My sister got me fired. Now what?
June 7, 2006 2:50 PM   Subscribe

My half-sister got me fired from 2 jobs. What do I do?

My dad's ex-wife works at an agency where I was seeing a therapist for depression. The ex-wife told my half-sister that I was there and what I was there for, and broke confidentiality, so I reported her. The agency told me they could not say what they did to her (reprimand, etc).

I was nannying for 2 families (2 days a week each family), and the day after we had a huge family fight, I was fired with stupid excuses. (One woman fired me because I missed ONE DAY due to an emergency - relative in the hospital, the other, though she had hired me only 4 weeks prior, got her kids into daycare, or so she said.) The lady who fired me over the absence (and she's a work-at-home mom anyways) turned hostile. I have confirmed with a third employer that my sister called and said she should not trust me with her children. (I have passed background checks and the claims are completely baseless...she simply wants revenge for my reporting her mom.)

I've spoken to the sherriff's dept, and they said they can't do anything unless she physically threatens me. They can't even take a harassment report since she called the neighbor (my employer) and not me. The previous 2 employers - the hostile woman won't respond to my inquiries, and I haven't gotten a hold of the other yet. (Don't remember their phone number and they're unlisted, meaning I have to drive out to their house and hope to catch them at home.)

She got the phone numbers because they were hanging on our refrigerator - as for the neighbor, she simply Googled the address. The live right next door so it wasn't hard to find.

Do I (ask a lawyer to) send a cease and desist and risk making things worse, or just try to let it go? Obviously my sister and I will probably never have a relationship again, but should I worry about her doing this again, and if so what do I say to potential new employers?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like contacting a lawyer would be in your best interests. And I think you need much more help than just a C&D letter. I'd be suing the living shit out of the half-sisters mother, if at all possible.

Seriously. Contact an attorney. Run your story by them.
posted by drstein at 2:58 PM on June 7, 2006

Sue the agency. Its a violation of HIPAA for the ex to divulge health information to a third party. A big one. And you have damages. See a lawyer.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:59 PM on June 7, 2006

Talk to a lawyer. The confidentiality leak could have a pretty big impact on the ex-wife's employer.
posted by Paris Hilton at 3:00 PM on June 7, 2006

I think you could get a civil judgement using HIPAA against your dad's ex-wife. The real, punishable mistake was when she told your half-sister about a medical condition. Everything after that is just gossip.

This assumes that you're in the USA, where HIPAA governs the disclosure of medical information.
posted by u2604ab at 3:01 PM on June 7, 2006

Your half-sister hasn't even broken the law. This is a free country and she can say anything she wants to anybody, within limits. It sounds like she's a long way from violating those limits, and it sounds like she's interested in making more trouble for you.

A lawyer may take your money but will probably not be able to do anything constructive about your half-sister. If you can prove that her mother broke confidentiality, you probably can get a settlement from the place where she works - they've violated Federal law. But these things are hard to prove - it may come down to "he said, she said" and the folks who fired you, who could bear witness, are unlikely to want to be involved.

I think you should just let it go and not mention it to potential new employers.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:02 PM on June 7, 2006

I would let it go...I know it's tough, since you're probably pretty angry right now and looking to do something, but I think dropping the issue would be best for your long-term sanity. Just consider it a lesson learned: your half-sister can't be trusted and is into petty vengeance.

But if you do want to pursue this issue, I would suggest talking to your sister first. Is there a possibility that the 3rd employer was the only one contacted and you got fired by the other 2 merely by coicidence? From what you've said it doesn't sound likely, but you should probably rule it out before doing anything else...
posted by johnsmith415 at 3:05 PM on June 7, 2006

It sounds like she is a fairly petty and immature person, so involving a lawyer, the judicial system, or other outside intervention will likely not result in her growing up and moving on. In fact, I would probably assume it would make matters worse because you are "challenging" her to an escalating battle.

You need to do three things:

1. Get her out of your life and your home. She can't hurt you if she doesn't have access to your personal information and personal space.

