Sunday, March 18, 2007

Fired for Blogging: Drew's Side of The Story

I have never been fired from anything in my life, which made this blindsiding even more of a blow to our system. This has created a sudden and unexpected hardship for me and my family. Financially we find ourselves in the very difficult position of having a brand new baby, and an income that has dropped to only my wife's small maternity-leave pay.

I certainly had no intention of doing anything that would harm, compete with, damage or detract from Mercenary Audio in any way. On the contrary, I originally wished to create something that was a benefit to Mercenary.

With the benefit of three weeks to compose an official reason for my dismissal (required by Mass so he can stop me from collecting my unemployment benefits), Mr. Fletcher has made his case. Now I will make mine. Keep in mind I had no warning of any kind, written or otherwise, that I was in danger of being sacked. There was no performance review after my first year, or anything of that nature. Fletcher never indicated in writing to me there was a problem. And never was I given any kind of witten policy guideline or list of "do's and don'ts"


2007 began business-as-usual at Mercenary, with me as part of the team. When I left work on the 15th to go have our baby, everybody said, “See ya when you get back! Bring cigars!”

A POINT SO OBVIOUS I HAD OVERLOOKED IT: At no time did Mercenary give me the option of deleting the blog and saving my job. They never said: "The blog or your job, you choose" At that point, only a small handful of people had seen this little practice blog. Not the case now, obviously...

Fletcher has published: Mr. Townson was dismissed for a variety of reason, the blog "Drewcifer's Tone Zone" http://drewciferstonezone.blogspot.com was merely the straw that broke the camel's back. I will give you the broad strokes in this blog entry.Mr. Townson was dismissed for excessive absenteeism, failure to meet the continuing educational requirements we expect and demand from our staff, misuse of company time and resources, attempting to create divisiveness among the staff, and finally, the insubordination of creating a blog that references "professional audio tools and techniques" [which is in direct conflict to the goals of the company].

Never, not once, was there any official sit-down with me to discuss any of these issues. Had Fletcher communicated his concerns, making clear my job was at risk, I could have addressed them.

Our company is unique in that it requires our key staff, especially the sales staff, to be up to date on the tools and technology involved in the recording of music. To this end we have built a well equipped audio recording control room so our staff can use the tools they discuss in sales matters. The idea behind this control room is to have our sales staff be educated about the tools they discuss from an applications perspective. Hence the studio is called "The Methods and Applications Laboratory". Our sales staff is mandated to spend a minimum of four [4] hours per week working in this area, those four hours may be spent during "company time" though most choose to spend their time in that room "after hours". Mr. Townson spent less than 4 hours per month expanding his education in this room.

For Fletcher to imply I was not “up to date on the tools and technology involved in the recording of music” is absurd and borders on defamatory. It was well-known to all at Mercenary that I have my own home studio. I am a partner in a commercial studio as well. I have the ability to test gear –and really put it through its paces—at home. No one else that works there, including Fletcher, could claim having a studio at home. This was one of the many upsides to hiring me in the first place. Through this method, and over the course of my tenure there, I regularly tested a LOT of gear for Mercenary; arguably more than any of the other sales staff. I have a good ability to translate my findings both by speaking and writing. I wrote reviews which appeared on Merc’s web-site (like this one: http://www.mercenary.com/weco.html), and told all my customers about the cool sounds I got with the new “widget X34”. This led to me selling plenty of “widget X34s” for Mercenary. So, I spent many more hours than four a week using my own studio, educating myself and keeping up to speed. I also DID use the Mercenary studio for two ACTUAL sessions. Not play-dates or guinea-pig trials, but real sessions for an upcoming release. And finally, hello people, I’ve been doing recording for 24 years, I’m not a rookie! It’s not just my job, it’s been my life and career for decades. I have a deep knowledge-base, I have a keen ear, and I know how this stuff works. Indeed, I even taught Fletcher how to use the studio’s Nuendo DAW system. As an acknowledgment of my abilities, Fletcher asked me on a number of occasions to suggest improvements to mixes he was working on.

Mercenary Audio never had a "sick day/time off" policy prior to the hiring of Mr. Townson. However, it seemed that as soon as Mr. Townson was hired there was a parade of "sick days", and personal days, which caused the management to begin a log of his days not in the office. Prior to the creation of this log our policy had been "if you need time off, take it", until Mr. Townson abused that policy.

