The following narrative describes a unique divorce case between a domestic abuse victim and her spouse. Here is Joryn’s Story –
Diane was a petite brunette, who was thirty years old when we met; I don’t think she weighed 100 pounds. She brought her two small children with her to our appointment. My office is in a renovated townhome, so it’s fairly user-friendly and certainly not scary, but I still made sure to tell her that I usually frown on bringing kids to the law firm. She explained that she had thought I might need to talk to the five-year-old.
Diane came to me for advice about divorce and, of more immediate concern, to represent her at a domestic violence injunction hearing against her husband.
The police had come out and removed him from their home a few nights before, after their most recent fight. “It was over whether I should make the bed or not,” she clarified, a slight catch in her melodic voice, “but he had just raped me and I was so overit!” It was the fact that he’d actually punched her in the face while her son was in the room that drove her to finally call them. And, although he’d then knocked her cell phone out of her hand, smashing it, she’d already dialed 911.
She still had the black eye to prove it.
She’d gotten her hearing notice the next day, as is standard, within 24 hours of filing her petition. Money was short for her, so I educated her a little bit about representing herself in the DVI hearing; the court is definitely accessible to the lay person, which she was relieved to hear.
Our discussion then turned to her second most pressing concern, her job. Diane works for a huge call center (with well over 50 employees), and they’re sticklers about their employees showing up to answer the phones, make the calls, etc. They have a reputation for monitoring calls for “quality assurance,” employing Report Monitors who give the employees feedback, which is usually correlated to their actual performance on the calls. She had had several bad reports in the weeks prior to her big fight, probably because she was having issues at home, and was dealing with her husband’s angry text messages while at work.
The next morning, before she had reported for work, she went to the rape crisis center for an examination by the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). Then, pursuant to her advice, she had gone down to the courthouse to ask for the DVI. She was therefore late to work and, having no cell phone, hadn’t called to explain the situation.
When she arrived, her boss immediately called her over and demanded an explanation. Diane apologized, and described what had happened the night before. “I can see you’ve been through a lot,” Nancy commented, pointing to her bruised face, “but I still have to write you up. You should have called me.”
“But I didn’t have a phone,” Diane objected, fruitlessly, as Nancy completed her form. Then, despite the obvious marks on her face, she implored, “Please don’t tell anyone else what’s going on.”
Nancy sent her to Human Resources to explain. Without much ado, the director there suspended her for the week without pay because of this latest violation of their attendance policy (she’s required to give 24-hours-notice if she wants time off) on top of the work-related performance issues.
“Although I know they can’t do that,” I remarked, incensed, “I can’t help you with the employment issues. You’re better off seeing a lawyer who specializes in that area of law.” I referred her to Charlotte.
* * *
Charlotte’s Story –
When Diane called me, I made time to see her right away, while she was still on unpaid leave from work. “I left the kids in daycare,” she said, a little defensively, as soon as I ushered her in. (Joryn had shared that she brought the boys with her to her visit there, among other things.)
“That’s not an issue here; we don’t do divorce work, so it’s not like you’re putting them in the middle when you come to see me,” I explained. I then addressed the first issue first, pulling out my copy of the Domestic Violence Leave statute and reading the pertinent section aloud to her:
Except in cases of imminent danger to the health or safety of the employee, or to the health or safety of a family or household member, an employee seeking leave from work under this section must provide to his or her employer appropriate advance notice of the leave as required by the employer’s policy along with sufficient documentation of the act of domestic violence or sexual violence as required by the employer.
“I’d say you were in imminent danger if you didn’t get the petition filed or the rape test taken. Did you give your employer a copy of the petition for an injunction or the test paperwork?” I asked.
“I didn’t know that I had to,” she responded, hesitantly. “Should I do it now?”
“I would do it as quickly as possible, if I were you, or I can do it for you and let’s see if we can fix that problem,” I offered. I continued, “In the meantime, let me go over the rest of the rules for you, so you can make sure you comply and don’t lose your job.”
“Confidentiality is particularly important in domestic violence situations, and so this statute provides that that you aren’t required to tell your employer exactly where you’re going or where you’ve been, but that you give him only enough information for him to know for sure that your circumstances fall under the statute.”
“But then how does my boss know I’m telling the truth?” Diane quite reasonably questioned.
I continued, “Generally speaking, you are also required to provide something in writing as soon as you can. Usually, a doctor’s note for yourself or your child that explains that his treatment is related to a domestic violence situation covered by the statute, or a copy of a police report, will suffice. Once your employer has that information, he or she is required to keep it confidential also.”
Diane went on to explain that she was exploring several resources since treating with the sexual assault nurse, who had shared with her some written materials containing helpful resources available to those dealing with domestic violence.
“If I need to relocate myself and my children to a safe house, can my boss fire me if I have to miss work?” Diane asked, her voice clearly betraying the overwhelming anxiety she felt at the idea of being alone, with two small kids, and no job. “I would rather relocate during the work day, when I know my husband will also be at work and won’t be trying to find us or follow us.”
I reassured her that relocating for safety reasons, consulting with law enforcement, meeting with a locksmith to change the locks, and going either herself or taking her kids to a doctor or therapist to treat for physical and psychological effects of domestic violence were all covered under the statute. Relief began to creep across Diane’s face.
“In fact, even meeting with an attorney to learn about your rights in this domestic violence situation is covered under the statute.”
Diane went on to tell me that she was now suspended from work due to a progressive discipline policy and three recent incidents, all of them either directly or indirectly related to the strife with which she had been dealing at home. We talked through the different steps we could take to help her secure her employment while she worked through the steps of the safety plan she had recently formulated with the help of a local social worker.
“You’re getting your plan together, and it’s going to be okay,” I told her, as I walked her to the door.
Diane turned to me with a half-smile, and exhaled the deep breath that she’d been holding for who knows how long. Timidly, she reached out to shake my hand, but I held out both of my arms and gave her a hug instead. Goodness knows, she needed it.
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About this week’s authors: Joryn Jenkins.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, 2 of which she served as professor in law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership to The American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.