2. Get a new job. Chalk up the last ones as losses.

3. Move on. This will end when she grows out of it or gets bored. You can't win, and you can't make it better. Be the more mature person and let the past go.
posted by galimatias at 3:06 PM on June 7, 2006

Also, if you wanted to pursue legal action against your half-sister, your court costs would almost certainly outweigh any damages you might be awarded. Against your dad's ex-wife it might be a different story, as mentioned above, but again, it's probably not worth it...
posted by johnsmith415 at 3:08 PM on June 7, 2006

What's worse than people knowing you have a history of depression (which isn't shameful in the least) is having a history of being litigious.

As for damage control: a cold refusal to discuss the matter with your sister and anyone else will ulitmately make you like good, and probably frustrate the hell out of your sister.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:12 PM on June 7, 2006

Definitely go after the woman who violated your privacy (and the law) and the agency you work for. They'll be eager to settle before the media catches wind of the story. IANAL, but I'd guess you're looking at a 5 figure settlement offer from thier malpractice insurer. Tort lawyers generally work on contingency, so you have no risk at all in sueing them, and they have injured you, so make them pay.
posted by clubfoote at 3:15 PM on June 7, 2006

Your half-sister hasn't even broken the law. This is a free country and she can say anything she wants to anybody, within limits.

ikkyu, you're just wrong. There are very real ways that the sister might have broken the law, including, for example, slander and tortious interference with contract. (Also, IAAL, but this is not legal advice.) A local attorney could do more to explain the specific laws in anon's area.

That's not at all to say that a lawsuit would be the best option, though, and personally, I wouldn't go that route. It will be a long hard fight for not much money. Whatever bridges haven't been burned here will have been bombed into oblivion. Also, there's not much guarantee that the sister will stop, or pay any judgments against her.

So basically what I'm saying is, this is much more than just a legal decision. But that doesn't mean the law doesn't have anything to say about what happened here.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 3:17 PM on June 7, 2006

Also, if you wanted to pursue legal action against your half-sister, your court costs would almost certainly outweigh any damages you might be awarded. Against your dad's ex-wife it might be a different story, as mentioned above, but again, it's probably not worth it...

And even if they awarded you costs from her - or damages - does she have any $ to pay?
posted by jimmy0x52 at 3:17 PM on June 7, 2006

Cut them both out of your life completely and move on. This is the definition of "toxic people." I would also seriously consider whether to give my father any info on where I'm working/ what I'm doing in your shoes, or even where I'm living. But that's just me.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 3:21 PM on June 7, 2006

That is absolutely terrifying.

But the real question is what do you want? Do you want remuneration? Do you want to prevent it from happening again? It may be that a lawsuit would scare her/them from doing it again... and if they settled out-of-court, that would be good. But in our modern era, I would be worried that whatever was said in-court would eventually be Googleable. And that would be bad — especially as employers become more net-savvy.

I wish I had more than initial impressions... but that's all I have.
posted by silusGROK at 3:24 PM on June 7, 2006

I think a few people answering are missing a distinction here - there's two different jerks in this story, the ex-wife in the first incident and the half-sister in the second.

The initial (blatantly illegal HIPAA-violating) bad deed was done by the former step-monster who violated your privacy by speaking to your half-sister about things she learned at work. As far as the agency refusing to tell you what they did - if that bugs you, call them back and tell them you're not satisfied by that non-answer and if they aren't interested in satisfying you then you'll be glad to file a federal complaint with Health and Human Services as well as with your insurer, if any.

The insurer threat may mean more to them. Suggestions that you get a lawyer over this are likely misguided/misinformed. HIPAA contains no provisions for private action, meaning there's nothing in it specifying fines payable to you based on civil action - the Fed can cite and fine them but it doesn't help you do so. It's also not clear that it had anything to do with your lost wages...

The second crap thing was your half-sister calling your employers, presumably out of some sense of vengeance and loyalty to her mother. I don't think you can firmly tie that to the HIPAA violation - it's a pissed off kid thing to do and something she might have done because you called her mom a nasty name rather than turned her in for breaking the law. The info she got from her was likely irrelevant.

If it makes you feel any better, odds are good you got dropped less because of anything specific your half-sis knows about your depression and more because they just don't want to be involved in your drama. Look at it from their perspective - they're employing you to look after their kids and as a 'reward' they're getting whacko phone calls from some pissed-off kid. They might think it's completely fabricated information, they just don't want the headache. So why not fire you and hire someone who DOESN'T have some kind of fucked-up homelife? It's unfortunate for you but the reality is they didn't even need to come up with a reason - they can stop employing you because they don't like the color of your hair.