First off, I contest that I took more days out than anybody else there. When I did, the reasons were entirely valid, and I always called in, always checked (and answered) my Mercenary email from home. When I joined Mercenary, I was told, “This is the only place you can call in hungover.” I replied, “Well, that’s good to know, but it’s more likely that I will call in with a migraine”. This was understood by Mercenary at the time of my hiring: I have suffered from migraine, diagnosed, since age 13. Ask anybody who knows me. I have had to leave sessions in the middle of a mix. I have been to emergency rooms where double-doses of intravenous toradol and demoral didn’t make a dent. Lucky for me, I currently can control the headaches pretty well. I tend to wake up with one at about 5 or 6 am, take a dose, lie back down and by around 9 or 10 I’m good to go. So, yes, I’m late, but in the past that would have been a full sick-day. As far as “abusing a policy”, there was no policy to abuse that I was aware of.

Then in May we got pregnant, and it was an unusually difficult pregnancy; horrible, to be honest. My poor wife was 96 lbs before carrying a (very big) baby, and she's in her mid 30’s. We had at least half-a-dozen trips to the hospital, as well as weekly doc appts, sonograms, etc. She had multiple and very painful UT infections, a kidney stone, noro-virus, and other problems, like hormone-induced depression. (The petit 5' 0" woman gained over 50lbs of pregnancy weight, and felt absolutely misrerable the whole time). She was not allowed to drive, for instance. I had to call in sick a couple times after I had rushed her to hospital at 2 am or 4 am and she ended up being there all day. One day, I actually left her at the hospital and went to work for six hours, because the Doctor needed to keep her there till 4 pm. During this time, the comments I was getting from Fletcher and Jay Fitz were, “Family comes first’” and “Do what ya gotta do,” and “We got your back.” I repeatedly and strongly expressed to Mercenary that after the baby was born, things should smooth out in this area. I never got the chance to prove it.

Mr. Townson was informed prior to joining the company that travel would be mandatory for trade shows, client demonstrations, and further education. This requirement extends to every employee at Mercenary Audio who is directly involved with the equipment we sell, be they in the marketing department, sales department or management. When assigned to attend a trade show and educational event in September, 2006; Mr. Townson declined to attend, leaving the company with a staffing shortage at this show, which required us to not only scramble to rearrange who would stay at the office and who would travel to San Francisco, but also damaged our ability to meet with various manufacturers, expand our relationships with those manufacturers, and discover new companies whose ethos was on par with Mercenary's goals.

I don’t know about damaging Mercenary, but it is true I declined to go to that AES convention. I told them right from the gitgo, like in March or April, that I could ABSOLUTELY not go to the San Fran AES show DUE TO PERSONAL FAMILY REASONS; previously scheduled. It was a timing-related issue, requiring me to remain in the Boston area over that weekend -- AES extended through that same weekend. Then, in maybe July, they asked me again to attend AES, adding more pressure and making me feel even more uncomfortable about it. Again, my answer was no, and I said that it would not change, and begged them not ask me again. Incredibly, in September, they asked me a third time. I was so stressed out and full of anxiety that I literally puked a couple of times. I said, “Ok, if you’re going to fire me for not going, then fire me, because I’m not going, and this is a deal-breaker. While the rest were in SF, I was part of a tiny skeleton-crew, myself handling the work of three guys (including taking all incoming sales calls). I came in early and left late. We were a lean mean machine, cranking out the work. We got it all done, seamlessly and flawlessly. It was good. I was proud. Not a beat was missed as far as the customers were concerned. Discouragingly, Fletcher reprimanded me for not posting enough on the Gearslutz forum over those days. Wow. Silly me, I thought handling in-coming orders came first, leaving no time for forum-fishing.

It was never about refusing to travel for the job or not pitching in to do my share as Fletcher states. I told them I was willing to and WANTED to go to the Tape Op Con in June, but they denied my request. I told Fletcher and Jay that it was highly likely that I’d have no problem attending the NY AES convention in ’07.

*As an interesting footnote here, when Jay and the others came back from SF, I expected a whole AES roundup meeting, discussing what was seen, who was met-with, what was new and exciting, etc. Nothing of the kind happened. When I asked about the show I got a shrug and a, “Ugh. Nothin’ really good this year.” That’s it? Yep, that was it, a non-event.

We did take umbrage to Mr. Townson's blog for the following reasons. At one point Mr. Townson asked Mr. Fitz [Mercenary's C.O.O.] if he could start an educational blog about professional audio. Mr. Fitz said he may not start such a blog. He then asked me [Mercenary's C.E.O.] if he could start such a blog ["going over Mr. Fitz's head"], I too responded in the negative. Yet if you look at the blog, the very first line at the top of the page says: "Mics, Drums, and Rock & Roll: A Music Recording Blog!" That says "conflict of interest" to me, what does it say to you?

