Balancing the realities of protecting the organization and the rights of employees, both in and out of work, has become a major focal point for contemporary human resource managers. For example, by everyone’s account, Peter Oiler was an outstanding employee. Oiler, a truck driver for Winn-Dixie stores and a twenty-year employee, had an impeccable and unblemished work record. He was punctual, trustworthy, and an exceptionally productive employee. Most co-workers viewed him as an asset to the organization. But none of that appeared to matter when Oiler was fired. The reason: Oiler was a cross dresser. On his own time, Oiler changed his persona, becoming Donna, complete with wearing women’s clothing, a wig, and makeup. Frequently out in public with his wife – in restaurants, at church – Donna maintained a dignified public appearance, bothering no one, and simply went on with his personal life as he chose.
Management at Winn-Dixie, however, saw things differently. Shortly after they learned of his cross-dressing behavior, Oiler was fired. This happened in spite of the realization that his out of work behavior had absolutely no adverse effect on his job performance. Rather Winn-Dixie’s position was that if he was seen in public by someone who recognized him as a Winn-Dixie employee, the company’s image could be damaged.
Oiler sued the company for wrongfully terminating him on the basis of sex discrimination. He claimed that cross-dressing was nothing more than his “not conforming to gender stereotype as a man.” During the trial, records reinforced that there was not one shred of evidence that any of Oiler’s out-of-work activities affected his ability to work. Nonetheless, the court ruled in Winn-Dixie’s favor, citing there were no federal or state laws that protect the rights of “transgendered” employees. Although, Winn-Dixie won at the trial, they experienced an aftermath that they were not expecting. Many co-workers rallied behind Oiler, wondering if the company could do this to him, what might they do next? Certainly, people understood a company could fire anyone for any legal reason, but how much latitude should a company have in defining “legal” reasons? Could they fire an employee who drinks alcohol after work? or views an “inappropriate” movie? or views adult websites? What if one is arrested? Does that result in an automatic termination? The answer is, it could – but there are consequences to this employer action. In such cases, companies have found that terminating an employee for outside or work activities brings negative publicity, lowers employee morale, and increases employee turnover.
Discussion Question—Choose one perspective in which to respond
Non-HR Perspective: As a manager in your organization, if you were faced with a situation like the one shared above, what actions would you take and why? At what point, if at all, would you involve the organization’s human resources department.
HR Perspective: Are there proactive actions that human resources could take to avoid such situations? What would you have done differently in managing the situation? Are there any legal implications/considerations?
In developing your response, you want to consider some of the following elements: employee rights, progressive discipline, the effects of off-the-job behaviors on an organization, and other course concepts addressed in your readings.
Below are some links to discussion on the case that may provide you more information and insight as to what transpired:
- ACLU FILES CIVIL RIGHTS CASE AGAINST WINN-DIXIE STORES FOR FIRING TRUCKER WHO CROSS-DRESSES AWAY FROM WORK