Hopefully you'll get out from under this nonsense soon enough, but here's my suggestion in case sis's lunacy touches your personal or professional life in this way again: don't get into a discussion about it or try to argue. If I had been the family letting you go because I didn't want the hassle, your extended conversations with me about why I let you go would make me a lot LESS likely to employ you again in the future - they would just reinforce my concern that you lived a life filled with drama, maybe of your own choosing. Again, unfair, but that's life - once people come to a conclusion it's easy to reinforce it and hard to change their mind.

If this comes up again you should politely ask why they no longer need your services and - when they give you some wishy-washy answer they likely made up - say you enjoyed working for them and if they ever need you again you'd be delighted if they call. This way you project yourself as a competent, calm, confident person who ISN'T surrounded by whackos, or at least isn't encouraging them.

On a marginally related note, get yourself a notebook and start writing down the names, addresses and phone numbers of the people you do nanny work for and put it in a safe place! If you're going to keep doing this kind of work you're going to live and die based on recommendations and reference letters. You want to be able to drop these folks a note after your working relationship ends with a thank you and asking them for references for the future.
posted by phearlez at 3:39 PM on June 7, 2006

Those of you suggesting she cut her sister out of her life may have missed the "She got the phone numbers because they were hanging on our refrigerator" bit - apparently she lives under the same roof with her, and likely not because she wants to.

Speaking of, Anon (cause I didn't spew enough already?), you might want to consider doing you best not to antagonize this nutjob. Reporting the stepmonster was very reasonable - that's an unbelievably horrid thing for her to have done - but in general you'd be best off just not running afoul of this vindictive nutter any more than you have to.

Think of it this way - some fool in a car is barreling down the road and looks like they're going to run the red light when you're about to walk across the road. Do you go ahead and walk across and get hit knowing that you were the one following the law and had the right of way, or do you wait till they've gone, even if you have to wait for another WALK signal? Swallow your pride - it's good for your moral health, anyway - and do what's healthiest for your life long-term. Your emotional well-being is way more enjoyable than Being Right.
posted by phearlez at 3:46 PM on June 7, 2006

Assuming you are right about what you think her actions were, your sister intended to hurt you. I would try hard to conceal the damage and not give her the satisfaction of seeing that she had succeeded. Making a fuss may increase the likelihood that you will be picked on for some future incident, and so on for a lifetime.

Obviously there is a back story here. Maybe you should look at some websites about bullying?
posted by Idcoytco at 4:04 PM on June 7, 2006

Your half sister has got a screw loose. There's no shame in seeking treatment for depression. But deliberately trying to harm someone via their employment is mean, spiteful and a bit psycho, IMHO.

You need to remove the blabbermouths from your life. If you are living under the same roof, you need to get an apartment. Share with someone if need be. And why if your half sister had done this to you once already, would you post the details of your employment on the refrigerator where she had access? Geesh. If you keep your distance from her, she can't harm you.

If your parents can't keep quiet, then simply do not discuss your work situation at all with them. The topic is off limits. Period.

Forget the whole lawsuit thing and such. It's a waste of time and money, IMHO. There is an easy solution to this problem as stated above. Just don't give your half sister anything to work with.

Good luck, be tough and don't take any crap off anyone.
posted by bim at 4:17 PM on June 7, 2006

Regardless of all the rights, wrongs, faults, and legal ins and outs, it sounds like you're surrounded by people who for whatever reasons don't like you. You will not be happy, therefore, until you get away from them.
posted by normy at 4:46 PM on June 7, 2006

You could sue her for sure, but the best thing is to just get away from her. If she follows then sue. If you sue she will get a chance to drag all of your dirty laundry out into the open. Just remove her and your dad's ex-wife from your life.
posted by caddis at 5:09 PM on June 7, 2006

Here's another thing - is this a small town? Where does the poster live? If her half sisters baseless claims are taken down in court, the OP can then use that to her advantage if the half-sister should pop up at another employer.

It was just an idea. :)
posted by drstein at 5:19 PM on June 7, 2006

But that doesn't mean the law doesn't have anything to say about what happened here.

