Gay worker bullied and harassed at Las Vegas Walmart: What’s next, “always low prices” on pink triangles?

I must admit, at first I thought it was a parody that didn’t quite work: A news bulletin about a Walmart temp worker who was ridiculed and shunned by his supervisors for being gay.

But it’s terribly real.  Here’s part of the original piece from the Advocate, as reported by Michelle Garcia:

Back in March, 18-year-old Fernando Gallardo got a seasonal job at a Las Vegas Walmart, hoping to make a few extra dollars. But a few weeks into the job, Gallardo says, his immediate supervisor asked him “point-blank” in front of four of his coworkers if he was gay, and from then on alienated him from the 50 other associates at that location.

“I told her yes, and after that she was very rude and short with me,” he tells The Advocate.

Gallardo says that soon after the incident, he was stripped of many of his daily duties and asked to wear a yellow vest and walk around the store. By mid May his supervisor and two other managers stopped talking to him completely.

Public ridicule, tagging, the silent treatment, deliberate isolation, and removal of meaningful job duties are all classic bullying behaviors.

Bullying legislation and ENDA

Legally speaking, this raises two issues:

First, the need for enacting protections against workplace bullying, which would cover all such behaviors, regardless of motivation.

Second, the need for enacting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would amend the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation among the classes protected from discrimination in employment.

Simple humanity

Beyond what we can do legally and legislatively, this just comes down to a denial of basic human dignity.  One does not even have to believe in legal reform to understand the need to treat people with minimal decency.  This is scary behavior, yes, reminiscent of another time and place.

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Hat tip to Americans for Democratic Action (mentioned here on this blog), whose Facebook posting alerted me to this story.  At our ADA Convention over the weekend, the organization endorsed enactment of workplace bullying legislation and ENDA.

“I’ll write for free!”

I grew up with the assumption that if you could write well, you’d never be wanting for life’s necessities.  But last year I posed the question of whether journalism was becoming a form of volunteer work:

Are the Internet and the blogosphere turning journalism into volunteer work, an avocation instead of a vocation?

…As the Information Age continues to go digital, we now expect online content to be freely accessible without charge.  But we rarely think of this as a labor issue, failing to consider, say, that free online access may be depressing reporters’ salaries and eliminating paid positions in newsrooms.  The digital highway certainly has created a lot of jobs, but ironically it may be contributing to the demise of journalism as vocation.

And now fiction

Yesterday I stumbled onto a blog post by T.A. Olivia in Darksculptures speculating on whether good fiction will go the same way:

My question is will readers who have become accustomed to getting free material once again pay to read your work?  Or, will they move on to the next free rising star? There is a deluge of good stories to read. Jennifer Lawler admits this in an article titled 5 Myths You Shouldnt Believe About Agents that appeared in on Writer’s Digest website. Jennifer said,

“My problem isn’t how much bad writing crosses my desk. That’s easy to recognize and reject. The problem is how much good writing I see.”

Great for exposure, bad for the bank account

The Internet is a wonderful medium for circulating one’s work.  Even a modest blog can attract a readership well beyond those of the small circulation “little magazines” and zines that we so romanticize and associate with new voices and waiting-to-be-discovered talent.

But it is not necessarily translating into opportunities to be paid for one’s writing, at least at the level of a living wage.

Amy Bishop charged in 1986 shooting death of her brother

Former University of Alabama-Huntsville professor Amy Bishop, who has been indicted for killing three persons and injuring three others during a February shooting rampage at the university, has now been charged with the 1986 murder of her brother, Seth Bishop, in Massachusetts.  As reported by the Boston Globe:

Amy Bishop has been charged with murder for the 1986 shotgun slaying of her 18-year-old brother in their Braintree home, according to Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating.

…The slaying of Seth Bishop was declared an accident by Norfolk County authorities at the time. But questions were raised about the investigation after Bishop, a college professor, was charged in February in a shooting rampage at the University of Alabama Huntsville. Three of Bishops’ colleagues were fatally shot and three wounded in that case.

Inexcusably missed signs?

As the Bishop story continues to unfold, I have a sad feeling that it will be a continuing tale of repeated warning signs overlooked and neglected.  The 1986 events, however, likely constituted the most significant oversight of all.  In an Associated Press piece about this latest development, District Attorney William Keating, who did not hold the office in 1986, would not excuse the failure to prosecute the case when it first arose:

Keating said he did not understand why charges were never brought against Bishop.

“I can’t give you any explanations, I can’t give you excuses, because there are none,” he said. “Jobs weren’t done, responsibilities weren’t met and justice wasn’t served.”

Wake-up call

This blog commented extensively here (main post) and here (update) on the Bishop shootings in February, suggesting that the tragedy served as a wake-up call for universities to take matters of faculty mental health more seriously.

Bullied into a passion for great workplaces

Chief People Officer Kevin Kennemer shares what inspired him to start his consulting business, The People Group:

My motivation came from working for a demeaning, nasty, certifiable jerk who only cared about himself.  He could be a relatively nice guy one day, but then the next day he was downright mean, bordering on devilish. . . . Fear and intimidation were among the limited management skills in his tool chest.  You could make him steaming mad with the most insignificant actions.   Then the two-headed snake would isolate you from all communication and then berate you in public for not knowing what was going on.   He would also yell at you in front of others. It was a living hell.

