When a fired ex-employee started sitting in his car outside the University of Texas at Arlington print shop, driving by former colleagues’ homes, and even visiting one man’s pastor, workers got worried.
So did their bosses, who asked UTA police for extra protection and, on several occasions, actually locked the doors during working hours. UTA police even beefed up security at the campus president’s office. Robbie Streety admits he did those things, but says he had good reasons. Other allegations aside, he can’t have been an easy fellow to work with: He agrees that he also finked on a married co-worker for allegedly having an affair, turned in other co-workers for asking for too much overtime, and even reported that his supervisor, a woman, and two male employees made obscene phone calls to one another on office phones. But he says other charges against him — including that he threatened people and did work for another employer on UTA time — are unfounded and that he shouldn’t have been fired. He’s the victim, he said, of racial discrimination, among other things.
UTA officials, who once said that Streety had made threats against his former colleagues, now say they know of no actual threats, just that Streety made other workers feel frightened about what he might do. The officials also say Streety signed a statement admitting he had done work for his outside job while at the print shop — a document that Streety said he’s never seen. And his former supervisor has been found to have used a racial slur against Streety’s wife — but the supervisor is appealing and may file a counter-claim. In short, UTA is dealing with a nasty web of allegations at its print shop, with current employees caught in the middle and major disagreements among the players. And when Fort Worth Weekly began trying to unravel it, print shop employees said, they were told they’d be fired if they responded to a reporter’s questions. To make matters as unclear as possible, a university spokesman emphatically denied there was any such gag order.
Streety, a printer with more than 20 years’ experience in the field, was hired by UTA two years ago. He and his former employers agree that there were no major problems for about the first six months. After that, “things started going downhill,” he said. “There was racism and discrimination, there was yelling, there were obscene comments. The work environment deteriorated to the point where it became unbearable. I finally couldn’t take it,” he said. Streety “wrote a report” on his supervisor, Irma Banda, and turned it in to higher-ups in October 2006. That report, he said, led to an avalanche of retaliatory actions against him from Banda and several bosses, ending in his termination on May 30. “The racism got so bad,” said Streety, who is white. “I heard my wife, who’s Mexican, called a ‘wetback’ on several occasions.” He started making regular reports to the university’s Equal Opportunity / Affirmative Action (EOAA) and human resources offices. “Things got completely out of control,” he said. “My reports were almost all ignored, and one woman at Human Resources even told me that I was the problem, not the rest of the people at the print shop.”
Following his May 30 termination, Streety began a furious campaign to get his job back. He wrote letters to the EOAA, human resources, the university president and provost, and “maybe 40 other people, trying to get them to understand that what happened just wasn’t right. I never signed a paper admitting I’d been caught. That just didn’t happen, like a lot of things didn’t happen that people say happened.” Streety showed up in the parking lot of the print shop building on several occasions. On some of them he went to see the EOAA or HR. Other times he simply sat for long periods in his car. Parking outside his old office, going to former co-workers’ homes, and begging one ex-colleague’s pastor to intervene could have seemed troubling to others, he admitted. “I guess, from the outside, it would have looked like strange behavior, but I was in deep depression and trying to get someone to speak on my behalf, that’s all,” he said. “And as for going to that pastor, well, I’m a Christian, and I was talking to another Christian’s minister, trying to get him to understand that he should do the right thing. I never threatened anyone, though.”
Banda and two others at the print shop said that most of Streety’s accusations are nonsense. “I’ve been here for almost 16 years,” said Banda, who describes herself as a hard but fair supervisor. “Why would I suddenly become this racist woman? I’m a Latina. I know about racism. I was the one subject to a hostile work environment by Mr. Streety.” Banda finally made several reports of her own against Streety, mostly to her print shop superiors. They included not only sexual harassment charges — she once accused him of “intensely gawking at my rear end” — but charges he was cheating on his time card. That led her supervisor, John Crader, to assign her to monitor Streety’s work hours, a task she said made her uneasy.
Streety recalled the time-card episode as just more retaliatory harassment for having filed his initial negative report on Banda. “How can you take a break when someone is watching their watch and noting whether you took 13 minutes or 15 minutes?” he said.
Banda claimed that Streety constantly belittled her right to be a supervisor. In a recent e-mail to a reporter, he wrote, “Irma Banda was a high school drop-out. How is she qualified to be a shop supervisor?” However, on July 10, the EOAA sustained one count of Banda using a racial slur with regard to Streety’s wife, a charge Banda said is baseless. She’s asked the EOAA for permission to file a counter-complaint against university upper management and Streety. Streety became so difficult to work with — at least in part due to his constant reports — that according to UTA’s director of public affairs, Robert Wright, the university offered him $10,000 to resign, an offer Streety acknowledges was made and that he turned down. According to Wright, Streety’s firing had nothing to do with his issues with co-workers. “Mr. Streety was caught using the computer to work for another company while on state time. He was told and signed a paper admitting it and promising that it wouldn’t happen again or he could be dismissed. And then he did it again and was dismissed.”
Streety admits that he signed a request for permission to take on a part-time job — as a salesman for an energy company — but said he never worked at that while on the clock for UTA. “If one of the other workers wanted to talk about how to lower their electric bills, I’d tell them to come to me on my lunch hour or call me after work,” he said. Ironically, Banda backed him up on that. She said she never saw Streety spending time on his second job while at UTA. There apparently weren’t any threats, either. UTA Assistant Police Chief Rick Gomez said he knew of no threats by Streety against anyone. “From what we could see from the correspondence he sent to a number of people, there was no direct threat by him to anyone,” Gomez said. “But some of those people thought there was a level of implied threat.” That is far short of what Wright initially told the Weekly. “Right after the guy left, police officers were put at the print shop building and at the president’s and provost’s office as well. The officers have been removed, but permanent 24-hour security measures have been put in place at those locations — because of this fellow,” he said, adding that UTA took the threats seriously.
The university spokesman later changed his stance. “The provost says not only wasn’t she threatened, she found his [Streety’s] correspondence to be very polite. The president says there was no correspondence between that office and Mr. Streety,” he said. So where did the allegations come from? According to Wright, the extra security was requested by both the campus police chief and Rusty Ward, vice president of business affairs, whose area of responsibility includes the print shop. Ward said the beefed-up security was standard university policy when an employee is terminated who “we feel might come back and disrupt the workplace.” But he acknowledged that “there were no threats made by Mr. Streety.” By the end of Streety’s time with UTA, said co-workers who asked not to be named, he’d become a “malcontent,” “someone who took his frustrations out on others,” and a person “who just trashed everyone in the worst way possible.” Still, that’s not what he was fired for. He will get to tell his side of that story again to university officials on Aug. 17, at a hearing on his appeal of the firing.