1. Shelby Comin' Round the Mountain

PeopleSoft ( PSFT) doesn't have much of a reputation for encouraging a diverse workplace. And CEO Craig Conway, it appears, isn't helping matters.

First, some history.

About the last time PeopleSoft's commitment to employing minorities and women was in the headlines, it was because the company was accused of faking it. Two years ago, a California jury ruled PeopleSoft should pay a former employee $5.45 million for her wrongful termination in 1996 -- a firing the worker argued stemmed from her complaints that PeopleSoft was lying to the federal government by reporting inflated figures for women and minorities at the company.

Let's skip ahead to February of this year, when one Michael W. Thomas, an African-American product consultant manager at PeopleSoft, was terminated. We won't go too far into the specifics of the firing other than to say Thomas believes he didn't get the "leeway" white employees have received; he has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. PeopleSoft won't comment on the case.

Of most interest to us is how CEO Conway -- who joined PeopleSoft in 1999 -- reacted to the Thomas episode. See, on the eve of Thomas' official Feb. 20 termination, the aware-that-he-was-about-to-be-fired Thomas wrote an email to several executives at PeopleSoft alleging he was treated unfairly in the weeks leading up to the firing.

The standard PeopleSoft procedure for employees needing "performance improvement" wasn't followed in his case, Thomas wrote. Corporate unhappiness with his work was both sudden and contrary to previous positive management feedback. A white manager with whom Thomas was familiar wasn't treated as strictly. "I have had discussions with other African Americans at PeopleSoft," wrote Thomas, "and the perception that the company was not sensitive ... to African Americans ... is very obvious."

And how did Conway, whom Thomas cc'd on his email, react to the note? With a very short email back to Thomas, mostly this: "I am not familiar with your specific circumstances, so I can't comment. But I would recommend reading any of the writings of Shelby Steele or J.C. Watts before blaming your circumstance on race."
Foot-in-Mouth Book Club

Wow. Fighting words. For those of you who are not familiar with Steele or Watts, these men fall into the relatively tiny category known as Famous Black Conservatives. Watts, for the past eight years, was the only African-American Republican in Congress. Steele is a research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution think tank. Both are outspoken opponents of race-based affirmative action. Steele's landmark book The Content of Our Character "asserted that some black Americans had so internalized an ideology of victimhood that their self-esteem was too hobbled to advance in society," as Brian Palmer put it recently in Newsday.

In other words, it's easy to interpret Conway's email as saying, "This firing is your own fault."

But don't take our word for it, or Thomas'. Instead, listen to Shirley Matthews, Ph.D., assistant director of counseling at New Jersey's Seton Hall University. Matthews, who has two decades of experience in diversity training -- including a half-dozen years at American Express ( AXP) -- knows a thing or two about ethnically diverse workplaces. And what's Matthews' reaction to Conway's comment?

"Oh, my God," says Matthews. "Oh, my God."

What Conway wrote, says Matthews, "was really, really obnoxious and insensitive. Without having to use the words himself, he's saying, 'You're just insecure and a big baby. And if you were good enough, you wouldn't have this problem.'"

Perhaps what Conway should have said, says Matthews, was "I know our organization doesn't discriminate." If that had been Conway's reply, she says, there wouldn't have been any problem.

And that, of course, is what PeopleSoft said when the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab called for guidance about the company's treatment of minorities. "Providing opportunities equally for all employees is not only central to PeopleSoft's business strategy, it is the foundation of an ethical, high integrity organization," according to the PeopleSoft employment policy provided to the lab.

That's not so apparent to Thomas, who says he expects to have mediation or arbitration with PeopleSoft soon. "I am not a type of guy who feels something is owed to me because of who I am and my color," Thomas tells the research lab. "I just look at the atmosphere in PeopleSoft. And it was confirmed by Craig's statement -- that they don't embrace diversity or affirmative action. It's obvious in the company."

2. A Diller, a Dollar, a Monetary Scholar

We're familiar with the expression "damning with faint praise," but we never really witnessed it on Wall Street until we met U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow.

