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DeBora M. Ricks

Speaker & Author

Baltimore, MD

They caved and hired me as a permanent employee. Then things got really ugly.

I was a new attorney. With a newborn baby. I went to work for an insurance company, litigating insurance claims. I was contractual because I had been told there were no permanent positions available. Well, upon my return to work after the Christmas holiday, I learned that two young white male attorneys had got permanent positions. I was livid.

I started at the bottom. First, I talked to my immediate supervisor and worked my way all the way up to the CEO. I was bold. I was fearless. I even threatened to talk to the EOC about race and gender discrimination. They caved and hired me as a permanent employee.

Then things got really ugly. In the 82-year-history of this company there had only been a handful of black attorneys. Of the 16 attorneys on board then, I was one of only two. My caseloads were always big. Many of my assignments were in farther reaches of the state. It was tough. Many mornings I'd rise before the sun to take my infant across town to my mother's house so I could make it to court on time. I felt defeated, out-numbered and outgunned. I'd won the battle, only to end up in a war zone, alone. It didn't help one bit when my male supervisor was replaced by a woman. In fact, my life got harder on the job.

Things only grew more nightmarish when I decided to seek one of the ten positions on the Workers' Compensation Commission. The only black person on the Commission, a man, was retiring. He encouraged me to pursue the vacant position. Nearly all of the Commission, which included one woman, who was white, made it abundantly clear that I was not wanted and that they would do everything in their power to keep me from having that seat. There was one Jewish man, thank God, who remained kind to me, though secretly. Wow! Though that was more than fifteen years ago, these memories bring tears.

I leaned in. I didn't get that Commissioner position; and after three and a half years of pure hell, I moved on to another job that paid more than ten thousand dollars more. Eventually, I wanted out of the corporate world. A couple of years later I left the practice of law to write a book. That's what I do now: write and speak. And I'm happier for it.