Friend was fired today for being homosexual. State of Iowa.
May 28, 2008 11:44 AM   Subscribe

Friend was fired today for being homosexual. State of Iowa. I know she has the opportunity to file for unemployment but does she have any recourse for lawsuit for unlawful termination

Today around noon a friend of mine was fired for being a homosexual.

Couple of weeks ago my friend (female) was called into executive management meeting where it was discussed about her lifestyle not fitting company ethics and “not the type they wanted working there.” She was asked to sign an ethics/code of conduct form that she would abide by – she did not sign.

During the next few weeks clients under her were assigned to others as well as all subordinates were reassigned to other supervisors. She and I had assumed they were trying to drive her to quit.

Today around noon she was called into the office and was fired and asked to leave immediately.

We both live and work in Iowa.

I know that Iowa does not technically have a discrimination clause against sexual orientation and also is a At Will state where people can be fired/let go from their employers without notice or reason.

I know she has the opportunity to file for unemployment but does she have any recourse for lawsuit for unlawful termination
posted by lutzla23 to Law & Government (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
posted by dersins at 11:50 AM on May 28, 2008 [13 favorites]

Uh... what?

All of my googling seems to indicate that sexual orientation in Iowa *is* illegal.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:51 AM on May 28, 2008

Also, yes, LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER ad nauseum.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:51 AM on May 28, 2008

Nthing Civil Rights lawyer, experienced in LGBT issues, if possible.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:54 AM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I honestly can't believe the company actually fired her - especially this day and age and it is a large company to.

Everything is so soon - we are all encouraging her to speak with a lawyer, I want to get as much information as possible.

Thanks everyone!
posted by lutzla23 at 11:55 AM on May 28, 2008

She might. Advise her to file for unemployment immediately, her eligibility starts the day she's let go.

If she decides to pursue this, she needs to speak to a lawyer first, preferably one that is knowledgeable about discrimination/employment law. She might find one through the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, or through a resource center for GLBTQ folks.

She might or might not choose to sue and deserves your support either way, so make sure you don't pressure her unduly. Being fired is stressful and she might not be willing to add more to her plate.
posted by sondrialiac at 11:55 AM on May 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wow. Did I dial into MetaFilter 1952 by accident? Iowa, huh? Wow.

Anyway, thirding the LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER, and do it immediately. Also, advise her to keep any papers or e-mails or anything else that might refer to any of this, quick. If she's still in the office while you're reading this, tell her to gather evidence on the reason for her firing quickly!

I think your friend is going to be a rich lesbian. :)
posted by rokusan at 11:57 AM on May 28, 2008

Iowa passed their anti discriminatory law on sexual orientation last year. She should reach out to the ACLU and as noted a local attorney specializing in employment and civil rights law.

The ACLU has a copy of the law/bill here for those that are curious. Iowa per wikipedia is one of 13 states with anti gender discrimination statutes.
posted by iamabot at 12:00 PM on May 28, 2008

Anti gender identification rather. She should take lots of notes, dates, times, events now while she recollects them. She should note who communicate what and retain copies of that communication where possible as noted above.
posted by iamabot at 12:02 PM on May 28, 2008

Boy are these people stupid. They actually wrote it down that they did not agree with her lifestyle choice! This is a slam-dunk..
posted by Gungho at 12:04 PM on May 28, 2008

According to the ACLU, Iowa passed a law prohibiting such discrimination last year:

Wrongful-termination cases are difficult to win in "at-will" states, but I wish your friend the best of luck.
posted by DWRoelands at 12:05 PM on May 28, 2008

nthing lawyer! Can't wait until she sues the pants off of them! Can't wait to read about it in the papers!
posted by onepapertiger at 12:09 PM on May 28, 2008

I'm going to second iamabot. Not only should you get a lawyer, but now is the time to document as much as you can remember.
posted by grouse at 12:13 PM on May 28, 2008

All of my googling seems to indicate that sexual orientation in Iowa *is* illegal.
Uh, oh, anyone other than asexual is subject to arrest in Iowa. ;)

Seriously, the most important thing in such cases is evidence. Your friend obviously needs to lawyer up quickly, but in the meantime she needs to collect as much documented evidence as possible. From your description it seems that everything happened verbally. Does she at least have a copy of the ethics policy? Print out emails and save them if they exist. One important reason to lawyer up today is to talk through evidence collection before the evidence disappears.
posted by caddis at 12:21 PM on May 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Is this a company that has a product I can boycott? I'm very angry for your friend and I hope they get what's coming to them!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:38 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

double-Nthing the "lawyer" sentiment (honestly, this post doesn't even belong on AskMe, but that's a discussion for a different color MeFi).

