When and where was the Oiler case brought before the court?

Balancing the realities of protecting the organization and the rights of employees, both in and out of work, has become a major focal point for contemporary human resorce managers. For example, by everyone’s account, Peter Oiler was an outstanding employee. Oiler, a truck driver for Winn-Dixie stores and a twenty-year employee, had an impeccable and unblemished work record. He was punctual, trustworthy, and an exceptionally productive employee. Most co-workers viewd him as an asset to the organization. But none of that appeared to matter when Oiler was fired. The reason: Oiler was a cross dresser. On his own time, Oiler changed his persona, becoming Donna, complete with wearing women’s clothing, a wig, and makeup. Frequently out in public with his wife – in restaurants, at church – Donna maintained a dignified public appearance, bothering no one, and simply went on with his personal life as he chose.

Management at Winn-Dixie, however, saw things differently. Shortly after they learned of his cross dressing behavior, Oiler was fired. This happened in spite of the realization that his out of work behavior had absolutely no adverse affect on his job performance. Rather Winn-Dixie’s position was that if he was seen in public by someone who recognized him as a Winn-Dixie employee, the company’s image could be damaged.

Oiler sued the company for wrongfully terminating him on the basis of sex discrimination. He claimed that cross-dressing was nothing more than his “not conforming to gender stereotype as a man.” During the trial, records reinforced that there was not one shred of evidence that any of Oiler’s out-of-work activities affected his ability to work. Nonetheless, the court ruled in Winn-Dixie’s favor, citing there were no federal or state laws that protect the rights of “transgendered” employees. Although, Winn-Dixie won at the trial, they experienced an aftermath that they were not expecting. Many co-workers rallied behind Oiler, wondering if the company could do this to him, what might they do next? Certainly people understood a company could fire anyone for any legal reason, but how much latitude should a company have in defining “legal” reasons? Could they fire an employee who drinks alcohol after work? or views an “inappropriate” movie? or views adult websites? What if one is arrested? Does that result in an automatic termination? The answer is, it could – but there are consequences to this employer action. In such cases, companies have found that terminating an employee for outside or work activities brings negative publicity, lowers employee morale, and increases employee turnover.

QUESTIONS:

1. Do you believe Oiler’s rights were violated? Explain your position from what you have learned from the case.

2. When and where was the Oiler case brought before the court?

3. If the case were brought before the court today would the decision likely be the same or different? Why?

3. Should Organizations punish employees for certain off job behaviors? Why or why not?

4. Did Winn-Dixie exhibit the characteristics of progressive discipline or the hot stove approach in this case?  Defend your argument.

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