We're referring, of course, to Snow's comments in France last weekend about what makes a strong currency -- comments that sent the dollar on its merry downward spiral.

What, indeed, makes a strong currency, according to Snow?

Dollar's Snowfall

"You want people to have confidence in your currency," The Australian Financial Review quotes him as saying. "You want them to see the currency as a good medium of exchange. You want the currency to be a good store of value. You want it to be something people are willing to hold. You want it hard to counterfeit, like the new $20 bill. Those are the qualities."

Those are the qualities? That's it?????

No wonder the dollar is going down the toilet. If those are the qualities, there's not much distinguishing a dollar bill and a Yu-Gi-Oh card.

3. You Made Your Lebed, Now Sleep in It

Still, maybe there's hope for this world after all.

As the research lab pointed out recently, Jonathan Lebed -- the precocious tyke who became the youngest person ever accused of stock scamming by the Securities and Exchange Commission -- decided he had a gift for politics.

Ah, the synergies.

Anyway, Lebed ran for one of two empty slots on the five-member town council of Cedar Grove, N.J., the hamlet in which he resides.

Though the election was held May 14, few -- make that zero -- financial news publications have chosen to report the results. Until now.

It seems that Lebed will have to wait a little longer before he becomes a disgraced politician. In a four-way race, he came in fourth.

We wanted to chat with Lebed for a postmortem, but we couldn't track down his phone number. So we called Wayne E. Zatorski, who, despite the handicaps of his write-in candidacy for the town council, managed to garner a third-place 677 votes to Lebed's 490.

Jon Corzine He's Not
Jon Lebed reports a loss -- at polls

Lebed "impressed me very much, very quickly," says Zatorski, who works in financial computer systems design at Ricoh. "As he matures and gets more experience under his belt, I think he has the potential to really contribute," says Zatorski.

We can hardly wait.

Whittle's Riddle
Time for remedial math class?

4. Do the Math

Speaking of kid stuff, we were glad to hear that the long-suffering for-profit educational company Edison Schools ( EDSN) "has executed a dramatic financial turnaround."

That is, if you believe Chief Executive Chris Whittle, who made the turnaround comment in a press release issued May 14.

Unfortunately, there's a little problem with that scenario, as Bloomberg pointed out this week: Edison, as the company revealed in an SEC filing the day after Whittle's comment, is actually in default on $59.5 million worth of loans.

Well, not exactly. As an Edison spokesman told Bloomberg, the company believed the issue was immaterial, because Edison received from its lenders a temporary waiver of the default, which relates to minimum net worth requirements for Edison, not a missed payment.

Ah, yes, reminds us of our school days, back when a paper was due on Monday and we hadn't yet finished it by the following Friday. We had an extension, of course. So even if we handed in a paper the week after its original due date, we never handed it in late.

5. Glaxo Smacks o' Wackos

Reassuringly, ex- Vivendi Universal ( V) CEO Jean-Marie Messier isn't the only hyphenated French executive out there to provide grist for the research lab's mill.

No, it turns out we have an alternative supplier: Jean-Pierre Garnier, head of pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline ( GSK).

As the entertaining Corporate Babble Web site points out, Garnier -- whose proposed golden, platinum and diamond-encrusted parachute was voted down by shareholders this week -- is a walking cornucopia of Dumb Things.

A good place to start: Garnier's recent comment to London's Daily Telegraph about the importance of timing in the pharma business: "Timing is everything in this industry, and it's not always right to be first. On the Normandy beaches, the first wave died and the third wave got the girls in Paris."

Ouch. Not the best choice of words, we think, given the recent back-and-forthing over the French nonrole in Iraq. Plus, the jovial fellow seems to imply that the first wave at Normandy had a choice about the matter.

We see a more pleasant picture in our mind's eye from a Babbler-repeated 1999 comment from Garnier: "If you pay peanuts you get monkeys -- and we cannot have monkeys running this company."

Who knows? Maybe we already do.

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