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  1. #1

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    Anyone Work In HR? Gay issue question....

    I'll try to make the story short...

    My sis is gay. A few weeks ago, someone was talking about going over to her house, and was getting directions. Sis gave them the directions, then said, "and if you get lost, its a small town. Just stop and ask where the lesbians live, we're the only ones there." She said it in a light-hearted and off-handed tone.

    A few days later, the boss calls her into the office, and she's been written up. Someone overheard her say the word "lesbian" and was offended and complained. She is now prohibited from saying the word "gay" or "lesbian" while in the workplace.

    Is this discrimination? She's the only one not allowed to use those two words in the workplace. Yet the men in the place are still allowed to talk about oogling women and the like. In case it matters, this is in Colorado.

    I mean, its not like she was giving a blow-by-blow description of what goes on with her lifestyle or anything. It just blows my mind that they could get away with this. She's all stressed out over this cause now she doesn't feel comfortable working there, and doesn't know who to trust (cause of course the complainer who was offended gets to remain anonymous).

    Any advice that I could pass on to her would be helpful. Perhaps a gay advocacy group or something she could turn to? We're in the Northern Colorado area. Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
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    Seriously?
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  3. #3

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    So the company has put in a policy to prohibit any discussion of sexual orientation in the workplace? I don't think that's legal in Colorado. Not that complaining about it will do anything to ease her situation as companies that go rogue rarely get sanctioned unless they actually terminate someone based on sexual orientation. Seems to me she should start looking for a more open environment.
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  4. #4

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    allexfred: unfortunately, yes. Seriously.

    Aceon6: she's putting out feelers already.

    I should add, HR said that the person who complained was not offended by her lifestyle, only that she said the word lesbian. Whatever that means, I guess.

  5. #5
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    Sorry, but anyone offended by the word lesbian is offended by her ORIENTATION (fcuk that "lifestyle" shit). Jesus! I could see someone being offended if she'd said dyke, but lesbian is not derogatory.

    Your sister needs to learn what, if any, protections for LGBT is available in the State of Colorado, or the city/town in which she works. If there is no protection available, the issue is that she is being given restrictions that no one else in the company has. She should fight to make sure that, if she can't say lesbian or speak about her relationship or whatever, the same prohibitions are put on straight employees. They should not be able to utter a word about their relationships.

    Ugh! Good luck to her.
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  6. #6

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    That's just... weird.

    They were "offended" that she said the word "lesbian"? Okay. I suppose some people might be offended by that... for some reason that I don't understand, but whatever. But then her company supports a person who feels that the mention of the word "lesbian" is not okay. Now there's the real issue.

    Does her workplace have some sort of formal, written policy that covers whatever the company thinks is at issue? She should ask to see that policy. If others can, in effect, say the word "straight" in the workplace, when referring to people, she should be able to say the word "lesbian", as that is in no way a pejorative term when used in a factual manner, which it was. She needs to see the policy.

    Once she sees the policy, she can ask her questions at the Lambda Legal Defense Fund's helpdesk, which is accessible online:
    http://www.lambdalegal.org/
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  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flatfoote View Post
    allexfred: unfortunately, yes. Seriously.

    Aceon6: she's putting out feelers already.

    I should add, HR said that the person who complained was not offended by her lifestyle, only that she said the word lesbian. Whatever that means, I guess.
    Tell them to come here...

    Lesbian lesbian lesbian lesbian lesbian lesbian lesbian...
    Use Yah Blinkah!

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by genevieve View Post
    Sorry, but anyone offended by the word lesbian is offended by her ORIENTATION
    Absolutely.

    I think she should fight it. 1. she's the only one not allowed to use the word (it tells you right there why, because she is a lesbian, that is what bothers some people); 2. everyone can still say straight/heterosexual/etc. right?

  9. #9
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    I don't have any advice, I'm afraid. Just my sympathy.

    I imagine how horrible it must feel for your sister. This whole thing is just .

  10. #10

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    How dreadful!
    Your sister should pursue the great proactive suggestions here.
    This incident points out (yet again) how far the US still has to go to achieve social equality in the workplace.

  11. #11
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    I have worked in some HR capacities throughout my career and have had some sticky situations I've had to deal with. Here is all the little nit-picky stuff I'd do to bring this to a head and then hopefully closure...

    Before going down a detailed path the FIRST thing I would do is tell your friend to get/keep a written copy of what she has been written up for. The specific language in the writing helps guide where to go next. Without that actual document and language the next steps/advice might not be optimal.

    Sounds like the behavior being reprimanded is offending a co-worker. The co-worker was offended by the use of the word "lesbian" from what it seems.
    First thing your friend should do is refuse to sign the letter. If she did that's an issue as she might have now acknowledged that this is inappropriate...and it makes things tougher.

    What she'll need to do is write back and formally counter the letter/write up. Points to be made/answers to demand are:
    *I signed this out of politeness or because I was told to but I do not concur with the write up
    *Does this company allow its employees to acknowledge (not promote) sexual orientation, or must this not be acknowledged?
    *If this is allowed, please advise a list of permitted words to acknowledge my sexual orientation

    The other point to make is that because this word is not listed in any company literature as offensive, it's impractical for one employee to determine whether a word is offensive or not. You should call this out. Again, following from this you should demand a confirmation back in writing that it's the company's opinion as a whole that the word lesbian is offensive.

