Friday, August 18, 2017

Charlottesville Marchers: Few Remedies for Losing Job

      Nigel Krofta, self-identified white nationalist, was neither surprised nor upset when he learned that he had been fired from his job back home in South Carolina for participating in the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va.  Krofta learned the news through social media, he explained in a story posted by the Charleston television station WCSC, because he lost his phone during the tumultuous events of Aug. 12-13.
      Limehouse & Sons, the Ladson, S.C., industrial contractor where Krofta had worked, announced the firing on its own Facebook page. Krofta "is no longer an employee of Limehouse & Sons," the post read. "We do not condone the actions of the people involved in this horrific display that has taken place in Charlottesville," the post went on.
      The company's managers spotted Krofta in a picture in the New York Times standing next to James Fields Jr., the Nazi-sympathizing 20-year-old accused of killing one person and injuring 19 others by driving his car into a crowd of counterprotesters. "It was a sick feeling to know that we had somebody like that working here alongside the rest of us," a Limehouse official who asked not to be identified told the TV station.
      Krofta, who appears from his picture to be in his 20s or early 30s, took it mostly in stride. "If they're going to lose business for it, I don't blame them for it," he told the station's reporter. But he also complained that the demonstrators were being mischaracterized. "What do I say to people who say we stand for hate?" he asked rhetorically. "I just say broaden your horizons and maybe read some opposing views."
      Others in Krofta's situation — and at least three other Charlottesville marchers have lost their jobs under similar circumstances — might have immediately sought out a lawyer to get their job back or sue for damages. But David Yamada, a labor law expert at Suffolk Law School in Boston, says employers generally can fire an employee for political activities — for anything ranging from a campaign contribution up through a demonstration turned violent.
      In general, most U.S. workers are "at will" employees, as Yamada explains in a post on his blog Minding the Workplace. A worker can be fired, without notice or cause, unless the firing would violate a specific protection written into federal, state, or local law or a provision of a collective bargaining agreement or an individual contract with the employer. "Many of the civil liberties we enjoy as citizens stop at the company door," Yamada explains.
      Some states do have laws restricting an employer's ability to fire a worker because of political participation, but those laws, it appears, are not enforced or observed as strictly as the well known civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on race, religion, or sex or in nearly half of the states sexual orientation. In any event, Yamada cautions that employers should be wary about monitoring their employees' off-site political activities. "We don't want employers doing much of that," he says. "It's not good for the country if people can't participate."
      The Charlottesville-related firings come in the nearly immediate wake of the heated controversy over Google's decision to fire a software engineer for writing an internal memo critical of the company's efforts to get more women into leadership roles. James Damore attributed the underrepresentation of women to inherent "personality differences" between men and women and called the company's affirmative action policies "unfair, divisive, and bad for business." Google explained the Aug. 7 decision to fire Damore by saying that he was ''advancing harmful gender stereotypes.''
      News of Google's actions generated front-page news and provoked sharp criticism of the company from the so-called "alt right," the loosely defined conservative political movement tinged with white nationalist views. Alt-right forces also sponsored the Charlottesville demonstration, but a few days after some of the marchers lost their jobs no protests have been heard about the firings.
      Yamada is somewhat critical of Google's decision to fire Damore, but he finds the virtual silence about the Charlottesville marchers' fates unsurprising. "The Google situation looks like child play compared to the issues raised by Charlottesville," he says.
      California is one of the states with laws prohibiting workplace discrimination based on political expression. One of the Charlottesville marchers who lost his job is Cole White, fired from his job at a Berkeley hot dog place, Top Dog. "The actions of those in Charlottesville are not supported by Top Dog," the company said in a sign it posted during the weekend of the demonstration.
      Trump's white working-class workers might be surprised to learn that the National Labor Relations Board, part of the much-maligned "deep state," helped a white worker get his job back after he was discharged for racist slurs directed against picket-line crossing African American replacement workers. The NLRB found that Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. had violated federal labor law by firing Anthony Runion for the picket-line slurs during a lockout at its Findley, Ohio, plant in January 2012.
      In a decision earlier this month [Aug. 8], the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the board's ruling. The majority rejected the company's defense that it was seeking to prevent a hostile work environment after the lockout ended. In dissent, however, Judge C. Arlen Beam stated what appears to be a correct statement of the general law on the issue. "No employer in America is or can be required to employ a racial bigot," Beam wrote.

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