Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Not By the Rules

When Franki Chipman was "laid-off," in 2009 she knew she was sunk.  Chipman, was already struggling to pay bills, her financial topography was spider webbed with fault lines, losing her job at Sabol and Rice, began the movement of tectonic plates that caused an earthquake forcing her eviction, sending her adult daughter to find her own place to live, and her son to move in with his father.  Chipman was relegated to sleeping on a series of sofa's owned by friends, while she scraped desperately to find work.

 In the panic days after Bear-Stearns collapsed triggering the begining of the most significant recession since the Great Depression, Chipman found it impossible to even get a call back from potential employers.  She was forced to move from her family, her hometown and her children to Dallas, Texas to take a job that, in the end, was only temporary.

She was told by Chris Robertson, the  principal at her old company Sabol and Rice, that the economy had turned and S&R couldn't afford her anymore.  Chipman was let go on a Thursday, by  Monday of the next week, her position was filled by another person.

Chipman says the economy had nothing to do with her firing, she says the moment she told police about the owners dirty, little vice, she was cast out.

Sabol and Rice began selling heating and cooling equipment in 1958.  Very little has changed at the company since.  If you stand outside their simple, one-story Salt Lake City office building, you can almost imagine it as a black and white photograph, with men in double-breasted suits and fedoras upon their heads, and a '55 Chevy Impala stationed in the gravel parking lot.

In 1958 the HVAC sales company was populated almost exclusively by men, and in 2012, that is still the case.  The owners, we are told, take a casual approach to everything,  In 50 years, it appears, the company never authored an employee handbook.   Chipman says the policies were made up on the fly, and to fit the occasion.  Do you need a sick day? (no need to count them), vacation day? (take a day if you need it) and sexual harassment? (He didn't mean anything by that.)

Franki Chipman, a mother of 2, found this out the hard way in 2009.   In a place populated by men, a place with seemingly no rules, and a place with a boss who Chipman and others say had a perverse addiction, Chipman found her self literally "throwing up" in her car on the way to work.

The man who sets the standard at Sabol and Rice is D. Chris Robertson.  He worked his way up from the bottom of the small company to become the owner.   He also, it turns out, loved to look at child porn, daily, and I'm told, with little regard for the people, particularly the woman, who might see it.

Robertson's computer screen faced the opening of his office, so when Chipman and later Krystall Butters would enter with an invoice to sign or a document to be initialed, they were often greeted with blood chilling images of children engaged in disturbing sexual acts.  The Attorney General's office says some of the images that Robertson stored on his computer included pictures of toddlers forced into sex with adults.  In all, when investigators did a forensic analysis of Roberson's work PC, they found more than 24,000 images of child porn, and more than 300 videos.

 Both women say they were stunned by their boss's cavalier viewing of porn.  When the women would enter his office, Robertson, they say, was in no particular hurry to click out of these horrific websites, rather Chipman says, she would have to wait, sometimes for several seconds for Robertson to wrap up his entertainment, before he would return to the world of work.

The pair (both of them parents) began to construct strategies to avoid seeing children being assaulted.  Butters wore flip-flops, and would loudly slap her way towards Robertson's office, while Chipman would clear her throat as she made the arduous trip to her bosses lair, both hoping he would digitally meander his way back to his email.

Chipman says Robertson's disturbing hobby was an open secret in the office, and his twisted sex desires, Chipman says, filtered down to the other men in the office.  Sexual comments flew fast, and frequently at Sabol And Rice says Chipman, and so did touching.  Chipman says the credit manager at S&R once grabbed her breast as she passed his office, then again "grabbed her butt,"
She says when she reported the aggression to her immediate supervisor the man allegedly said, "I thought of doing that myself but didn't know if I'd get slapped."

After some time on the job, Kristall Butters, couldn't take it anymore and she reported Robertson to the Attorney General's office.  Police later interviewed Chipman about what she saw, soon after Robertson was arrested, and when he was released from jail, he allegedly told his receptionist, that he had every intention of firing the people you turned him in.  Two months later both Butters and Chipman were laid off.

Robertson will be sentenced October 17th on more than 20 counts of possession of child porn.

Both woman spent months looking for new jobs, and finally are employed.

I met chipman at her small, functional apartment in Sandy, Utah, and after the interview, I asked, "so you're working again?  You're doing well?"  She perked up, almost as if conditioned to do so and sang, "Oh yes!"  then it appeared she was quietly pondered her financial spreadsheet, maybe thinking about the bills still owed, or the collection agencies that likely still harass her and she amended her statement, with eyes cast downward, "I'm catching up."

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