"Boy are these people stupid. They actually wrote it down that they did not agree with her lifestyle choice! This is a slam-dunk.."

I don't want to rain on any parades, but this type of thinking is rather fool-hardy. For starters, there's virtually no such thing as as a "slam-dunk" for wrongful termination in an at-will state (not that it's impossible, just incredibly uncommon because it requires abject stupidity on the part of the company). Second, we're taking OP's opinion as fact, and I tend to believe that most corporations are not as stupid as we're led to believe this one is.

Assume malice -- that they did fire her for being a lesbian. Now, a few things to make a note of: they asked her to sign a code-of-conduct, she refused. Unless the code-of-conduct was "Quit being a lesbian", there's plenty of room for a defense attorney to make this a difficult sell, even if the entire executive management had been scheming for weeks.

In the end, the real question is not why she was actually fired, it's what her attorney can convince a jury she was fired for... and corporations tend to be very good at finding other reasons to fire people. And that's if the OP is right and she was actually fired for her sexual orientation and not some other legitimate reason.

Long story short: we have a very few facts and the ones we do have were cherry-picked by a sympathetic party. There are going to be two sides to this story, and law suits are not fun for anyone but the lawyers (insert quote about pigs, mud, and wrestling).

Not that she shouldn't try -- quite the contrary -- civil rights are advanced by fighting against the odds, but it's important to have reasonable expectations. It's entirely possible that not everyone is going to see this the same way OP does, especially when it's presented by a skilled attorney.
posted by toomuchpete at 12:49 PM on May 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

A number of federal court decisions have held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also protects job applicants and employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. A few states have laws specifically prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. At present, there are 13 states and more than 200 municipalities (counties and cities) that also have laws that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination.

The 13 states that have laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in both private and public jobs are: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. Seven states have laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in public sector employment only: Illinois, Indiana, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington.

For complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation or status as a parent, Executive Order 13087, Executive Order 13152, and the Civil Service Reform Act provide protection. The Cabinet- level agencies also have issued policy statements prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. In addition, agencies have developed parallel EEO complaint procedures, allowing employees to file EEO complaints based on sexual orientation within their agencies. Employees should check with their agency to see if processes exist to handle these complaints. In addition, employees should check their respective collective bargaining agreements and their agency’s negotiated grievance procedures, to determine whether grievance procedures can be invoked to address these issues.
posted by HotPatatta at 12:57 PM on May 28, 2008

Legal action in such cases can take a long time. Recently my wife was "let go" from her job much to my dismay. We spoke to a lawyer/friend and laid things out for her and asked her opinion. What she pointed out in the end was the duration of such action and the financial drain it can impose on you. It is sad to say, but you really are up against a lot when you are a sole person against the evil entity.
posted by a3matrix at 12:58 PM on May 28, 2008

Oh, one last thing from my thinking, she should ask for copies of her entire performance review history...yearly, quarterly, monthly, whatever it is.
posted by iamabot at 1:11 PM on May 28, 2008

Lambda Legal's Iowa page has the relevant info for the applicable laws. Your friend should contact either Lambda Legal's Midwest Office or one of the organizations listed on this HRC page.
posted by charlesv at 1:15 PM on May 28, 2008

I'm thinking there might be a little more to this story.

The first thing they drill into you in management training (even in the Midwest) is how stupid it is to do something like this. The likelihood of someone running a company while in possession of such poor judgment is pretty small, much less an entire board of executives, and MUCH MUCH less someone running the HR department who has spent years studying how to specifically avoid these situations.

