There's an art to shit-talking your co-workers. If you are to indulge in it, there's a certain checklist of precautions you'll need to take:

  • Only engage in it with co-workers whom you can trust implicitly.
  • Never do it in e-mails; stick to instant messaging. (Face-to-face, away from the office, is obviously the best option.)
  • If you must do it via email, for heaven's sake, don't use your work email. Especially if you work for a public agency, where they can later be subpoenaed for legal matters and by newspapers.
  • Try to be sparing, and vicious only when necessary. This is for you to vent and retain sanity, not to entertain yourself and avoid work by making up stupid little nicknames for your co-workers, who are actually doing work.

Three employees of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission failed to heed precautions two through four. Tiffanie Drayton, Michele Howard and Wendy Buenger have all been fired from their jobs as civil rights investigators in Iowa City. Their boss, commission executive director Beth Townsend, dismissed the trio after accidentally discovering a trove of thousands of catty correspondences, about 75 sent by each per day, during hours when they were supposed to be investigation complaints of discrimination.

The emails used "mocking nicknames" for colleagues, and criticized their "looks, social skills and mannerisms, quoted vulgar rap lyrics and received and sent offensive pictures [of fat people]," according to an AP report. They also forwarded posts from People of Walmart.

Some highlights:

  • "I have nicknames for all my co-workers. Let's see, there is, Teen Wolf, Monster, Roid Rage, Tupac, Psycho, Eliza Doolittle, Ready for the World, Foster Brooks, Mr. Bentley, Homeless McGee, Red Foxx, and Rainman."
  • "Dude Where's My Car and Psycho are talking about food — a match made in stoner/fatty heaven!"
  • "Psycho is flirting with the new stoned intern. She told him that if he ever wanted to come and ‘yak it out' with her to come find her. Hopefully he's high enough to think it's all a really bad trip."
  • Drayton: "Every time I walk down that aisle up to the front desk, Homeless McGee looks up and stares at me all the way to the front desk. Creepy!" "Maybe she's looking for a date," Howard responded.
  • Drayton: "Why was Rainman dressed up and wearing that black trench coat?" Howard responded: "Hahaha good question! He looks like a perv!"
  • "I try to keep Ghetto Tiffanie locked up while at work but she came out in full force on Wednesday. Now I'm finding it hard to put her back in and whenever I'm walking around in the office the song ‘f the police' is running through my head."

I'd suggest "Ghetto Tiffanie" has a pretty good workplace discrimination suit on her hands. Homeless McGee, Eliza Doolittle: Get on it! [AP, photo via Shutterstock]