of Fiscal Year Performance Appraisal (because I had worked for him for half of the year). That Performance Appraisal, with all of its lies, exaggerations, omissions, half truths and errors is now in my official personnel record and will be for four more years. If a hiring manager for a potential federal position were to ask to see my last two Performance Appraisals, which is not unusual, that would be one of them. Although I was no longer on his team, he and the female supervisor who had previously been his victim continued to harass, humiliate. libel and slander me. After our office was finally put under my previous office, he went to his new (and my old) director and advised him to fire me for incompetence. 

I have now been fighting against egregious discrimination, bullying and abuse for almost three and a half years. The EEO complaint against the director and supervisor from the first office has just been brought before an EEO Administrative Judge for preliminary discussions. I have told my attorney that I want to avoid having to go to court. I don't want to have to listen to the lies that my abusers have told the investigators (that I have seen in the Report of Investigation) recited out loud and defended by agency attorneys. I want to avoid having to relive the abuse and I want to avoid having to have my witnesses who still work for the agency put on the stand, for fear of what might happen to them after that. I also want to avoid the enormous expense of court proceedings. But the VA has not responded to the demand letters that they have asked me and my attorney for. 

I have spent about $30,000 since the fall of 2015 and believe that I may very well be facing bankruptcy before these cases can be resolved. I can't go without an attorney, as federal law and the court system are not something I can deal with on my own while working full time. I want justice for myself and for all of the women who have suffered before me. I want these kinds of things to become impossible in federal agencies.

If you have read this far, I want you to thank you sincerely. It was not an easy decision to put this out to the public but I now find myself in need of whatever help you are able to give. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them. I will post updates whenever anything significant happens.

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