There's nothing funny about the way Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee speaks to her staff
Why did it take three decades and a secret recording to make her apologize?
I can think of at least three bosses (and all of my current freelance clients) who I’d greet with open arms if I saw them on the street. But there’s something about a bad boss that has a frustrating habit of outshining the good ones. Apparently, that’s happening in Congress. And the story of Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee is bringing back memories of one of my top three worst bosses all too well.
The Dunkin’ Donuts Bully
About 30 team members were sitting in a conference room with our laptops out. Our Senior Editor requested that we open a computer software program, and she watched some of my co-workers scramble to figure out how to open it. Some did so immediately. Others peered over at their friends for assistance. A few did nothing at all, hoping she would just continue on with the meeting without noticing they didn’t have a clue what she wanted them to do.
Years later, I honestly cannot remember which group I was in. This was largely because the computer request she gave wasn’t something I would realistically do on a day-to-day basis. But her response still caught me off-guard. I watched her eyes get more intense. She started tapping her fingers.
And finally she stood up and told everybody in the room that this was “basic shit,” we needed to “get our shit together” and “learn what the hell to do.” I leaned back against the wall and watched this tirade. In meetings with her one on one, the dynamic was different. I found her to be sorta annoying and one of those managers who tries to force everybody to be friends (ex. mandatory baby shower), but I never thought she was hostile. She didn’t get along with another managing editor, and I remember hearing them scream at each other in a closed-door conference. But this was my first time seeing it with my own eyes.
Earlier in the meeting, she’d cracked a joke about how she cursed out someone at Dunkin’ Donuts for getting her order wrong. I raised an eyebrow at that because … are donuts really that deep? Are you that coffee-deprived?
But this tirade had to have been worse. She then demanded we all leave the conference room and not come back for a couple hours. Why? She couldn’t get her own computer request to work! Karma won in less than five minutes. I smirked. She told us to meet her back in this same conference room in two hours.
Fast forward to the meeting time. I watched the clock. And as soon as I saw people gathering to go back into that conference room, I picked up my purse and strolled out of the office. I went downstairs to the lobby, lounged around at a nearby souvenir shop. I snacked on California maki rolls at one of the food court restaurants. An hour later, I came back upstairs. I went right back to my desk and quietly edited docs in my queue. The room was still empty, so I knew she was probably in that conference room cursing everybody out again.
After about 10 minutes, I heard a door open and saw her storm into the main office where I was sitting. I just kept on reading and ignoring her. I could hear her slam the door and return to the conference room. The team came back into the office about 30 minutes later and returned to work way too quietly — the kind of quiet where you know Round 2 wasn’t pretty either.
I got an angry email from her some time later that week (maybe the next day?) demanding to know why I didn’t come to her meeting. I kept it short and sweet, and told her she needed to learn how to talk to people. She’d just had a baby, and I reminded her what her child’s name was and what my name was. I told her the two of us are never to be confused.
She scheduled a closed-door meeting with me and another managing editor (who she was also constantly bossing around). It didn’t take more than a few flippant words from her mouth before she realized I am NOT the one. I kicked it off by saying, “I’m not ole girl from Dunkin Donuts. You talk to me like you talk to the rest of this team, and I’ll hurt your feelings.”
Was this professional? No. Would it help me keep my job? Of course not. Was it necessary? Absolutely. I do NOT like bullies. I don’t tolerate bullies. And I don’t work for bullies.
I don’t agree with Whoopi Goldberg’s assessment that “being cussed out is how some of us [black people] grew up.” My elders were stern, but none of them talked to me like this. Ever. In my entire life. But I 100% agree with Whoopi that the staff of Rep. Lee (Texas) should’ve “grown a pair” and quit.
How this Democratic member of the House of Representatives has represented Texas' 18th District since 1995 without anybody seriously checking her is beyond me. Power dynamics should never force you to stay any place where you’re being mistreated, as Whoopi said. Whether the recording was convenient for a conservative rival or not, the way she spoke to them should’ve never been done in three decades of her work.