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Chapter 2 (continued)
Once back in my rented car, I sent a text message to Beth Fisk. Beth was the HR manager whom TP Automotive had placed at GLFS on a provisional basis. She was their traveling human resources rep, the one whom they usually dispatched to newly acquired companies.
From what I had gathered, Beth had done time at a slew of acquired companies in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. This meant that she had to move every three to twelve months, depending on the duration of each assignment. It wasn’t much of a life, shifting from one sleepy rural town or rustbelt backwater to another. (Automotive components plants are seldom located in glamorous or picturesque places.) But I had immediately recognized Beth as a climber. I was sure that she had a long-term plan to make all of this sacrifice pay off.
My communications with Beth were always efficient and to the point. Once or twice I had attempted to establish a rapport with her by cracking a few jokes, asking her how her weekend went—that sort of thing. I might as well have tried to establish a rapport with a KGB agent in the former Soviet Union. Beth probably had a personality buried somewhere underneath all that corporate protocol, but she wasn’t going to reveal it for my benefit. Typical HR at a big company.
The text message that I sent to Beth Fisk was even shorter than most, not to mention cryptic. My consulting work seldom required me to step too far outside the law; but plenty of my activities—if revealed to the wrong people—would make my clients and me liable for civil actions. This realization necessitated an extra level of caution. I didn’t want to get caught with my pants down someday, holding on to a batch of incriminating emails or text messages.
For the sake of plausible deniability in the event that our phone records were ever subpoenaed, I sent my message to Beth in code: “The market is up,” it read. If Kevin had failed to take the bait, I would have sent the message: “The market is down.” Simple. And idiotproof.
Beth would now know to arrange a drug test for Kevin Lang first thing the following morning. His system would be full of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical footprint of marijuana use. After passing the test two times, Kevin would fail the third one.
What I had told Kevin had been correct: A third passing result would put him in a position for some sort of harassment lawsuit. At that point it would be easy for even a halfway competent attorney to build the case that Kevin’s employer was going out of its way to entrap an innocent man. But a positive test result would change everything. A positive test result would mean that he wasn’t an innocent man anymore.
If all this sounds complicated, well—that’s because it is. But so are the politically correct, overly litigated times in which we live. Demand for my services exists because employment law has become such a minefield. Every year private-sector employers spend billions of dollars combating wrongful termination lawsuits. Despite the doctrine of employment-at-will in corporate America, a discharged employee can still create problems for his or her former employer.
And in the Internet Age, a lawsuit might be only the beginning. Sometimes disgruntled ex-employees also take to the Internet, telling their tales of real or imagined mistreatment to anyone who will listen. This not only encourages add-on and class action lawsuits, it can also cost a company millions in lost revenues from sympathetic consumers.
Thanks to that joint we smoked in the woods, TP Automotive would be able to eliminate a real threat to its operations. Kevin would survive and land on his feet, I told myself. We all do what we have to do.
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