In short, he suffered under the brutality of a classic workplace bully.

If you’re struggling to recover from your own bullying experience at work, read Kevin’s entire post for instructive inspiration.

Workplace bullying laws only a matter of time, employers’ lawyers concede

Judy Greenwald, in a piece on workplace bullying for Business Insurance, quotes management-side employment lawyers as conceding that enactment of workplace bullying legislation is an eventual likelihood:

“I think it’s inevitable,” said Robert Nobile, a partner with law firm Seyfarth Shaw L.L.P. in New York, noting several European countries already have anti-bullying laws.

Anti-bullying legislation has been defeated four times in Oregon, but “it’s a matter of time before there is a statute,” said Tamsen L. Leachman, a partner with law firm Dunn Carney Allen Higgins & Tongue L.L.P. in Portland, Ore.

Lack of understanding

The rest of the article indicates that many management-side lawyers who oppose the Healthy Workplace Bill may not understand the relatively high thresholds imposed for winning a claim, as well as the provisions built into the statute that discourage frivolous claims and provide legal incentives for employers to act preventively and responsively toward bullying at work.  (For a lengthier explanation, see my earlier post, Why the Healthy Workplace Bill is not a “job killer”.)

Where’s the empathy?

What’s absent from the piece is the most disturbing, namely, the lack of acknowledgement of the destructive effects of abusive treatment on workers’ mental and physical health.  My gosh, we’re talking about a form of abuse that triggers depression, anxiety attacks, and PTSD-type symptoms!  How can the law be largely silent toward this depth of suffering?  (And it it any surprise that the legal profession generates so many complaints about workplace bullying?)

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Followup

Because I’m being especially critical of some of my colleagues on the management side of the employment bar, I thought it only fair to add links to some of the thoughtful commentary from lawyers who represent companies:

Jon Hyman, Empathy does not require liability

Michael Fox, Bullying As a Cause of Action: One Large Step Closer

Americans for Democratic Action adopts resolution supporting the Healthy Workplace Bill

I am pleased to report that at its biennial convention in Washington, D.C., Americans for Democratic Action, about whose commitment to workers’ rights I wrote in my previous post, adopted a resolution I submitted supporting enactment of the Healthy Workplace Bill, as well as calling upon federal and state workplace safety agencies to promulgate regulations that cover workplace bullying.

Following a thorough preamble that explains workplace bullying and its costs (drawn largely from my previous writings on the topic), the resolution (available here) states:

1.         Americans for Democratic Action supports the enactment of the Healthy Workplace Bill in the states.

2.         Americans for Democratic Action supports the enactment of the Healthy Workplace Bill for federal employees.

3.         Americans for Democratic Action calls upon federal and state occupational safety and health agencies to promulgate regulations to address workplace bullying and psychological harassment.

ADA joins a growing number of national, state, and local organizations supporting the Healthy Workplace Bill, including the national NAACP and a host of union locals.

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Disclosure note: I am the author of the Healthy Workplace Bill, variations of which are being considered by state legislatures across the country. The HWB provides targets of severe workplace bullying with a legal claim for damages and creates legal incentives for employers to act preventively and responsively toward bullying behaviors. For more information, go to the Healthy Workplace Bill website.

Americans for Democratic Action: Fighting for Workers’ Rights

This week I’m in Washington D.C. for the biennial convention of Americans for Democratic Action, which since its founding in 1947 has been a stalwart advocate for American liberalism.

I’ve been on the ADA national board since 2001, and at this week’s convention I was elected chair of its national executive committee.  I’ll be joining ADA national director Michael J. Wilson (who brings to ADA his considerable experience in the labor movement) and the new ADA president, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey of California (a tireless advocate for work & family legislation), as part of the organization’s leadership team.

Strong support of labor

I try to avoid too much mention of partisan politics in my blog posts, but I’m mentioning ADA here because it has been a staunch supporter of the labor movement and workers’ rights.  Some recent examples include:

  • Working Families Win — Since 2004, ADA’s Working Families Win project has placed veteran organizers in key political battleground states to educate voters about pocketbook issues facing workers and families.
  • Minimum Wage Project — ADA played such a central role in helping to successfully lobby Congress to raise the minimum wage that in 2007 Sen. Edward Kennedy recorded a video tribute to ADA and project director Jane O’Grady thanking them for their ongoing efforts.
  • Labor Law Reform — ADA has been an early and energetic supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act, a labor law reform bill that facilitates union organizing and collective bargaining.  Here’s a link to a briefing paper on EFCA that I authored; in 2004 and 2008, it was distributed to delegates of the Democratic National Convention.

Voices for change

I look forward to helping ADA fashion a just and fair agenda for workers.  I don’t expect all readers of this blog to share my political views, so please know that respectful differences of opinion are welcomed here.

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Update: ADA has adopted a resolution I authored supporting the Healthy Workplace Bill.

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