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Workplace Bullying on Steroids:
My 19 Years of Hell

By Teresa Zerilli-Edelglass, author of Thrown Under The Bus: The Rise And Fall Of An American Worker

To be able to share my story with you at length, in the detail it deserves to be shared in order for you to understand the severity of that which I endured, is impossible to do here. Nineteen years is a very long time to have been enmeshed in a workplace nightmare such as mine – but I lived it, I toughed it out, and I'm here to tell about it!

I was a vivacious, young women filled with promise for a very bright future. I had it all wrapped up: the intelligence, the motivation, the interpersonal skills, the education – but these very traits, much to my chagrin, would prove to be the impetus of my downfall, an ordeal that began in 1992 at the ripe old age of 29, four years into my tenure at New York City Transit. Quickly on my way up the ladder to bigger and better things, one day, completely out of the blue, everything went up in smoke – and my existence was forever marred by the very thing that defined me: my career.

Growing up in the 60's and 70's, women were force fed the notion that career was king and that they could do it all – job, marriage, kids (in that order) – 110%. Well, of course, that proved impossible, in fact, as impossible as it was for any of us to have the bodily dimensions of Barbie! Nevertheless, this was where it was at for me as I steadfastly laid tracks for a successful career before even considering settling down with Mr. Mom or popping out the babies that would for surely ruin my figure.

Myriad sacrifices and many years into having established my independence at the tender age of 18; putting myself through college for 11 years at night; and working everywhere from Main Street to Wall Street along the way, it all came crashing down. Blindsided by a shocking demotion from a coveted managerial position I'd held for almost a year to the day, I was told that I was "tried out" and that it was now time to "try out" my subordinate and former counterpart, Carmine, a lazy, system-beating bureaucrat for whom I'd often picked up the slack whilst he picked up a much larger paycheck. I nearly died where I sat. The dread came over me and the fear set in. I knew it was all over. I knew how my employer operated. It was a bullying environment where I'd seen many before me stuffed into the meat grinder and turned into piles of helpless, shamed mush. I refused to be one of those people. And so the games began.

Naïve to the politics of the workplace, and about as idealistic as anyone could be, I proceeded to go through the motions of filing the appropriate complaints, from internal to federal, and finally to what is called a Title VII discrimination-retaliation suit. Five long, indescribably painful years later, I would finally get my day in court. But not before I was nearly emotionally pummelled into a nervous breakdown. What I was subjected to would have made your blood curdle as did many of my co-workers' who looked on in utter bewilderment. The abandonment and isolation was hard to deal with; many of the wonderful people with whom I'd worked side by side had suddenly taken to shuddering with fear that this could well be any one of them if they dared to stand by me and against our employer who, with its bottomless purse of taxpayer dollars, could crush like a bug most anyone who got in their proverbial face.

I fought for justice and equality with the tenacity of a crocodile. My health suffered as a result. Physical ailments I'd never known and mental illness had fallen upon me like the dark of night. My exuberance was eclipsed by sadness and despair as the years rolled by and the workplace became ever more hostile. After having won my lawsuit in March 1997, I expected to be freed from the bullying chains of my mean-spirited employer once and for all and that life would turn around and change for the better forever. But I couldn't have been more wrong. After a few days living off the great high of a big win, the mental illness took full hold of me. It was like exhaling all the bad I'd held in for so long but then inhaling a brand new plethora of troubles that were waiting in the queue to come out and choke the joy out of my life. And they did.

Mid-way through my trial, I realized I could no longer work. Two years later, after my disability leave ended, I was terminated for "failing to return" to the managerial position awarded by the federal court – the one that was supposed to have made me "whole" – as though it was my choice to do so. But that was hardly the end. In fact, it was but the beginning of an entirely new kind of hell when my home life became as hostile an environment, if not worse, than the one I left behind.

By 2010, 19 long years after the nightmare began, it was time to write Thrown Under The Bus: The Rise And Fall Of An American Worker. I always wanted to write a book, but never imagined that it would be about the death of my career, no less at the hands of an employer so cruel, so indifferent, so inhumane, that it would turn my life upside down. Albeit an immensely emotionally gut-wrenching process, I wrote "Thrown" to hopefully open the eyes of others who might one day find themselves similarly situated.

Thrown is, by all means, a story for everyone. I have come to learn that its message transcends not only age and gender, but national borders too when, much to my surprise and joy, many of my international neighbors began to reach out to me in an effort to be a more informed part of the solution to this escalating epidemic. While my story may well be an American Dream-turned-American Nightmare saga, it can be about any worker in the US, Canada, or most any other civilized nation. With workplace bullying on the rise and no real, ironclad solutions to a quagmire predicated on the complexities of human behavior, we must all work together to do our best to keep this burgeoning monster at bay.

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Teresa Zerilli-Edelglass is a native New Yorker now residing in neighboring New Jersey. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from St. John's University in 1989 and an Executive Masters in Public Administration from Bernard Baruch College in 1992. It was in 1988 that the opportunity presented itself for Teresa to switch gears from the private to the public sector, one she enthusiastically embraced. What happened in her career from there on in would become the basis of her ground-breaking book, 'Thrown'.

Thrown Under The Bus: The Rise And Fall Of An American Worker by Teresa Zerilli-Edelglass is available at Amazon here.


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