Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Does lack of LGBT-inclusive workplace protections in Germantown promote dishonesty in the workplace?

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently overturned a lower chancery court ruling that a former Germantown police officer be reinstated with full back pay and benefits. The Commercial Appeal reports:

The three-member panel ruled Wednesday that the city was justified in firing former Lt. Stephanie Hill because the evidence supported charges of neglect of
duty and truthfulness.

The city fired Hill in July 2007 for violating departmental policies that stem from her accounts of how her unmarked police car was damaged in January that year.

Lt. Hill initially reported that she was uncertain about how the unmarked police car was damaged. She later reported that

her former roommate, Jamie Baker, had damaged the car at the home the two shared in Collierville. Baker told police Hill knew she hit the car when it happened.

Court records say that the couple ended their relationship "in an acrimonious and tumultuous manner" in mid-March only a few weeks before the city opened its internal affairs investigation.

I may be reading too deeply between the lines of this story, but the way this story is written leads me to believe that Lt. Hill and Baker were domestic partners. If Baker were simply a "roommate," wouldn't Lt. Hill have been forthcoming about the damage to the car?

Most gay or lesbian law enforcement officers will tell you that it's risky to disclose your sexual orientation on the job. The State of Tennessee and the City of Germantown currently provide no workplace protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation. In addition to basic concerns about employment discrimination, police officers have to know they can depend on other officers to protect each other in dangerous situations. Their safety and lives depends on it!

Did Lt. Hill withhold Baker's involvement in the damage to the car because she feared unfair treatment on the job? Disclosing Baker's responsibility for damage to the car to Internal Affairs may have exposed Lt. Hill to sexual harrassment, employment discrimination, and abandonment by fellow officers in dangerous situations because she is or may be perceived to be a lesbian.

Unless there are specific protections for unlawful discrimination (e.g., race, color, national origin, sex, religion, etc.), employment in Tennessee is "at will" - meaning that the employer is free to discharge employees for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all. No federal, state or local law prohibits the Germantown Police Department from firing employees because they are lesbian, gay, bi, straight, or transgender.

We should all favor honesty in the workplace. While it was wrong of Lt. Hill to withhold how the car was damaged, it is also wrong for the City of Germantown to promote dishonesty in the workplace. If the City of Germantown as an employer does not explicitly protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, it sends the message that employees should fear for their jobs and live their lives in secret. Lt. Hill and other employees of the Germantown Police Department and City of Germantown should not have to fear being "outed" in the workplace.

Hardworking, high-performing employees shouldn’t be fired just because they’re gay or transgender. ALL lesbian, gay, bi, straight and transgender employees want the same thing: to work hard, earn a living, and provide for their familes.


Charise said...

do you even know if her roommate was indeed her gf?

Jonathan Cole said...

I don't know if Baker was her girlfriend. As I said, I warned that I may be reading too deeply between the lines of the story. I am not sure that the Commercial Appeal has covered every angle of the story.