Retali-Action: Oklahoma allows workplace discrimination based on political views

I was fired from an Oklahoma business for voting for Barack Obama.

I will keep the company name anonymous because I will no longer do business with them and I do not wish to give them free advertising here. In 2008 I was working part-time for a locally owned Oklahoma City company that sold specialty hardware and interiors. I was enjoying my position and eager to learn, and it was a small group of friendly salespeople upon first impression.

I normally do not discuss politics, although I generally talk too much. I am learning that if you talk politics in Oklahoma and you say the wrong thing, you can become a pariah. Both my husband and myself are independents; we tend to lean toward opposite ends of the spectrum and have healthy discussions about it. This was in the fall of 2008, and the election was coming up. I did not talk about candidates or issues at the time although in our state we had some big questions on the ballot-“Sharia Law” and English as a mandatory language among others. I heard that Oklahoma City had a history of low voter turnout, so I knew my presidential vote wouldn’t be a “big deal”. My biggest concern was having my voice heard and casting my vote, which is a Constitutional right.

I walked into my workplace Tuesday morning after voting. Like any other citizen who voted that day, I wore my “I Voted” sticker.  I do not regret this, but everyone tells me I should have taken it off, or when asked, said I did not vote yet. A male sales associate looked me up and down, asked me about my votes, and I started to explain how I voted on the questions, but he stopped me and repeated, “No, WHO did you vote for?” I said that it did not matter because Oklahoma would get the Republican electoral votes anyway.

His response?

“Oh, so you voted for the nigger.”

Later that morning, the owner of the company, who never really spoke to me except in passing, came out from his office and asked me the same question. I tried to skirt the issue without the antagonistic “it’s none of your business” for fear of retaliation, and I tried to keep it friendly. I said that I voted Democrat in most elections. In addition to “You voted for that nigger…”, it also became “you voted for that faggot,” because apparently there was a candidate on the ballot at the time who was openly gay (I must have missed something, because I was unaware of this issue. I felt naive for not knowing what he meant!) I heard laughter from delivery drivers in the back rooms. It did not stop there.  Days after the election, while helping a customer, I heard the male salesperson and the owner talking about the election, and then the customer asked me about it. The male salesperson told him my voting decision, and then stared joking with the customer (another older man) who ribbed at me, “You silly nigger-lover – we won the state anyway! You are so stupid! Haha, your vote didn’t count anyway!” …and so on.

In the first week of December, the manager of the company called me into his office. I may be paraphrasing, but I am trying to word this as close to his exact words as possible.

“We need to discuss your situation with the company. It seems that we are needing to do some ‘lay-offs’ before Christmas and it is hard to figure out who. You were the last person we hired, and also, our business works with home builders, and it seems last month you supported a presidential candidate who was in favor of our growing housing crisis, so you are not supporting our company. Please write a resignation for us to keep things amicable.”

He mentioned I had until the 20th unless I wanted to leave earlier. I said this was a form of discrimination. They said that because Oklahoma is an at-will state, and because I was white, I had no recourse. For the record, I never disclose my race as white on ANYTHING, because I am adopted and have no knowledge of any potential ethnic ancestry. So, had my ambiguously average-skinned, brunette self been 25% Cherokee (as one of the other women salespersons was registered Native American) they would have flat out told me I was not.

Yes, they asked me to make it look like I quit for no reason after firing me for voting, after subjecting me to racist comments after the election in my workplace, condoned by the owner and co-workers on the sales floor. They also said they were letting go of one of their truck/delivery drivers, but when I asked him about it he said he had no idea what was going on and had no knowledge of it.

Everyone that has heard about this incident from me has told me that it is illegal. While the nolo.com’s legal encyclopedia lists  “terminating an employee for exercising a right (such as family leave or voting)” as a violation of Federal Public Policy, the State of Oklahoma does not recognize it as a protected category of discrimination and political action is not listed with the EEOC. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin (including membership in a Native American tribe).

According to WorkplaceFairness.org:

“Currently, only California , New York , and Washington, DC  have laws specifically making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of an employee’s political activity or affiliation, while two more states (Colorado  and North Dakota  prohibit discrimination on the basis of “lawful conduct outside of work.” Some union collective bargaining agreements (contracts) include an anti-retaliation clause, which may include political activity. If such a provision is included in your union contract, it gives you a basis to file a grievance if you have been retaliated against because of your political activity.”

So Oklahoma businesses, which make special provisions not to discriminate if you are a smoker, have deemed it 100% okay, fine and dandy to take away your job if they don’t like that you disagree with their choice for County Commissioner, or if you prefer bond issues vs. taxes, or even if your presidential preference is overruled by electoral delegates anyway. If they find out you donated $3 to the wrong SuperPac they can fire you. Over $3.

I have been told we are now in an “employer’s market” where employers make the rules, and also now I hear more complaints about employers than ever.

They are usually statements that end with “Is that legal?”

References:
Public policy, discrimination laws by state:
http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/illegal-reasons-firing-employees-30209.html

Workplace Fairness (political retaliation laws)

http://WorkplaceFairness.org

Obama-voter firings:
http://blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs/2010/04/aggie_doc_fires_obama.php
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2010_04/023279.php

4 Comments
  1. I wrote this and thank you for reading. I have been called a liar for 4 years that is why I sought to bring this more public, because I would not lie about something like this.

    To address comments:

    As far as calling them out by name….when the company starts paying me to advertise for them in a state that is dominated by conservative beliefs, I will start advertising them.

    When this happened, I investigated with two people close to me- one was a long standing employee of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission well-versed in employment law, and another a private attorney who had previously worked for the state. Both are close to my family and received no monetary compensation. I have filed an EEOC claim before and it went nowhere- merely “we will take your information and get back to you” and nothing else. The attorney said it would honestly be hard to find anyone to take a case in a right-to-work/fire state. My advice from the OESC consultation was “you should have just kept your mouth shut.” I was only told the “hindsight” corrections, and quoted the at-will regime one more time.

    I did personally confuse one thing in this article (burn me at the stake!) – I attributed the state questions of sharia law and mandatory english to 2008 when they were 2010 ballot questions. (all I remember in this regard was how I felt about them and how things are now, and what implications they hold for the future) If you feel that makes me no longer credible to remember that I got fired for “voting for that N______ or F_______” then so be it.

    Once again, thanks for taking the time to read.

  2. If you are not willing to disclose the name of the business then we don’t have the luxury of taking our business elsewhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *