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One of the main complaints that emerges is what employees term Bennett's "paranoia." "Any time two or more station employees are gathered at any place, she perceives that, if she's not there, as a threat," Algeo says. "She'll do what she can to stop it."
That's what Sue Lemai found out when she was hired at KWMU in January 1998 as executive assistant to Bennett, Kerley and business manager Sherry Hieken. During her first week, Lemai suggested getting together with her new co-workers for drinks after work, she says. "It was like, "Oh, no, we're not allowed to do that.' I was like, "Wait a minute, there's something wrong here.' You can't tell people what they can do after work," Lemai says. "I was told by other employees that people had been written up for it. It was very grade-school."
Although she wasn't excited about the administrative aspects of her new job, as a dedicated NPR listener Lemai was delighted to work for an NPR station. "Every time we move it's the first thing we do, find the NPR station. And I was also silly enough to think, "I'm working for three women. How cool is that they run the station.' I went to a women's college. I was thrilled."
Her enthusiasm eventually turned to dread. "I took the MetroLink to work every day, and we would get to the stop and I'd be like, "I don't even want to get off,' because ... you never knew what you were going to encounter.... If (Bennett) was in a good mood, you had a fairly decent day. And if, for whatever reason that you couldn't even trace, she was having a bad day, everybody was having a bad day. And so you would just sort of listen Is she laughing? Is she happy? and just try to lay low."
Four months later, saying, "Things aren't working out," Bennett fired her. That was fine with Lemai. "I felt like I had been given a "get out of jail free' card," says Lemai. "I wasn't going to quit myself, because I'm stubborn. I've had a bunch of jobs, and I've never not gotten along with anybody. So I kept thinking, "This can be done.'"
Unbeknownst to Lemai, her co-workers had been taking bets on when she would quit. When she was fired, they took her out to Blueberry Hill in the Delmar Loop to celebrate. "They were toasting me for getting fired," Lemai says. "What kind of twisted mentality is this when you get fired and your co-workers salute you?"
No recourseDespite these complaints, some employees, like Algeo, never confronted Bennett with their concerns. "Maybe in a weird parallel universe people can do that, but, no, I didn't," he says. "You look slightly uncomfortable and hope she gets the message."
What was holding him back? "Fear for my job," he says. "If I filed a grievance and won it, my working conditions there would be miserable, even more miserable than they were. And if I filed a grievance, no matter what happened, then you're the guy who filed the grievance."
Some employees say they tried to talk with Bennett about their concerns but were rebuffed. "She resented that I would approach her with problems I had with her management style," Graham said. "I would say, "Look I don't want to go to (reporter) Andrea (Murray) and tell her that her clothing is inappropriate, because I don't think her clothing is inappropriate. I don't want to tell people that listeners called in complaining that they stuttered.' And I would say, "What listeners?' And she would say, "You don't worry about that. You just tell her that listeners are calling in and complaining.' "
Graham says he complained to his supervisor, Robert Peterson, to no avail. "His stock answer was, "I know, Lester, I have to deal with her, too. But you know, Patty's Patty. That's the way she is,'" Graham recalls. "That's not what I was looking for."
The former employees say they felt that complaining to the university's human-resources department was not much of an option. They say that anytime they went to HR, for any reason, their confidentiality was broken and Bennett found out they had been there. "I remember a conversation," Emmons says, "and I can't remember who was involved, where Patty called me into her office and said, "Employee X, whoever it was, called over to human resources. Do you know why that is?' I pretty much assumed, because of that experience, that (talking to human resources) would not be something that would be productive for me."
In the end, the complaints were moot. Emmons quit in June 1995. Lemai was fired in March 1998. Graham was fired in June of that year, after which Algeo and reporter Andrea Murray quit in protest. The sales executive quit two months later.
The damage doneA handful of former KWMU employees still meet once a month or so for birthday parties, house parties, or to celebrate holidays. Regardless of the occasion, the subject of Patty Bennett invariably comes up. Although it's been a year or more since they were fired or quit, they speak about their time at KWMU, and working for Bennett, with an anger and frustration that go beyond standard-issue griping about a tough former boss.