If you can't prove it in court, the law doesn't have anything to say about it. So far, what we have confirmed is that half-sister called up the third employer and said, "You shouldn't trust (original poster) with your children." You couldn't get a judgment for slander out of that if you were Daniel Webster. As for tortious interference with contract - what contract?

Disclaimer: I dislike lawyers.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:20 PM on June 7, 2006

Abandon who's right and wrong. Focus on winning for yourself.

I think that from the half-sister's point of view, she thought you unnecessarily attacked her mother. Sure, what the ex-wife did was wrong, but the family angle makes it a little different than a stranger blabbing about your medical care. Reporting her rather than speaking to her privately inflamed the issue and made a bad situation into a horrible situation.

Your half-sister now feels it is her duty to attack you (the bad sister) in order to be a good daughter.

While you can (maybe) walk away and cut them out of your life, this will only hurt your father and at some point make life difficult for you, too. (What happens when your father dies?)

The way to stop this spiral is for you to apologize to both the sister and the mother, which sounds crazy, I'm sure. This will completely remove any perceived moral high ground they feel (wrongly) that they have. Acting contrite will stop any further vendettas, sideswipes, and undercutting of you. They feel they win and you win by getting your life back.

Clinging to your indignation, anger, and righteousness, though you are certainly entitled, is an expensive luxury.

Good luck.
posted by stevis at 5:31 PM on June 7, 2006

Another way to put that is: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
posted by stevis at 5:33 PM on June 7, 2006

She got the phone numbers because they were hanging on our refrigerator - as for the neighbor, she simply Googled the address.

Oh, I originally read this as meaning when the sister visited her, she saw the phone numbers on her fridge. I can't even imagine contemplating legal action against someone I was still living with. Where is the father? Why not talk to him first? Why not move out? Can someone afford to hire a lawyer, but not the downpayment on a small apartment?
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 5:34 PM on June 7, 2006

i would find a friend of a friend to "hire" you as a nanny, make it known who you are "working" for, and then have your new "employer" document exactly what your half-sister does/says...
posted by troybob at 7:04 PM on June 7, 2006

IANAL Okay, Dad's ex-wife violated your rights as a patient. As a direct consequence, your half-sister told lies about you, and caused you to lose 2 jobs. Go to a lawyer. You may not have to actually go to court, but a lawyer could likely get a settlement by considering suing. If ex-wife has a home, her homeowner's insurance may provide some coverage, but the agency will definitely be insured for this. I think you're unlikely to get a large sum, but I think you'll get something. Your right to privacy at a mental health agency was violated. That's terrible, really, really crummy. Use any money to find another place to live.

Legal aid should be able to help you ask for a restraining order if you feel that you are in danger, but don't do this unless you have to.

You may have grown up, as I did, with a lot of emotional turmoil. Make some effort to reduce the drama in your life; you'll be much happier. I don't mean that to sound snarky.
posted by theora55 at 7:40 PM on June 7, 2006

Tell your Dad's ex-wife you're sorry you got her fired or reprimanded or whatever.

Tell your half-sister you're sorry you got her mom fored or reprimanded.

Then ask them to please leave you the hell alone.

You were right to report her and you could sue the agency. You don't owe her an apology, but maybe if you said you're sorry about what happened without getting into who's wrong or right, it would take the hate-wind out of their sails.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:13 PM on June 7, 2006

Get a lawyer, have him/her write a lovely letter to the agency (naming names, making legal threats).

Then cut these assholes out of your life. You can still have a relationship with your father, but the rest are history. If you care for your father, tell him that -- make it clear he's not responsible (unless you think he is). Then walk away and don't look back.

This would mean you can't tell your own father about where you're working (for fear it would get back to the wrong people). Personally I'd have no problem with that; you might.

...mind you, it's been well-established that I'm an amoral monster.
posted by aramaic at 8:38 PM on June 7, 2006

update from the OP:


My half-sister has her own house... I am still living with my parents (we share a dad, and although my mother is her stepmom, her mother is no relation to me... my dad divorced her before I was born.) She used to visit here a lot and that's when she saw the employer info on the fridge - both addresses were hanging there at the same time, so it didn't happen repeatedly. (I was working for both couples at the same time.)

