When I received an email from the Today Show producer on Monday, my first inclination was to say no. They wanted me to fly out to New York that same day and be ready to appear first thing on Tuesday morning. I have been handling some litigation work in addition to my magazine articles and class assignments, and on Monday, I was booked for back to back meetings all day until 9pm. I have also been exhausted from my pregnancy, and all I want to do is curl up and sleep all day long. The thought of a six hour flight was not appealing.
And each time I am contacted to talk about my Paul Hastings email, I worry about being over-exposed. It's not something that I necessarily want to be known for. I sent the email because I thought it was important to speak up for myself and those who may face similar treatment. But I don't need to be known as "that Paul Hastings email girl." So when Lesley Stahl's producer from 60 Minutes contacted me last summer, I told him no. When the Today Show producer emailed, I initially said, "Sorry, I can't fly out to NY today."
But then, there was also a side of me that thought, "Oh, what the hell. The story is already out there, and maybe it'll force some employers to pause before dragging an employee through the mud. And who knows, maybe it'll help me with my writing career in some way." So I decided to do it, and they set me up in a studio on Battery Street in San Francisco. On Monday afternoon, they sent a camera guy over to take some footage of me sitting at my computer. That evening, I picked out a couple of jackets I could wear, grateful that I only needed to worry about the top half of my attire. On Tuesday, I woke up at 3:30am to shower. I asked Jeff if he wanted to join me, but the smart man decided sleep was more important. They sent a car at 4am, and once I got there, a make-up lady fussed over me for a while. Once we were ready, I just sat in a dark room, stared at the camera, and talked when I heard Meredith Vieira ask me questions through an ear piece. I felt strange talking into a camera, so I asked the make-up lady to stand behind the camera. And it was over in a few minutes.
I think the Today Show appearance was neither here nor there. In some ways, it was disappointing because it focused on whether employees are conducting themselves properly when the topic should really have been on the unethical strategies employers use in laying off employees. And of course there were tons of things I thought to say in advance, but once you are in the middle of it, everything escapes your brain and you wonder what the hell you are doing there. The biggest thing I regret not saying is mentioning Paul Hastings by name, pointing out that they are an established employment law firm, and explaining how they were mocking up performance reviews to suit their purposes. But it's too late now.
Yesterday morning, I received a call from Inside Edition. I told them no. I think one dorky TV appearance on this topic, particularly when I've gained so much weight from my three pregnancies in the past year, is more than enough. And it's hard to know when you'll be set up as a punching bag for some TV show's rating.
I have to say, though, that my concerns about the downsides of sending the email have turned out not to be warranted. I think most people worry that you appear unprofessional or that companies will not want to touch you after this kind of an experience. One of the first emails I received yesterday after the show was from one of my current clients, the founder and managing partner of a consulting company, and he wrote, "Great job and well said!" What a decent man. Even my parents, probably the most conservative and risk-adverse people I know, said, "Of course you should speak up when your boss lies like that." And during the past ten months, random people have contacted me and invited me to interview with their company. I've also received emails from in-house attorneys who offered to help in some way.
So many of these incidents stand out. A few weeks after I was laid off, I was flailing and trying to figure out what to do. Out of the blue, I emailed journalist Henry Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle. I had never met him before, but I wanted to learn more about journalism and knew that he covered trials in the Bay Area. In the email, I explained what had happened and that I was considering a career change. In the warmest response, he invited me to have lunch with him. I met him for tapas just a block away from the Chronicle office in Oakland, where he pulled out his notebook to talk to the attorney for the Muslim Bakery, who happened to be passing by. Then he let me hover over him the rest of the afternoon as he typed furiously, clicked on different windows every few seconds, interviewed police officers who had a lead, listened in on police radio feeds as they chased some suspects around the city, scanned press releases and court dockets, exchanged emails with his editor, and shared a story about the time he rode a Blue Angel just weeks before the pilot crashed during a show. I walked out feeling like I could never do Henry's job, but what a great way to find out.
So what could been a terribly sour termination experience has in many ways turned into an affirmation of the decency of people in my life and strangers I've never met. Maybe the world isn't so bad after all. Isn't it a good thing that I'm no longer hanging out in that particular building on 2d Street in San Francisco that seems to be filled with an unusually high concentration of jerks?