WHAT?! I asked if I could start a blog that linked to Mercenary, potentially to drive traffic and sales its way. I had the best interests of Mercenary in mind. Mercenary said no. When I started my personal blog, in part to post photos of my kid, I never had any inkling that I needed permission. Indeed, as Fletcher himself admits, other employees (who still have jobs at Mercenary) blog. , Given this backdrop, it is unimaginable that they meant no blog, whatsoever, period.

My personal blog (prior to my firing) doesn’t mention Mercenary anywhere. Why? Because when Mercenary said no blog linked to Mercenary. I took it to mean, and who wouldn’t, that I could do no blog linked in any way to Mercenary. That’s why I was not only careful to not use Mercenary’s name, but I even decided to post NON-audio related content to get started, just to get my chops honed. Nothing on the blog could have possibly adversely affected Mercenary or its business. We're talkin' five posts people. One about chili. Five little posts! My intellectual property. Does that say “conflict of interest” to you? And, by the way, I did not use my real name anywhere on there either.

What does my anonymous blog say? It says: this is the blog of a guy who has had a two decade history as a recordist, musician, published writer, and pro audio consultant who just became a father. Is Mercenary claiming it owns phrases like “pro audio” “recording” “rock and roll” or “microphone?”

The majority of the time stamps on the blog entries were posted during company hours

This was not the reason given to me for my dismissal. There was actually confusion on the time stamps. They originally defaulted to either GMT or PST, and I later changed that setting to EST. But first let me say, if the boss is going to fire people for doing non work-related stuff on their computers, then I’m the least of his worries. He’d have to fire everyone, and then he’d have to fire himself. One guy’s got his IM window open, chatting with a buddy all day. Another guy’s surfing MySpace. And there was worse. I would mostly go to sports web-sites like Dallas Cowboys or Boston Red Sox. At this job there was no set schedule during the work day, and you didn’t leave for lunch (a runner was sent out).

Is it not true that labor law requires that people have a minimum half-hour lunch break and a couple of 15 minute breaks daily? And that that break-time is legally considered personal, NON-company time? Obviously, no-one can work a straight 8-hours without a break. It was typical for me to take a couple of 10-minute brain-breathers throughout the day. I would do personal stuff during lunch time, like pay a bill or listen to an internet radio station. In the late afternoon, I’d take another ten minute “brain-breather”, and go get a cup of coffee or walk around the warehouse or call my wife. Talking gear all day can get monotonous, especially when you end up answering the very same questions day after day, so the mind can wander. Let he whose mind does NOT wander cast the first stone. As such, I never wrote any posts on Mercenary time.

Our "shop" is open from 10a Eastern Time to 6p [18:00] eastern time. During that time we are somewhat flexible as to what may be done with the time. Playing with the equipment in "The Methods and Applications Laboratory" is encouraged. Researching other audio related websites is encouraged. Viewing sites like CNN's, and "Boston.com" is tolerated. Mr. Townson also used that time to create the beginnings of a children's clothing line, which was also tolerated. The creation of an 'outlaw recording tools and technique' site was intolerable.

I did not create “the beginnings of a children’s clothing line.” I came to Fletcher with an e-commerce idea for children’s t-shirts. (Mercenary sells T-shirts, including children’s shirts). I showed him the idea one-day at work. He wasn’t interested. That was all there was to the “clothing line.” I had several other ideas which were brushed off like dandruff. I created an idea for a new Mercenary product, which was not shot down so much as it was ignored. So much for the “somewhat flexible” work environment that allegedly tolerates creativity. My ideas and comments to Fletcher were often met with the reply, "I don't have any bandwidth for this!" Even more often his responses were alarmingly disrespectful, but that I can't get in to now.

Further to that, Mr. Townson told several members of the Mercenary Audio staff about the existence of the blog, with strict instructions not to let either Mr. Fitz or myself about the existence of the blog, creating an air of divisiveness among the staff.

This is utterly not true. Who knew and didn’t know about the blog was random coincidence. If anything, the ones who knew were the other bloggers, and the ones who didn’t were not blogging. Simple as that. No conspiracy. No strict instructions.
(I'd like to know if Fletcher was aware of the other blogs. If so, then it makes me look all the more singled-out, and if not, has he accused the other bloggers --who were not fired-- of conspiricay to keep secret their blogs?)
FURTHERMORE, a blog is public. It goes out to the world. Why would I think I could keep it secret? Even so, it's MY PERSONAL BLOG, never mentioning Mercenary at all. It's not their business anyway!

They capitulated, but because we have a "family atmosphere" at Mercenary forgot the request when the picture of the child was posted on the blog. This was how Mr. Fitz came to learn of the blog. He held onto this information for several days before showing me the blog. Upon seeing the blog I sat with it for a day or two to let my temper cool before acting. It was at that point that Mr. Fitz, myself, and our Human Resources person met to decide a course of action.

