Though federal law extends protections to workers to protect them against several forms of discrimination, it doesn't extend to choice of dress, which is how 14 employees of a Florida law firm found themselves suddenly unemployed last March. All of the workers took to wearing orange shirts on payday, a way, the group said, to bring its members closer. The workers believe that they were fired because management felt threatened by the group's solidarity. But the 14 workers -- none of whom received severance -- will likely never know the reason they were let go. When asked, a woman at the law office said the firm had "no comment," about why the workers were let go.
Employees' wardrobe choices may result in raised eyebrows among co-workers, but it's rare that such forms of expression lead to termination. But in England, hospital cleaner Francine Siddaway alleges that she was fired for just that reason, after her bosses took exception to her Egyptian-style makeup, calling it offensive. The dismissal made little sense to the 3½-year employee. After all, she said, she interviewed for the job wearing the same makeup.
Selling racy lingerie is one way to make a buck, but it's precisely Lauren Odes' own choice of revealing outfits that she said ended up costing her a job. The 29-year-old data-entry clerk was more than a little perplexed by her dismissal, considering that she worked for Native Intimates, a purveyor of sexy apparel. Among its products are "thongs with hearts placed in the female genital area," Odes said, adding that her bosses objected to her "too hot" busty physique and her form-fitting clothes. Odes filed suit against her Orthodox Jewish bosses, alleging religious and gender discrimination. Native Intimates declined comment on the matter.
Human beings have long communicated through ways other than speech. A roll of the eyes, for example, easily conveys boredom. But it was a different look -- a disapproving glare aimed at a Facebook Inc. employee texting during a yoga class -- that resulted in instructor Alice Van Ness' dismissal, after the worker complained that she had been "embarrassed" by the incident. In a discharge letter sent to Van Ness, her employer essentially said that the she had failed to properly accommodate a student. That left Van Ness to wonder why the worker even bothered taking the yoga class at all if she couldn't unplug.
Interoffice communications can be a tricky thing, such as when a co-worker reads something into an email that wasn't intended. Vicki Walker's offense was a little simpler. All the New Zealand woman wanted to do in crafting her email was to alert co-workers at ProCare Health to some very important information contained therein. So she bolded parts of the text and put them in bright red and capitalized all the letters in two other short sentences. That's it. But management thought Walker went too far, saying her missive had caused "disharmony in the office," and they fired her. Walker fought the discharge and won. Her award was the equivalent of $17,000.
Fans of professional football take their sport seriously -- sometimes too much so. Just ask John C. Stone, a former salesman at Webb Chevrolet in Oak Lawn, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Stone thought his boss was kidding last year when he was called into the office and asked repeatedly to remove his Green Bay Packers-themed necktie. The employee was told that the green-and-gold tie "salted the wounds" of Chicago Bears fans, who had lost a playoff game the night before to the Packers. Stone refused, saying that he wore the tie to honor his deceased grandmother, a huge Packers fan. Still, he was fired. News of the silly discharge soon spread to media outlets worldwide, resulting in a least one employment offer (and the employer trying to rescind the firing). Three days after he was fired, he started a new job at another dealership.
Though questioning authority is a cherished liberty among many Americans, within the military, it's a distinct no-no. Still, it was a fairly innocuous inquiry by Air Force Maj. Harold Hering that led to his discharge three decades ago. At the time, he was in a training class and asked how an officer is to know whether the president hasn't gone mad in issuing a thermonuclear missile strike that could lead to deaths of millions of people -- a seemingly sensible question. But he was immediately pulled from the class and eventually forced to leave the service.
Lots of eateries have tried to juice up their business by requiring waitresses to dress in skimpy outfits. But Courtney Scaramella had been a server at O'Hara's bar in Los Angeles for five years when O'Hara's suddenly changed its dress code. It required waitresses to don a short, plaid skirt held in place by a piece of velcro. When she complained, the requirement to wear the skirts was removed, but she her hours were cut, and then she was fired, her attorney claimed. An attorney for O'Hara's said Scaramella's lawsuit had no merit and that she wasn't fired -- she quit.
Maintaining a slim figure may help waitresses get nice tips, but it was more than a paycheck that Abigail Shomo was concerned about. She alleged in a recent lawsuit that she was told to get an abortion or risk being fired, so she opted instead to keep her baby and quit her job. But now she is seeking her job back, as well as monetary damages, including back pay. The attorney representing the restaurant owner disputes that Shomo was fired, saying instead that she quit.
Employers often have valid reasons for instituting employee policies, especially when they concern interactions with customers. Walmart Stores Inc. has just such a policy when it comes to touching shoppers, which it bans its staff from doing. But Jan Sullivan alleged that the company enforced the policy to an extreme degree last year when it fired the 73-year-old worker. Sullivan admitted that she grabbed a customer's sweater but only did so after the 4-foot-11-inch employee sought to steady herself after she was pushed while guarding an exit on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Walmart saw it differently, though, adhering to its rule without seemingly taking into consideration Sullivan's safety.