If she has the documentation that says "you being gay is why we are firing you," then by all means she should lawyer up immediately. She just needs to make sure that was the actual reason and not just how she interpreted it. There is about to be a lot of money and emotional strength wasted otherwise.
posted by Willie0248 at 1:19 PM on May 28, 2008

I'm an employment lawyer in another jurisdiction. You need to listen to only one message in this thread--the message to consult an attorney. Do not, under any circumstances, listen to any of the advice that other persons who have commented on this thread have given you. They are not aware of the laws in question, and are leading you and your friend blindly. Meet with an employment attorney in your jurisdiction immediately. A list of such lawyers can be found here.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:30 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lawyer, immediately. Before the end of the day. Your friend may not win a wrongful termination lawsuit, but she can wrest one hell of a huge termination package from these shits as soon as their legal counsel informs them of the enormous mistake they've made. It's not what she'll win by taking them to trial, it's what she'll win by not taking them to trial.
posted by gum at 1:35 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just for the sake of a little balance in this thread: I think you should wait a little longer before getting a lawyer.
Getting some info from some random dudes on the net might even be enough to get you an overview of the situation and might save you a lot of billable hours.
posted by sour cream at 1:56 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lawyer. Now.

Pursue both state & federal causes of action.

Tell your friend good luck.

Don't listen to most all of the advice on this thread - they may be creating totally stupid and unrealistic expectations for you.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:06 PM on May 28, 2008

She wasn't fired for being gay, she was fired for refusing to sign a code of conduct contract. Unless that form said 'stop being gay' then she'll have a real hard time proving that was why she was fired - (even if that was the real reason)

A lawyer will be able to tell her whether the contract they asked her to sign was unlawful, and therefore by extension, her dismissal. Really she should have talked to a lawyer before she refused to sign.
posted by missmagenta at 2:12 PM on May 28, 2008

My understanding is that you can be fired at will for any or no reason, but... you cannot be fired for the reason that you are gay! They really screwed up this way. They should have said we are firing you and not giving a reason. Anyway, lawyer up.
posted by xammerboy at 2:54 PM on May 28, 2008

does she have any recourse for lawsuit for unlawful termination

That's the thing to think about when she talks to the lawyers. Assuming that the dismissal was illegal, what resolution would she want? Surely she doesn't want to go back to work there. The lawyers can look at the particulars of her case and determine what legal remedies are available -- or, perhaps even simply working through the lawyers and the likelihood of bad publicity, the company would come to the conclusion that a settlement would be wise.

Your friend can't figure this out on her own without a lawyer.
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:32 PM on May 28, 2008

Lawyer and very shortly afterward, newspaper. Embarrass the hell out of them.

If she's uncomfortable just going through the phonebook/internet for recs for good attorneys, please call someone at the University of Iowa's law school and ask if there's any professor there with expertise in lgbt/sexual discrimination issues.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 4:15 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Good lord, no. Not without the lawyer's blessing, anyway. While personally satisfying, it's the kind of thing that could conceivably fuck up your friend's legal claim (if, indeed she has one) or possibly leave her open to a lawsuit. Don't go to the papers unless your lawyer thinks it's wise.
posted by dersins at 4:19 PM on May 28, 2008

I'm seconding calling Lambda Legal (they are amazing) but I also wanted to highlight another potential issue. There are exceptions to anti-discrimination laws. For instance, if the organization is a non-profit that can make a case that your friend's sexual orientation detracts from their mission, the legal situation gets much murkier.

That said, I'm not a lawyer. Your friend should get one, listen to her first and listen to everyone here second.
posted by chickletworks at 11:08 PM on May 28, 2008

Mod note: few comments removed - we can have this discussion in MetaTalk folks, name calling has no place here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:55 AM on May 29, 2008

Nthing the lawyer suggestion, but I wanted to put this out for consideration as well. Even if your friend decides to not go the route of taking them to a formal tribunal, she might want to consider reporting what happened to the state labour board. Some states give their boards more teeth than others to investigate & fine employers engaging in illegal practices. They will do their own investigation on this, in addition to whatever happens with her claim.

Either way, talk to a lawyer, please - right now, she is in a delicate position and you do not want to do things that might skewer things even very slightly against her at some later point, no matter how cathartic it might be.
posted by Grrlscout at 5:57 AM on May 29, 2008

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