    Also you need to question/bring up what standard remedial measures are for words that are deemed offensive by a select few. Your expectation should be that this be handled verbally first and then escalated into writing if the behavior continues. As a first 'offense' you should demand an explanation as to why the punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime. Further, since offensive language/terms in the office is treated this seriously, you can be an azz and demand a list of offensive words in totality so you can ensure to avoid violating any further company policies...since you are clearly unclear as to what is offensive and what is not.

    Rats...I had one other point but I totally forgot it.

    Anyway the whole thing has to be wrapped up in a relatively positive spirit. Don't have a tone of bitterness or hate, just present an unemotional argument as to why you disagree. And you want further clarification for a going forward basis so that you can comply. Having said that, you have to be firm; tell your friend that there needs to be an "or else" part of it...where you say "given the apparent seriousness of this offense, I request an immediate reply...IN WRITING...IN WRITING....and give them about two weeks". And then say something to the effect that at that time, based on the reply or non-response you will determine what escalation measures are necessary (subtle hint you're not going to let this go). Lastly don't forget that somewhere in the letter where your friend disagrees with the offensive nature of the word that the main request is to have this write up stricken from the HR records. Failing that, all the other stuff in this post applies.

    Ensure this letter/communication can have proof of delivery. Either write as a letter with a line at the bottom for HR to acknowledge receipt...make two copies, one for you one for them..both with original signatures. OR email to them...ask for acknowledgement of receipt from HR....then pull out of your sent items and send to your personal email addy to keep a copy.

    Oh ...lol...sorry...and then if the records are stricken, make sure that's in writing too..adn then in a few months ask to see the HR file (you have the right to look at it) to ensure the write up is pulled.

    Ok...that's a lot...sorry...but you have to think like a lawyer and get into the details and specifics. If you do it well you paint them in a corner and they either back off or they write back (or not) giving you fodder to escalate.

  12. #12

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    I'm in Colorado. I'm so sorry that she's having to deal with this.

    Something that might be of help, from the gayandlesbianfund.org (A Colorado organization):

    Colorado’s Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA)

    On May 25, 2007, Governor Bill Ritter signed Senate Bill 07-025, expanding Colorado’s employment nondiscrimination protections to include sexual orientation. This law defines sexual orientation as a person’s orientation toward heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgender status. In

    Colorado, the law is applicable to employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, on-the-job training, and vocational training programs and schools. The law makes it unlawful to consider sexual orientation, gender identity or expression when making employment-related decisions and additionally makes it unlawful to make any inquiry about an applicant’s sexual orientation or gender expression.

    In May 2008, the governor expanded these protections by passing the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, or Senate Bill 200, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status in housing and public accommodations.

    This law prohibits unfair housing practices on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status. It applies to landlords, lessors, sellers, homeowner associations, lenders, real estate agencies, insurers, advertisers, cities, counties, government agencies, and others involved in showing, selling, renting, transferring, or leasing housing or residential real estate.

    Covered public accommodations entities may not deny a gay or transgender person participation, entry, or services. A place of public accommodation is any place of business that offers sales or services of any kind to the public, or that offers facilities, privileges, advantages or other accommodations to the public, such as hotels, restaurants, stores, hospitals, clinics, and health clubs.

  13. #13
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    I've been in HR for almost 15 years, and I'd never take issue with this as described. I'd politely lecture the person making the complaint about tolerance and send them on their merry way. I'm so sick of the overuse of "hostile work environment" by many employees.

    But I agree with with Rock2 has outlined. And the company handbook is absolutely essential. Check what the Company's policy language is specifically with regards to non-discrimination/non-harassment policy. While no Company can reasonably outline an exhaustive list of everything that is prohibited, it should have something in there about language parameters.

    ETA: To Barb's point - that usually refers to a tangible job detriment and/or adverse impact. In this case, there's been no negative impact YET beyond the write-up (which should include a rebuttal statement). But documentation will be key if this "warning" somehow negatively impacts a promotion, or job benefits, or % merit increases, etc.

  14. #14
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    I wonder...were they offended by hearing the word "lesbian"? Or did they think SHE was being flippant/discriminatory? Because I have a few gay friends who might actually say "Come over to the fags' house" in a joking way, but some people might overhear and think they were being derrogatory.

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flatfoote View Post
    A few days later, the boss calls her into the office, and she's been written up. Someone overheard her say the word "lesbian" and was offended and complained. She is now prohibited from saying the word "gay" or "lesbian" while in the workplace.
    The boss either is a homophobe, or scared of the person who made the complaint, or is totally incompetent. I have no idea about Colorado law but that could be a hostile work environment claim in the making. Maybe not under federal law (I don't think Title VII picks up sexual orientation yet) but maybe under this new CO law?
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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flatfoote View Post
    I mean, its not like she was giving a blow-by-blow description of what goes on with her lifestyle or anything.
    Glad the subject was a gay female, otherwise that would have been the most awkward choice of words.

  17. #17
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    people in my office had to go to sensitivity training for saying that they were getting Chinese food, they were advised to say "food of Asian origin" in the future
    I feel like I'm in a dream. But it can't be a dream because there are no boy dancers!

  18. #18
    drinky typo pbp, closet hugger
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    please tell me you're kidding about that
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by my little pony View Post
    people in my office had to go to sensitivity training for saying that they were getting Chinese food, they were advised to say "food of Asian origin" in the future
    No way!

    I am so sorry about what happened to your sister, Flatfoote. I don't have any advice other than to keep a paper trail, contact the appropriate orgs and the check the company rule book as others have already mentioned. It's so 1950's.
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    Quote Originally Posted by genevieve View Post
    please tell me you're kidding about that
    nope
    I feel like I'm in a dream. But it can't be a dream because there are no boy dancers!

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