Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Memorial for Vernetta Northcutt, Teacher of Courage for California Healthy Workplace Advocates

“The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have had on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes.”
― C. JoyBell C.

This quotation by C. JoyBell C. well describes our friend and fellow California Healthy Workplace Advocate, Vernetta Northcutt.  In 2004, over 40 of us gathered in Sacramento to hear Dr. Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute speak on the subject of work abuse.  Vernetta was among us.  On that day, she was sprite, happy, and very interactive.  Later we would learn that she was at the beginning of a long, arduous journey that would take all the power and courage this good woman had.  But immediately we could see that power and courage were the essence of Vernetta Northcutt. 

Before our gathering dispersed, about half of us decided to meet two weeks later at a local restaurant to see what we could do to convince our State legislators to recall a previously cancelled bill that would make status-blind workplace bullying illegal and actionable by an injured target. California Healthy Workplace Advocates aka  was formed and Vernetta Northcutt was with us.  As a social science teacher, she knew full well that until the law was changed, egregious acts of psychological violence would haunt the California workforce with no hope for resolution for targets of bullying at work.  She had no fear of this fight, though Vernetta herself was in the middle of an emotionally violent workplace situation while we worked toward our goal.

This was a strong woman who dared to speak her truth.  At each safe legal turn, she would tell us more and more about her long, successful career as a high school history and English teacher who loved her job and the students she would sometimes have to beg, bump, and pull through to their graduation.  She told us there were false claims about her students’ failure rates.  She told us about her inexplicable teaching reassignment and about the perpetrators who failed to follow the legal rules any reasonable person would expect from all her co-workers, especially her supervising educators. 

As time passed and Vernetta became able, she would tell us more and more.  She would speak to cameras and walk with us through the halls of our California Capitol, telling legislators and their staffs about what real teachers were facing in real public schools.  Eventually, she wrote and published the book, A Special Case.  Vernetta’s case was indeed special because this woman dared to take a stand for what she knew was right.  She understood the power of a contract and the need for all to adhere to the letter of the law.  This is what she taught her students and she stood for what she taught.

Vernetta was a target because she was an unintended threat to those who targeted her.  She was smart, pretty, outspoken, articulate, ethical, and had great people skills:  a classic target of workplace bullying.  The stress of this battle wore her down and she was blackballed by the educational establishment.  But Vernetta Northcutt could not have done any different than to stand up for what she believed and to get knocked down for what was right.  The California Healthy Workplace Advocates are better because she joined us.  We can rightfully guess that Vallejo High School is better because of Vernetta Northcutt, too.

The mission of the California Healthy Workplace Advocates is to raise public awareness and to compel our State to correct and prevent abusive work environments through legislation.