Public Shame #3: When the music died

Chapter 8: Master's Hearing

The Master’s Hearing was no surprise to me. After three Written Warnings it is standard procedure. There were a few things that were unusual about this Master’s Hearing, however.

First, it was quite significantly delayed. I received the phone call at 8 a.m. and was told to stay where I was and to not move. So, I sat in the room and just waited. I didn’t go to eat breakfast. I didn’t go to eat lunch. I waited for 5 hours before I was finally called in to have my hearing. You see, the ship had a health inspection which required the absolute attention of all the senior staff, so they couldn’t hold the hearing all morning.

So, apparently it was highly unusual for me to be informed of the hearing and then have it delayed for five hours.

A few minutes before we entered the hearing, the H.R. manager, Samar Kumulkar, approached me and asked me who I wanted to be a witness to the proceedings. I had no idea what this was about, and Matt told me that he also didn’t realize I could call a witness but he would help me contact anyone. I racked my brain trying to think of people I knew with experience in the company and familiarity with this type of proceedings whom I could ask to be a witness. My first choice was the T&D manager, Danica Čolić, but she was not on the ship. In fact, no one that I knew was on the ship – it was the last turn around day before the Atlantic crossing and the ship was operating on a skeleton staff who, if they were on the ship were busy working in critically manned positions. Those who were not on the ship were unlikely to return until moments before we set sail – and by then it would be too late to hold the hearing. So, despite our attempts to contact someone, we could not find anyone.

Matt briefed me on what to expect in the hearing. He told me that the hearing was nothing to worry about, it was standard procedure when someone received three written warnings within a one year period. He told me that I would be confronted with the contents of each written warning and that I would need to explain whether or not I had learned my lesson from them. He said that as long as I was honest and forthcoming it was unlikely I would be dismissed. The main thing the Captain was looking to hear was that I knew I had messed up and that I was going to fix the mistakes.

Just before the hearing began, the Captain, Henrik Loy, asked me if I would like to have a witness present. I asked the Hotel Director, Bernhard Stacher what the purpose of a witness was, and he told me it was my right to have one present and their purpose was to make me feel more comfortable the hearing would be properly followed according to regulation. I turned to the Master and told him that I would like to have a witness present, I felt extremely uncomfortable without a witness, that I wanted to ask the T&D manager to be  my witness but she was not on the ship and I was afraid that if I asked to delay the hearing until she returned that it would be held against me and the outcome was more likely to rule against me. Mr. Loy simply said, “Lets proceed then.”

The Master opened the hearing by stating that it seemed that I had “demonstrated a repeated failure to learn from my mistakes,” and told me that I had received three written warnings and asked me what I had to say for myself. I very briefly explained that in each instance I understood what I had done was wrong and had taken steps to correct the problems. I had diligently applied myself over the past several months after my first written warning to make sure I was not late. I would never had violated the regulation I was accused of violating in my second written warning had I known about it in advance (although, as it turns out, that is not a real regulation). And now that I was aware of it, it would certainly never happen again: My manger could attest to the fact that I was one of the most diligent members of our staff in regards to following every last rule and regulation. And as for the third written warning, I was deeply ashamed at the momentary lapse in judgment that lead to my expressing myself in a hurtful manner before the rest of the staff and I was determined to proceed in my duties with a renewed sense of awareness and sensitivity to how my actions would be perceived and affect others.

Then, Matt, Mike, and Bernhard each expressed their displeasure with me over the most recent incident – the going away card note – that had caused my third written warning and told me that they hoped it would serve as a wake-up call for me to do better in the future. I stated that this was indeed a wake-up call and I was determined more than ever to be a positive force within Adventure Ocean. And then the hearing was over and I was asked to leave the room.

While I was out of the room, the Head of Security waited with me and commented that they seemed to be discussing my situation for an unusually long time. He made several more comments while we waited that he was surprised how long it was taking them to deliberate. I was finally invited back into the room and the Master told me that he had decided that I was unsatisfactory in my job performance and he had chosen to dismiss me. Apart from the master, everyone else in the room seemed more upset by the decision than I was. Mike told me he thought I was a great guy and he was sorry to see me go. Bernhard explained to me three times how to appeal the decision until he was satisfied I understood. Matt told me that he didn’t consider my dismissal a legitimate firing and he had never seen a Master dismiss an individual in their first Master’s Hearing when the individual’s manager, the Cruise Director, the Hotel Director, and the Staff Captain had all recommended that they receive a final warning rather than be dismissed.

And it does seem very unusual that this would happen? Why have a hearing in the first place if the outcome seems to have been decided ahead of time and the statements of the employee “on trial” and the input of the senior staff disregarded? Does Henrik Loy dismiss everyone with three written warnings regardless of senior staff input, or was I the exception? If so, why? Is this another case of anti-American sentiment rearing its ugly head? Or is it simply that the infractions for which I received written warnings were so egregious any Royal Caribbean employee in my exact same situation would have been dismissed?

I can’t help but recall crew members on the Independence who received master’s hearings in the past and were not dismissed. One crew member had bragged about receiving seven warnings and three Master’s hearings for drinking underage without being dismissed. What was the difference between my circumstances and the ones of numerous other employees who have been given second and third chances after they willfully and intentionally broke company rules? Am I really a worse, less redeemable employee than they? Or is there another agenda at play which lead to my dismissal?

Part of the difficulty to finding answers to these questions is due to the fact that I was essentially denied the ability to have a witness in the hearing. I don’t know if procedures were properly followed and if I received a fair hearing according to regulation because I was placed in a situation where it was impossible for me to have a witness. How often does that happen? How often are master’s hearings cobbled together at the last minute while the ship is docked and more than half the crew is off the ship, unaware that one of their colleagues is even having a hearing?

And so, with only two and a half hours before the ship set sail across the Atlantic I began the frantic process of packing all my belongings. It was a little bit traumatizing, and I couldn’t help but feel very unnecessary. The entire time, Matt stayed with me and expressed over and over again how disappointed he was with the decision and that he didn’t believe I was treated fairly. The most perplexing thing is that it was Matt who provided the very ammunition that was used to fire me. If his intent was not to build a case for my dismissal, did he make a mistake interpreting the stipulations on him for using the progressive disciplinary process in the first place?

On Sunday, May 4, 2014, I found myself in an airport on a flight bound for Chicago. I thought about where I had been and what I thought my future would hold just 24 hours prior. I thought about all the people I was leaving behind that I never got to say goodbye to. I thought about all the senior staff, my own manager included, who seemed distraught over the injustice of my dismissal. And I began to think about my staff members and what they must think of me, how negatively I must have impacted them if this was why I was being fired. And so, I wrote them all a letter and sent it to Matt to give to everyone at our staff dinner that evening. That letter can be read below:

I am not really sure if Matt ever delivered my letter to the rest of the staff. At this point I am not even really sure if Matt was really upset that I was fired. I’m not even really sure that anything Matt ever said to me was true. I’m not really sure about these things because of what happened next when I wrote my appeal.