The Most Painful Blog of All: A Woman’s Right To Be Fired

The Most Painful Blog of
All: A Woman’s Right To Be Fired


Leonard Zwelling

         This one really hurts.

         Yesterday, September 30, on Capitol Hill, the Head of the
Secret Service had to answer to Congress for a series of missteps taken by
people who work for her in the job of protecting the First Family. The “White
House intruder to the Green Room-gate” is the most egregious misstep, but
having a known felon with a gun enter an elevator with President Obama during a
CDC visit isn’t a whole lot better. Rifle shots hit the White House and it took
the Secret Service 4 days to figure that out. Then, of course, there was the
Secret Service (“wheels up, rings off”) prostitution scandal in Colombia two
years ago.

in its transition from the Department of the Treasury to Homeland Security,
something has gone very wrong at the Secret Service. When did “In the Line of
Fire” become a punch line? I am not sure, but I am afraid we are there.

think it is without any doubt that the Director, Julie Pierson, will probably
not last the week in her job. Unfortunately, this is as it should be, not
because she necessarily did a bad job, but because there must be some
accountability for lapses of duty this egregious and she’s this week’s

appears from the reports I have heard and read that Director Pierson was well qualified
for her job and had served with distinction before she rose to the top of the
agency that protects our most important people. It is also clear that on her
watch the culture of the Secret Service has disintegrated and that in turn has
led to incompetence in an area of security where even the whiff of poor
performance can have deadly consequences including major political upheaval.

Pierson has only been on the job for 18 months. A woman was probably chosen for
this job because the accusations of the fraternity boy behavior by the Secret
Service in Colombia warranted a clean break with the “old boys” club the agency
had become. It doesn’t seemed to have worked.

placing a woman in charge was a good idea, perhaps this wasn’t the right woman
and that brings me to the painful point of this blog entry. As someone who is a
strong proponent of women’s equality and who, when it was my turn, appointed as
many women to leadership positions on committees over which my office had jurisdiction
as I could and whose office was almost entirely staffed by women, I have to
admit that the ultimate women’s right is the right to be fired.

has been playing on my mind for the past two weeks as witness after witness
testified before the jury in the Gonzalez-Angulo trial because most of them
were women. The defendant, now convicted, is a woman. The other woman, was a
woman. The judge was a woman. While women have certainly not gained appropriate
equality in our society yet, things are better than they were when I was
growing up. We have a long way to go, baby, but progress has been made since
Billie Jean beat Bobbie in the AstroDome.

         This Secret Service scandal comes on the heels of the IRS
scandal, the clear failure of the intelligence community surrounding the
assessment of the ISIS threat (or the President’s not listening to what he was
being told) and the general feeling that both Congress and the Supreme Court
have reached new levels of ineptness and/or corruption.

         So perhaps, it should come as no surprise that the women of
MD Anderson acquitted themselves so poorly on the witness stand last week, not
so much with what they said, but with how hard it was to get them to say it.


         Is this unique to women? Hardly. The victim in the poisoning
case himself knew what had happened to him but was unwilling to point an
accusing finger as soon as he suspected who his assailant was. If the guy who
almost died won’t do anything, why should his colleagues?


          But what ought to be the consequences of this behavior?

         So far, only Dr. Gonzalez-Angulo has seen the price tag—at
least 5 years in jail. Her ex-lover and her ex-colleagues who were about as
uncooperative as they could have been with police and other authorities, have
only paid the price of clouded consciences. Those need to be addressed in my
assessment with counseling, but what about their behavior? Should they keep
their jobs? Are they sufficiently good citizens to maintain their positions at
one of the great institutions of cancer care in the country? Two are department
chairs and thus leaders and mentors. Should they be allowed to continue in such

         These are not questions for me to answer. But someone ought
to ask and answer them and do it fast for the reputation of MD Anderson can
rest on how the world views what transpired in a downtown Houston courtroom as
witness after witness raised her right hand and swore to tell the truth and
did, but it was like pulling teeth to get it. To me that’s just wrong and an example
of bad citizenship and leadership. Rewarding these women with their continued
employment needs to be examined by the President of MD Anderson.

         I am all for a women’s right to BE the next President of MD
Anderson. But I also think that women should pay the same price for poor
judgment as men should.

         There’s a new leader coming to Medical Breast Oncology.
Perhaps his first job ought to be to clean house of those whose judgment and
veracity was so flawed. If they won’t step up to help a colleague, why should
we believe they would step up to help a patient? Because they always have? Is
that enough? Someone on top let us know.

         It would be ideal if a woman on top could participate in this evaluation and decision. Unfortunately, the entire executive suite is filled with those having both X and Y chromosomes. That itself is enough of a problem to warrant some Presidential scrutiny.

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