Memories You’ll Be Sure To Treasure

, , , | Legal | June 8, 2021

My late mother-in-law was an elementary school secretary for years — more than twenty years at the time of this incident. She was considered a classified employee, in the same category as teaching assistants, janitors, and any employee but teachers. As such, there was a salary schedule, based on years worked. One to three years earned a certain number of dollars, five to seven years a certain amount more, and so on.

Every year, she would have an evaluation, always getting good scores, and the school district would send her a contract for the following year stating the proposed salary, usually with a small raise. The thing was, the schedule only went up to fifteen years. It had never really been a problem until the district got a new treasurer.

Several months after the treasurer started, he walked into the school office, stopped by her desk, and announced in front of everyone there:

Treasurer: “I’ve been looking through the records and I see you’re making too much money. I’ll let you know what I find.”

And he left, leaving everyone speechless. The principal went out after him and told him to not discuss personnel matters in front of everyone. The treasurer shrugged and left. My mother-in-law was shaken, having no idea what had just happened. She probably wasn’t making more than ten or eleven thousand dollars, not a great amount even then. And it happened several more times, despite the principal’s efforts to get this idiot to talk privately about things.

My mother-in-law didn’t tell us any of this until the treasurer blew into the office one day.

Treasurer: “I’ve figured this out. All you have to do is pay back what we’ve overpaid you. And we’ll only go back for five years since it was mostly our mistake.”

And he left.

That night, my mother-in-law told us, in tears, what was going on. Honestly, I think she was secretly hoping we would give her the money and she could just forget the whole thing. She was estimating it would be around $4,000.

I had a different idea. My oldest sister is a lawyer. I’ve never before or since asked her for free legal help, but I figured circumstances warranted it. I explained the situation to her. After she stopped laughing, she said:

Sister: “Does that idiot know how many legal actions he’s opened the school up to? Civil actions, department of labor actions?”

Me: “What do we do?”

Sister: “Do you have one of my business cards? Write my home phone number on it. If this jerk comes back, and I’m sure he will, tell your mother-in-law to give him the card and say the following: ‘This is my niece’s business card. She is acting as my attorney in this matter. If you have anything else to say, call her. I have nothing else to say.’ Then she should just walk away.”

My mother-in-law was horrified. She was extremely non-confrontational, especially to figures of authority.

Mother-In-Law: “I couldn’t possibly say anything like that to him!”

Me: “You’ve got two choices: stand up to this guy or find the money to pay back.”

Mother-In-Law: *Unhappily* “Well, maybe it will all blow over.”

But she took the card. And sure enough, the treasurer came back a couple of weeks later. This time, though, she was called into the principal’s office. She took the card and walked in. The treasurer started in, all magnanimous.

Treasurer: “I understand how hard it will be for you to pay back the money all at once, so I’ve devised a payment plan.”

At that, my mother-in-law finally got mad. She handed him the business card, said her piece, and left. Then, she went straight to the ladies’ room and started crying. A few minutes later, one of the other secretaries came in laughing.

Secretary: “I don’t know what you said to him, but he ran out of the office like it was on fire.”

When my mother-in-law went back to the office, the principal and everyone else were laughing, too.

Principal: “[Treasurer]’s jaw practically hit the floor! He went white as a ghost and ran out of my office like the devil was chasing him.”

A couple of weeks later, my mother-in-law got a letter from the head of Human Resources saying that the matter had been investigated, nothing improper had been found, and the matter was now closed. I don’t know if anything happened to the treasurer, but anytime he came into the school office, he wouldn’t even look at her up to the day she retired.


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