South-Western - Management  
Protests About Gay Tolerance Prompt Firings
Topic Managing Human Resource Systems
Key Words discrimination, religion, diversity
News Story

Rolf Szabo, an employee of Eastman Kodak in Rochester, NY, received an email touting "National Coming Out Day." The memo encouraged managers to make "gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered" workers feel more comfortable discussing their sexual orientations. Szabo responded to the 1,000 employees who received the email with the response, "Please do not send this type of information to me anymore as I find it disgusting and offensive."

Kodak fired Szabo after he refused to sign papers apologizing for his email. The company stressed that he wasn't fired for holding his belief, but for sending it as a mass mailing, which is a public forum.

In attempts to encourage diversity, many companies are looking for ways to make their work environments more friendly places for gay workers, but these policies are seeing a backlash. An employee of AT&T sued after being fired for refusing to sign off on portions of a company handbook that called on employees to respect and value differences among them, including sexual orientation. A Verizon employee sued for the same reason, saying it violated her religious beliefs.

Several organizations have spoken out on both sides of the issue. The Szabo case seems to hinge on the fact that Szabo used a mass mailing to get his point out. If he had been talking about Jews or African Americans instead of gays, would the reaction have been different?

Joseph Weintraub at Babson College feels that Kodak had a right to fire Szabo. He states that employees check their free-expression rights at the workplace door.


Was Szabo discriminated against for his religious beliefs? Who do you think was in the wrong here, and how might the situation be handled differently in the future? Justify your answer.


Kodak stated that the mass mailing of the email created the potential for a hostile work environment. Define hostile work environment. Do you agree with Kodak?


Think about the statement, "employees check their free-expression rights at the workplace door." Do you agree? Justify your answer.

Source James Bandler, "Protests About Gay Tolerance Prompt Firings," Wall Street Journal October 30, 2002, p. B1.
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