Friday, December 20, 2013

When Employment Laws Aren't Just Ducky...

The past 24 hours have seen a flurry of activity around the continued employment of one man, a Phil Robertson, who is employed by the network A&E in the state of Louisiana. Mr. Robertson, in a very high-profile venue, made personal statements that are inherently contradictory to the established statements of his employer. In relatively short order he was suspended from his position indefinitely. I have seen Internet petitions that he be suspended, countering ones that he retain his job; posts praising A&E for their decision, and posts disavowing any future relationship with the network. In the midst of all this, I have found myself somewhere between mystified and flabbergasted. This is the case of employment injustice that scandalizes America?

Mr. Robertson lives in Louisiana. A&E could walk into his office (or equivalent) any day and fire him, for any number of reasons. Louisiana is a "right to work" state; employers do not need any reason to suspend a person's employment in that state. However, in light of the fact that Mr. Robertson's statements were in regard to the LGBTQ community, let's be clear on the case of the employer's rights in regards to sexuality and gender definition in Louisiana.

An employer in Louisiana has the right to fire an individual solely because of his or her sexuality. A&E has the legal right to tell Mr. Robertson, "On account of your heterosexuality, and your inability to keep it an appropriately private matter, we are terminating your employment." A&E also has the legal right to tell Mr. Robertson, "On account of your cis-gender expression (that you define your gender with the one you were assigned at birth), we are terminating your employment." That in Louisiana, and across the nation, employers have the ability to terminate an employment based on a person's sexuality or gender definition is a true travesty of justice.

Everyone deserves gainful employment, Mr. Robertson included. Everyone deserves advocates to ensure a termination is a just and appropriate action. In the eyes of the law of Louisiana, A&E has more than sufficient legal right to suspend Mr. Robertson's employment. Advocates for Mr. Robertson's continued employment and advocates for LGBTQ equality should find equal issue with the current employment laws which are inherently unjust to all the citizens of Louisiana.

Let us pray that our country's current fascination with the debatable viability of one man's suspension of employment will bring about a deeper understanding of the systematic injustice all employees face in light of our current laws.

Benjamin Garren is a seminarian at Bexley Hall and a candidate for ordination in the Diocese of Maine.  A native of North Carolina, he did his undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He blogs at

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