I worked as a Research Scientist in a prestigious University. It was in the Autumn in 2008, my first baby was due in December. Since June, I had been asking my PI (Boss) when I would get a renewal of my contract. I was assured that it would be renewed, as it had been the last three years. Two of my male colleagues were in the same situation, so I wasn’t overly worried. He was absolutely fine when I told him I was pregnant, actually I told him that before my 12 week scan and he would tell me how important family was etc.
I remember thinking how awful he was, when I went to see him in his office one afternoon. His wife was there and we were talking, then he turned around and commented on how slim I looked even when I was nearly three months along and told his wife pointedly to take note. His financial advisor was also in the office and looked very embarrassed.
By the end of September, I was getting to the stage of being tired, but I never missed a day of work even though the commute from home to Uni was an hour both ways. I asked to take some leave. My PI responded “But I need you here”. I then said I was getting fairly tired and would like to take my leave that I was entitled to. Begrudgingly, he gave it to me. I had a week of rest and was back to work raring to do. I remember going through my mail and finding an official letter from HR informing me that I had a month left to work at the University and unfortunately my contract wasn’t to be renewed. It was the first I heard of this. My head was spinning and I didn’t know what to do. I decided to compose myself and went to speak to my PI. I went into his office and discussed the face I received this letter from HR stating there was to be no renewal. He told me casually, that it wasn’t his problem and he could not do anything. I remember asking him “What about my maternity leave/pay”. Again, he told me, it wasn’t his problem and that it was up to the University to sort that out. He had no money he stated. We then walked to the laboratory together and I remember him giving me a long list of tasks I had to finish within that month (finish supervising a student, ensure the student report was written with guidance, writing up all my scientific methods for everyone to access, finish lab work as well as to finish writing a book chapter). I listened to him, more so in utter shock.
When he left the lab, I disappeared to the ladies and broke down, then confided in a colleague. I then decided there and then to walk out with my personal belongings. There was no way I was going to stay a minute longer working for a man like that. I told my lab colleagues what had happened. Everyone was shocked and my male colleagues whose contracts were also coming to an end were renewed! I wasn’t in the frame of time to put two and two together. Two of my good friends helped me carry my boxes to my car. I passed my PI and he saw me with boxes but didn’t twig. I drove off site that day and never returned to see him again. I called my husband and broke down in the car. I drove home nearly 7 months pregnant and huge concerns on how was I going to support my unborn child.
I called up HR and made an appointment to see them. They were shocked about how my PI had handled things. Apparently, he was told to inform me three months ago but obviously never did. I mentioned that I had been asking about my contract renewal for several months. HR were obviously very on the fence about the whole situation to me. They never gave the game away. I went away feeling very unsupportive. I filed a grievance against my boss. This then went to an independent party and was eventually “Upheld”. I requested the Union to support me, I ended up chasing them the entire time. That was endless. It was a hugely stressful time for me. I was signed of sick and had to go for regular tests as some of my results were abnormal due to all the stress.
My case still had to be presented in front of the Redundancy committee. The date happened to be two days away from my due date. I attended it with Union representation, husband waiting outside. I started having contractions during the meeting, probably brought on with all the stress. My baby arrived two days later after a very difficult and long labour. We had done nothing to prepare for our new arrival, actually we had bought nothing. My Father and Step mother bought everything for us, which was very generous. My husband assembled the cot the night before I came home with our son.
Months went by and there was no resolution. I was getting increasingly bitter and angry. I was diagnosed with IBS and it was debilitating especially when I had a little baby to look after. The University decided to pay my maternity until a decision was made. I again had to chase the Union for answers and didn’t get many. Eventually the University wanted to make an offer with a gagging clause. The Union didn’t help in advising me. I felt unsupported and that the Union was doing me a favour to respond to my emails. Two things were on the table: pay-out (6 months salary) or redeployment. My husband and I decided a redeployment would be important for the financial security of our little family. No one was forthcoming with support.
A year later – committee came to the decision that I was to be made redundant. By then, I was redeployed into an admin role. I didn’t know then, HR approached the department they wanted me to work in and asked them to treat me carefully. The department had to take me on and didn’t really have a choice. Later on, I heard from the Union that my former Boss was reprimanded severely for what he did! Although giving him a professorship was hardly a punishment in my opinion.
I started to have panic attacks worrying what would happen if I saw him. I had to go to counselling as my bitterness was affecting my marriage and friendships. I felt no one understood, how the last few months of my pregnancy, the birth of my child were supposed to be joyous times were clouded by what this vile man did. I still have a real hate towards him. He robbed me of that precious time. I will forever hate him. People don’t understand that and probably think I am overreacting. All my scientific research has been attributed to his success – which is sickening. Thankfully I have moved on and away from that area. I still don’t know how I would react if I saw him.