On payday Fridays for the last few months, employees at a Florida law firm would don matching orange shirts and go out for a happy hour. The orange shirts were worn, they say, to make the group feel more like a group, but that's not how the company's executives saw them. They thought the bright threads were a sign of protest against the new management, and fired the group's members.
Lou Erik Ambert, a paralegal at Elizabeth R. Wellborn law firm in Deerfield Beach tried to explain to the higher-ups that the orange shirts were a harmless happy-hour tradition. (One of the fired employees, Janice Doble, is pictured at left wearing the shirt.) But bosses wouldn't budge, and the 14 employees were left without jobs, or severance.
"There is no office policy against wearing office shirts," Ambert told the Sun-Sentinel. "We had no warning."
A woman at the law office said they had "no comment."
Like most states, Florida has at-will employment. That means workers can be fired for any
reason whatsoever, as long as it isn't a specifically protected one: race, gender, religion, national origin or disability. Unfortunately for the 14 employees, shirt color is not mentioned in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
It's true that the color orange has been embraced by political or protest movements. The Orange Revolution sprung up in the Ukraine at the end of 2004, to challenge what was seen as a rigged election. Also in 2004, Israeli pro-settlement advocates wore orange shirts to protest planned withdrawal from land in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. In Northern Ireland, the Orange Order supports the continued political union of Great Britain and Ireland. And during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, protesters donned orange to highlight human rights abuses in China.
But the employees at Elizabeth R. Wellborn weren't trying to make any political statement, they say. They just wanted to boost morale on the job. "I'm a single mom with four kids," Meloney McLeod told the Sun-Sentinel, "and I'm out of a job because I wore orange today."
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