I applied for a job and they did a background check and called my ex-boss. She told them she doesn't know/remember me. I worked there for four months, four years ago, but I worked with her directly and there is no way she wouldn't remember me. Plus, I went and talked to her beforehand and said, "they are trying to contact you so please talk to them."
There is no HR department there (it's a doctor's office and she is the doctor). Is this legal?
I mean, it's possible that she really might not remember someone who only worked there for four months four years ago, but you went by and reminded her right before she got this phone call, so that's not what's happening here.
I can see three possible explanations here:
1. She's crazy or vindictive (or crazy and vindictive). Did you have any reason to think that before this?
2. She's really ineptly trying to avoid giving you a bad reference. Did you leave on good terms? How was your work? If one or both of those didn't go well, it's possible that she feels uncomfortable speaking about your work and made a really stupid choice about how to handle that. Believe me, I'm not saying that leaving on bad terms or performing poorly would be a reason to claim not to know you, but I'm trying to figure out what could possibly compel someone to do this.
(For the record, if you're asked to give a reference for someone you don't want to be a reference for, there are plenty of options for handling it, and they don't include denying ever knowing the person. But christ, it sounds like we're not even talking about giving you a reference; we're just talking about employment confirmation.)
3. Last, it is possible that this was just a miscommunication somewhere. It's not inconceivable that the background checker called the wrong number, or that your former boss misheard the name, or something along those lines. This is all the more reason to call her and find out what's going on, and also to be proactive with the new company.
Is it legal, if it was intentional? I'm not a lawyer but I think there's a good chance that it's not. But your more immediate problem is what to do about it. I would do two things:
1. Call the company you're applying for the job with. Tell them you have no idea why she didn't remember you, but offer to provide whatever documentation you can. Do you have your W2s for that job? That would both confirm your employment and make her look highly unreliable in one swoop, which would be nice.
2. Call your former boss. Ask her what happened. Be really, really nice about this, to maximize your chances of the best outcome. Act like you're assuming it was just a miscommunication, not intentional. See if she'll resolve this.
Good luck, and please let us know how this plays out.