Sat for a day or two? That’s an interesting statement because on the voicemail left by Fletcher he says that something had come to his attention “within the last few hours, so you’re fired.”

Did the timing of his dismissal absolutely suck? Yes, it most certainly did.

We are in agreement here. It should be noted that no severance was offered; my pay was immediately cut off as of the day of the call. Also there was no ability for me to come in and clear my desk or settle my affairs. Within three hours of the call, a courier was at my house delivering all of my personal effects from Mercenary – the contents of my desk and some audio gear. Three hours...

Had Mr. Townson's son not arrived only days earlier there would have been no "cooling off" period and he would have been instantly dismissed upon the discovery of "the blog".

Again, a highly dubious claim. The proof is in the voicemail which refers to a matter of hours, not days.

Yes, I dismissed Mr. Townson via telephone. No, he was not home when I called, so yes, he was fired on a voicemail. We discussed the matter later in the day when Mr. Townson called the office later to determine if this was "a joke" or not [it wasn't], and while we did not discuss the other matters at length. A proper letter of termination was subsequently drafted and sent to Mr. Townson.

I have yet to receive that letter. I’m guessing it’s a requirement by Massachusetts in order for Mercenary to fight me collecting my unemployment, which, unfortunately, is the course they’ve chosen to take.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that, if you have any class at all, you sit down with the employee, in-person, mano-a-mano, and you say, “This is a problem. This isn’t working.” And maybe you say, “We’ve made our decision, and it’s final. You are being let go.” And then you give the fired guy a chance to gather his stuff, clean out his desk, maybe delete some personal stuff from the computer (Oh yeah, they went through that with a fine-tooth comb, too), and maybe you give the guy a little parting money for his newborn kid. And maybe you don’t fight him claiming unemployment benefits, because, yeah, there’s that new screaming boy and formula is $24 a can. That’s fair, right?

That’s what you do if you have any decency at all.

What you don’t do is leave a voice-message on the day the couple’s first baby comes home from the hospital.

Not fair.

At the end of the day, I did a good job at Mercenary where it counts: I helped customers; steered ‘em the right direction, helped ‘em make the right choices. I’d say I have a 100% happy-client satisfaction rating, with nothing but praise for my valuable contributions. I talked, advised, answered Emails (sometimes wrote Harry Potter-length replies), posted on forums, tested and reviewed gear, taught those around me what I knew, and generally contributed in a positive way. There’s a reason why I have made many friends and am universally liked by the people that know me in the music, recording and pro audio scene. It’s because I do right by them.

I have been heartened by the great show of support I have received during this crisis. Turns out a LOT of people are on my side.

Bottom line: My actions and my little blog certainly did no harm to C.N.Fletcher or his company (or his family). Contrarily, he MOST CERTAINLY has harmed me, my wife, and my new baby. By firing me the way he did, he not only threw our lives in to crisis, he stripped me of the joy of being a new, first-time dad. And now he's continuing the cruelty by fighting me on getting my unemployment money. WHO IS HURTING WHO?

* the mud may continue to fly, but I am not going to engage in it. This is a huge and exhausting distraction, and my efforts need to be focused on getting a new job (opportunities are presenting themselves, and anyone who is interested can contact me through here), and looking after my wife and new baby. And maybe, just maybe, getting a little sleep.

14 comments:

bwc said...

Best of luck, man. I emailed a friend in the Boston recording scene, and he said he wasn't surprised to hear your boss treated you like this. Clearly, Mercenary already had some negative vibes surrounding your boss, long before these "issues" arose....

Jerome Benedict said...

Sorry to hear about this. Unbelieveable. I hope you are still able to enjoy and cherish these first days with your new child without too much worry. Wish you the best.

Jeb

(jebjerome @ gslutz)

~ La ~ said...

Not for nothing, but considering the state of their own website, it doesn't surprise me at all that they're blogophobic. On top of that, it appears as though they were grasping at all possibilities, in order to drive the attention away from the claim that you were fired for blogging. It's absurd. I don't know about where you're from, but here in NY there was a program while on unemployment (fight it, Drew... GET it.) that allows you to attend some training and start your own business while continuing to receive unemployment. I think you should. (You have a home studio, right? You have a home computer, right? You have knowledge and resources, right? Then you can do it.)

And then maybe you can BUY Mercenary someday. ;)

Either way, do enjoy this time with your wife and son - these days are precious, and every 24 hours spent stressing is 24 hours you can't get back with your son. I know it's easier said than done, because bills need paying and so on, but make time every day to ignore the outside world and focus on your family.