She is no longer welcome at our house - she didn't have the guts to face us and so had her husband tell our dad off one day over this whole thing. Our dad is even upset with her, so it's not an issue of him blabbing to her (not that she is willing to talk to him anyways.)

Perhaps I should add that I was openly concerned to other people working at the agency when I first started there, that my dad's ex was an employee, and made it quite clear to them and, yes, directly to her face, that she was not welcome to tell anyone. So it wasn't something she let slip.

It is quite obvious that she has a screw loose and I think I will not pursue it, for my own sanity's sake. I think it's just over... I'm not going to talk to them again, ever. Thank you all for your advice. Personally, I have finished therapy very recently and am doing very well outside of this family issue.
posted by jessamyn at 10:23 PM on June 7, 2006

I'm glad to hear your father is standing by you, OP. Personally, that was the thing that bugged me the most... (How could the rest of the family be letting your sister get away with such outrageous behavior?) If it's any consolation people like your dad's ex and your sister are probably very angry unhappy people, and will be picking fights, acting vindictively and driving people away for the rest of their lives. You, on the other hand, can go on with a happy contented life surrounded by people you love.
Take care.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 10:49 PM on June 7, 2006

A year or two ago my mom had some folks trespassing via ATVs on some property she bought. She talked to the police about it and found out it was incredibly difficult to get a trespassing conviction, but one thing that is easy to prove is destruction of property. They suggested she put a rope across the area of entrance, with red flags and such of course, and when the trespassers cut it down the police would be more than happy to help out, and if they didn't take it down, problem solved.

I say this only because I'm wondering if there is a similar method for protecting oneself against this in the future. It's great that you've got everyone on your side and can find some protection even at home, but there is no guarantee that will last and what you don't have is a guarantee that your half sister is going to quit. I'm not suggesting you sue her, however talking with the police with this line of thinking might better position you in the future, where something else to happen, and it doesn't need to be a long or arduous conversation. Shoot, just print these paragraphs out and let them read them. I'm getting a stalker vibe from her, so maybe something along those lines?

Also, I have heard of trials with a "discovery process" which I won't pretend to understand, but such a process would allow for subpoenaing phone records to prove your sister called your employers, find witnesses and compel them to talk, etc.. So your not as bad off as you might think.

Lastly, many jurisdictions allow for something analogous to a "Health and Welfare Inspection/Check" which the police don't need probable cause for other than someone expressing sincere concern for another person's health and welfare. If you are worried enough and things degenerate enough, you've got this to fall back on. I wouldn't make the call unless others in the family think it is also time for it.

Disclaimer: I grew up in a federal family, meaning I know very little about these sorts of things.
posted by jwells at 6:01 AM on June 8, 2006

There are two separate issues to deal with here: the familial and the professional. Since your father is supporting you and your half-sister is no longer welcome in his home, you are right to let that part of it go, but get some resolution about the professional side.

If the agency is refusing to disclose how they handled this and you have no way to find out if your father's ex is still working there, either call (or have a friend call the agency) and ask to speak to her. If you're not told that she no longer works there, talk to your therapist directly if you have not already done so. Make sure he or she's aware of what happened. If your therapist kept notes or recorded your sessions, get assurance that the data is somewhere inaccessible.

Personally, I'd also raise holy hell until she got canned, but the important part is making sure that your records are safe.
posted by melissa may at 8:23 AM on June 8, 2006

You couldn't get a judgment for slander out of that if you were Daniel Webster. As for tortious interference with contract - what contract?

Ikkyu, you're not a lawyer. And you dislike them (and me). That's fine. Just don't give legal advice. That's all. What you're saying is based on incorrect assumptions and faulty legal conclusions. I'm not trying to insult you. If you ever speak on topics involving medicine, I will quietly listen and nod my head. But on this, I'd ask that you defer to people who have studied the law.

The funny thing is, I'm not advocating a lawsuit. In fact, for all the reasons others have given, I would probably say it would be a bad option. I'm just saying that, if she chose to pursue one, there look to be facially valid claims.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 6:38 PM on June 8, 2006

I didn't give any legal advice.

Only a lawyer would think that berating someone for their opinion and then agreeing with them was "funny." That's why no one likes lawyers.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:44 PM on June 9, 2006

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