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Ford case blurs the line between harassed and harasser

What constitutes harassment has been the subject of many job-related debates. Can the support of one group protected by employment laws be a violation of laws protecting members of another group? The legal boundaries of harassment may be put to the test in a case involving a Michigan man and two employers.

An Ypsilanti man claims he was fired after criticizing an internal Ford article supporting an expanded lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender workforce. The employee was called on the carpet after posting negative comments about gay people in response to the intranet article. The plaintiff in a wrongful termination lawsuit alleges his expression of religious beliefs led to his firing from Ford and Rapid Global Business Solutions, a Troy staffing and engineering service provider.

Ford fired the man in August 2014 for violating the company's anti-harassment policy. Soon after, the Troy employer terminated the worker for the same reason. The federal lawsuit asserts the employers were guilty of civil rights violations for denying the man the right to defend his religious beliefs.

The worker, a Ford employee for three years, accused the car maker of promoting "immoral sexual conduct" and assaulting Christian morality. The man felt the auto manufacturer had no business endorsing LGBT rights. The employment claim was filed five months after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decided the fired worker's complaint was not worth considering.

The new lawsuit requests compensation for emotional and mental damages as well as lost wages. The complaint alleges Rapid Global's anti-harassment policies applied only to out-of-state workers, not to Michigan employees.

Federal employment laws shelter protected classes from discrimination due to religion and sex, which the EEOC can interpret as discrimination due to sexual orientation. Employers are obligated to try to prevent and stop incidents of discrimination and harassment. Michigan workers can seek legal advice to find out what employment laws affect them and have claims assessed.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Man fired over anti-gay posting sues Ford, job firm," Alisa Priddle, July 13, 2015

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