April 29, 2007


Posted by D.A. King at 1:09 pm - Email the author   Print This Post Print This Post  

PC Madness in Iowa, from The Hawkeye
Man says word cost him a job
Law allows Iowa employers wide latitude to terminate work.



German, Spaniard, Canadian, Chilean.

Do those words offend you? Are they words that identify a group of people?

How about a generalization involving such groups, such as: all Canadians eat fish. Does this offend?

Let’s say, you are offended. What consequences should follow? Is a stern warning deserved? Sensitivity training? How about a job?

Pipe welder Bill Hen– deley Jr. said he was fired from his job Wednesday for using the word “Mexican” in describing a person from Mexico at a group safety meeting.

Hendeley said he has worked for Fagen Inc., an engineering and construction company based in Granite Falls, Minn., off and on for the past 10 years. The company is building an addition to the Big River Resources ethanol production plant in West Burlington.

Hendeley, who recently moved to Burlington, said he has never been fired, has never even been reprimanded for making inappropriate comments, and co–workers describe him as a model employee.

At a group safety meeting Wednesday, however, Hendeley singled out supervisors and a Hispanic worker for smoking in inappropriate places. Smoking is only allowed in a designated area across the road from the plant.

“I guess if you’re a supervisor or a Mexican, you can smoke anywhere you like,” Hendeley reportedly told an Hispanic safety supervisor.

Several days earlier, a Caucasian worker was suspended by a Hispanic supervisor for smoking in the parking lot of the plant, said Jeff Kokemiller, a Fagen employee.

Following the suspension, Hendeley and his co–workers said they observed supervisors and a Hispanic woman smoking in trailers near the plant.

Hendeley said he simply was pointing out discrepancies in policy enforcement.

After the safety meeting, Hendeley was called to a private meeting with the safety supervisor and two other managers to discuss his comments, and was fired shortly after, he said.

“We don’t support discrimination on our job site,” said Chad Warner, Fagen project supervisor. Warner declined to comment on the case further.

Hendeley asked the safety supervisor if calling someone from Mexico a Mexican offends him. The supervisor answered “yes,” according to Hendeley.

Iowa is a right–to–work state, which means as long as a company is not in violation of civil rights laws, employers can terminate employment at anytime, for any reason, unless the employee is covered by a union contract. Hendeley is not a member of a union.

“You can be fired today because you come in and your hair is purple,” said Kerry Koonce, an communications director with Iowa Workforce Development.

Hendeley said he’s not angered by the firing but simply baffled. He said he can find work elsewhere.

“There are several other words you could use that would be slander, but I didn’t use those,” Hendeley said. “It’s like calling someone from Italy an Italian. Where does it stop?”

The issue may not have been his choice of words, but his decision to single out a group of people, according to Ann Jones, a socio–cultural professor at Iowa State University.

“It is very much a perceptual thing … there are many ways of offending people,” Jones said.

Jones said all employers should have policies regarding discrimination in place, educate workers about those policies upon hire, have periodic reminders about what is not acceptable and allow workers to appeal disciplinary actions.

Hendeley said company policy requires employees be given both verbal and written warnings about offensive behavior before being terminated. He feels cheated by his employer’s decision to forgo that process.

Officials at the business’ central office did not return messages for comment.