GregPC said...

Unbelievable. I saw this on John Cass' blog this morning and posted something on mine as well. Best of luck.

Spacelab Recording Studio said...

Hey Drew, let me know where you end up. You were the only person I ever dealt with personally at Mercenary, so I'm more inclined to follow you than the company. Good luck. Maybe you should move down to North Carolina and open a shop up down here. You would have *no* local competition.

Drewcifer Von Tone, aka Drew Townson said...

I wrote down as many of the pieces as I could remember of new gear that I brought home from Mercenary to try out. Between say, March '06 and January 15 '07 it looks like about 26 pieces. That doesn't include the dozens of pieces I auditioned on-site at Mercenary during the course of my work, or items that I already own in my personal asenal. They are spinning it now that I borrowed it for my "personal use". Well, yes, I brought it home and tried it out on real-life sessions. I thought that was the point...

Sam said...

Best of luck to you, Drew. You should give us a call over here at B&H Pro Audio. The management treats us very generously and professionally.

Drewcifer Von Tone, aka Drew Townson said...

An update. John Cass of PR Communicatis has updated his blog after interviewing me over the phone. http://pr.typepad.com/pr_communications/2007/03/mercenary_audio.html

I also want to think Peter Dawson for his comment, although the language was too strong to publish. Thanks Peter!

cplaster said...

Drew,
just stumbled across all this drama this afternoon, and wanted to say 1) congrats on the little one.
2)Sorry to hear about the firing.
3) Don't panic, you'll be back on your feet in no time.
You mentioned migraines, and I wanted to suggest that you get a "sleep test" if you haven't had one, as the late nite headaches are often a sign of "apnea", which I have.I used to have pretty nasty migraines, now I use this thing called a "c-pap" when I sleep, and the migraines are virtually nonexistent.

markjen said...

Hi Drew,

Sounds like a terrible experience :(

(I had a fun experience of my own 2 years ago)

Timing is horrible too! You might have legal grounds for a case since you were terminated during paternity leave and not given warnings/due process before your termination. I'd check with a lawyer.

On the bright side, it sounds like there are a few people in the industry that know you; don't worry about your ex-employers bashing you, your work will speak for itself. Best of luck to you; you sound like a very bright guy and I'm sure you'll hand on your feet.

-Mark

Simeon said...

Just read about your situation. Kinda sad. Seems to me they were using this to get your out when it seems they might of wanted you out for personal reasons.

Good luck with the future and when your not fighting these muppets, use all the free time to show your wife and your new baby some love.

Look for the silver lining. Its not an ideal situation but many fathers wish they could give quality time to the wife n kid in the 1st few days and im sure the right future employer might be reading your blog right now and you could end up in the perfect job so hold tight.

Also consider starting your own business, you got the skills and the know how (and the time) so consider that as well..

GOOD LUCK.

kr said...

Sorry to hear about what happened to you. I just came across your blog while killing some time. I'm probably the shortest-lived employee at Mercenary in their history. I quit before I completed a whole week! Without going into particulars, I had no kind of background knowledge of audio equipment in the least. Who knows why I was hired but it sounded like a great opportunity to try something new. I was ready for the challenge! I figured out very early in the game that I was NOT going to work there. I wasn't going to bust my chops (and I was completely ready to work hard)to then be treated like some kid just because the boss was feeling off. If you were fired and given that disrespect with all the knowledge and extensive background behind you, I wonder how long I would've lasted? Anyway, I sympathize because I was in the environment, even for that little time. I hope you've been able to find a better opportunity elsewhere and that you've been able to enjoy fatherhood as it should be enjoyed. Best of luck!

LB said...

Hey Drew,
I stumbled upon your blog this afternoon and wanted to chime in to say congrats on the baby and good luck on the job search. I am an old friend from your "Town Without Basement" days...remember the boys from Cynema? I was the guitarist, you helped me get some cool sounds.....and for any out there who don't believe him, he really is universally liked, at least he was in North Texas. I wouldn't expect any different in Beantown.

Maria said...

I just read your blog today because I was just terminated and was trying to find out how I could get my personal stuff back from my computer at work. My termination situtation is similar to yours in that I was unaware of what I was doing wrong that warranted a termination nor was I given any warning prior to my termination and I also received a voicemail! I am now looking to file a suit of wrongful termination/discharge and possibly intentional infliction of emotional distress, both of which sounds like it applies to you as well. And you still have time under the statute of limitations! I am sorry to hear what happened, I totally understand. Good luck in your future endeavours.

It's All About The Tone, Baby!