A few days ago, if you'd asked me what "nepotism" meant, I would have guessed it was some sort of eye disorder. But boy, oh, boy, Jeanketeers, since then I've learned what the word really means! (The hard way!)

When I began working at Fashion Bug, I thought I'd finally found my dream job: decent pay, flexible hours, and the chance to have truly important responsibilities. I was even given my own keys to the cash-register drawer and a special register code so I could correct any cashiering errors I made! I never had that privilege at any of my other retail jobs. I always had to wait for the supervisor to come and delete the error, getting an icy glare in the process!

Best of all, I was almost up to 40 hours a week. And you know what being full-time means: Yup, employee discount!

Then, out of nowhere, came trouble with a capital T. Or, in this case, a capital E! Her name was Ellen. (Actually, that's not her real name. My editor recommended I change it to avoid getting sued for libel. So her real name begins with a different letter.)

A few weeks before Christmas, Ellen was hired as an entry-level sales associate, just like I'd been three months earlier. The more the merrier, I figured. With the Christmas rush on, we sure needed the extra help.

Anyway, Ellen was the best friend of the store manager, Roz. She was divorced with two kids and really needed a job because the state was cutting off all her assistance if she didn't go back to work. (A policy I wholeheartedly supported–until I saw what Ellen's presence at Fashion Bug meant for me!)

On Ellen's very first day, a Monday, Roz had me train her on the cash register. You know, being a cashier may look easy, but it's not. You have to pay attention to giving out the correct change, remember to itemize each sale correctly as a check, cash, or credit card, and change the register tape before it runs out. And if you don't balance at the end of the day, you have to go through the tape and try to find your mistake.

So here I was, trying to train Ellen. Notice how I said "trying," because Ellen hardly paid any attention at all!

"I had a lot of these type jobs before my marriage," she told me, "so I know what I'm doing." When I told her that if she made an error, I'd delete it with my special code so she could do the sale over again, she stifled a laugh. I asked her what was so funny. She said she couldn't help it, I was just acting so serious about everything. Well, that irked me a little. I like to think of myself as a fun-loving person, but I was trying to train her, so I couldn't be all happy-go-lucky, now, could I? (Maybe she should've gone to work with those cutups over at the Hot Sam a few doors down. I can't even order a pretzel there without hearing people tittering in the back kitchen!)

So, after lunch, Ellen got on the second register. And, sure enough, at the end of the day when we rang out the totals and counted everything, Ellen had recorded two credit-card sales as check sales and was $5 short. That meant Ellen had to go down on the employee-error ledger. Because she was new, she was entitled to three major cashiering mistakes a month instead of the customary two. But if she committed any more than that, she could have her probationary period lengthened by a month.

The following Monday, I was scheduled for the afternoon shift. I walked in and saw Ellen at the register. I couldn't believe my eyes: Not only was her "trainee" badge replaced with an "Ellen" one, around her wrist on a stretchy cord was a key: her own register-drawer key! I rushed into the back office and confronted Roz.

"Ellen's only been here a week," I said. "How come she got a key so soon?"

"This seasonal rush has me swamped, and I'm too busy to check on the cashier area all the time," Roz replied. "Ellen is doing well enough that if she needs extra cash, she can sign it out from the vault herself. Oh, and I gave her correction privileges, too. She knows what she's doing, Jean. She used to be my boss when we both worked at Merry-Go-Round. "

I was speechless. I had to wait until the end of my probationary period to get my keys and correction privileges! Ellen loses $5 for the company, and within days she's given what it took me three whole months to earn? What's the point of even having a probationary period if the rules can be flouted like that?

I tried to look on the bright side. After all, if Ellen kept to the register, she couldn't fold clothes in that sloppy way of hers. One time, I practically had to redo an entire table of women's shaker-knit sweaters because she let the sleeves stick out. Sheesh! (Boy, that Merry-Go-Round of hers must have been a real mess!)

For about a month, I hardly ever saw Ellen, because she worked mornings while I worked afternoons and evenings. Then, last Friday, when I arrived at work, I saw her chatting with Roz. At first, I thought Ellen was there to pick up her paycheck, but I noticed she was dressed a little nicer than usual, with a blazer and pearls. Then I spotted her nametag. It was managerial red, not sales-associate black.

You guessed it: Ellen got hired for the long-vacant assistant-manager position! Now, she was my boss! Worst of all, Ellen would get the coveted employee discount, while I worked just two fewer hours per week than her and had to pay full price!

I'm not exaggerating when I say that my world was shattered. I was so close to getting that assistant-manager position, I could taste it! Granted, Roz never officially promised it to me, but it just seemed natural that I would get it after giving so much of myself to Fashion Bug. Didn't Roz remember when I volunteered to stay three hours after closing to assist with inventory? Or that time I helped her unpack and organize that larger-than-expected shipment of misses' rayon career blouses? Or when I showed up at the Christmas party with my notorious Ecstasy In Chocolate Surprise, which everybody said was the best dessert they'd ever tasted, hands down?

Suddenly, Fashion Bug didn't seem like a fun place with cute, kicky, affordable clothes and plentiful opportunities for advancement. It was almost like it became this depressing place that offered cheap clothing of inferior quality in an underpatronized strip mall in an economically depressed part of town.

That evening, as I told hubby Rick what I just told you, his eyes started to glaze over like he was hearing the most boring story in the world. When I finished, he just looked at me and said, "So? I've been passed over for tons of promotions over the years, but I don't get all worked up about it. Like I always say, life's a bitch and then you die." Then he returned to his all-important living-room-floor slot-car race. Gee, thanks for the loving support there, Rick!

I think folks like me who get passed over for promotions they clearly deserve should form a union. Can you imagine how powerful we'd be if we all banded together and demanded that our voices be heard? Maybe there's already a union like that. If there is, could someone please let me know how I can join? Solidarity, Jeanketeers!