Conflict loving manager ended my contract, team wants me to fight the decision, should I go to HR?

I’ve spent lots of time in this sub but now that I’m asking for advice I have to use a throwaway for privacy reasons.

I was recently given the four weeks notice (required) to end my contract on 1st December. When telling me of this decision I was given the usual placating reasons of ‘there is no room for you to grow, we are thinking long term and we think you will leave, etc.’

This development caught me off-guard as all of the 10 performance reviews I received a couple months ago were stellar. They all praised my work, approach, attitude, etc.. There was not a single negative comment. When relaying these reviews to me my direct manager said that she would love to have me on the team long term, that this would lead to not only me becoming permanent (I’m on a contract) but also a promotion.

Now, my direct manager loves conflict. She often tries to incite it within the team with ‘he said, she said’ claims when talking privately to individuals. Or trying to get you to say something bad about another team member. She was not the one who made the decision to hire me (she was not available for interviews and a higher-up made the decision without her) and since I started the job has constantly made snide remarks about this fact as well as about other things such as my appearance, positivity, education, hobbies, etc. I just brushed them all off because I thought, ‘I can do the job, do it well, I give her respect and everyone likes me’. I do, usually, remain suspicious about anything she says. However, I figured that she has seen my reviews, they are objective evidence speaking to my work and she now sees that I am an asset to the team.

Fast forward to 3rd November. She gives me notice. I just accept because I think having an emotional response is a waste of energy (and I know that is what she wants and I am not going to give it to her). I also know there is nothing to be done – I’m on a contract, this is completely legal.

A couple of days ago I find out that two members of the team – one who has just returned after being on a 1.5 year leave – have made up a story about me being rude to one of them. Why? The only reason I can think of is that they are close friends, I was hired to replace the one who was gone and the other one received okay/bad reviews in which the reviewers compared their performance to mine and stated that this team member should be more like me and listed off things that they could learn from me. My manager took this story and ran with it.

I found out about all this from another two team members who said that our manager questioned them about this claim about me being rude. They had denied its veracity to my manager and thought it was ridiculous and laughed it off because they knew it is was so out of character for me. It was only after my manager ended my contract that they realised that what she was aiming to do. My manager never spoke to me about these claims.

Obviously, I am a bit upset. My other team members want me to fight this and go to HR, if only so they are made aware of her behavior. Part of me wants to do it out of principle and pride but I also do not see the point. Everyone knows HR exists to protect a company. The supervisors are also either willfully blind to or do not care enough about her behavior to do anything. And, to be honest, I have finally admitted to myself how tired I am of all this. Fine, I go to HR and I get this reversed then what? I’ll still be directly under the same manager and I do NOT want that.

I have been here for more than a year, in that time there has not been a single incident involving me, no one has had a bad word to say about me. I know that it may be unbelievable but I do, genuinely, get along with everyone in the office. I feel like my character and behavior speak for themselves. However, my team members insist that I need to ‘defend my reputation’. That me not adamantly defending myself against my manager and these claims means that I am admitting the story is true.

What would you all do?

Does me not fighting it and ‘defending my reputation’ really mean that I admitting it is true and would this effect my references? Should I really go to HR? Do you think it is worth the energy and time?

Thank you in advance.

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