"Shame on Winn Dixie" Anniversary
THREE YEARS AFTER the southern grocery chain Winn-Dixie fired Peter Oiler for cross-dressing on his own time and four months after a federal court ruled that such discrimination is legal, transgendered people remember the Shame on Winn-Dixie protest campaign.
Employment discrimination strikes at a core American value. Many Americans believe that qualified, hardworking individuals should not be denied job opportunities, fired or otherwise discriminated against for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance and abilities.
Laws have been enacted to remedy workplace violations and many view such discrimination as reprehensible. An employer today rarely admits workplace discrimination. But Winn-Dixie showed the nation that such discrimination does occur when they admitted firing Oiler for no reason other than clothes he wore at home. A federal district judge ruled that ? while morally questionable -- this is permissible under current U.S. law.
Oiler had worked 23 years for Winn-Dixie. While attempting to resolve workplace rumors that he was gay, he told his supervisor that he sometimes wore women's clothing away from the job. This information was passed on to Michael Istre, president of Louisiana Winn-Dixie, who decided that Peter Oiler should resign. Oiler, who had been regularly promoted and who had excellent performance evaluations, repeatedly refused and was subsequently fired.
Oiler sued Winn-Dixie in U.S. District Court, alleging employment discrimination on the basis of sex, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. "This case is about whether someone can be fired because he doesn't look or act the way his employer thinks a man should," said Eric Ferrero, Public Education Director of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights/AIDS Project.
In court testimony, Istre admitted that Oiler was fired for no other reason than that, "I was concerned about my business and what kind of impact and effect that this - this type of behavior would have on my business and my customer base that if my customers saw him."
Oiler's argument was denied in a September 2002 District Court decision, but Judge Lance Affrick was almost apologetic. The "Defendant's rationale for plaintiff's discharge may strike many as morally wrong," he wrote, "however, the function of this court is not to raise the social conscience of defendant's upper-level management, but to construe the law in accordance with proper statutory construction and judicial precedent."
Judge Affrick explained, "The repeated failure of Congress to amend Title VII supports the argument that Congress did not intend Title VII to prohibit discrimination on the basis of a gender identity disorder. In reaching this decision, this Court defers to Congress who, as the author of Title VII, has defined the scope of its protection. Neither Title VII nor the Unites States Supreme Court's decision in Price Waterhouseaffords plaintiff the protection that he seeks."
In its decision, the U.S. District Court upheld the right of an employer to fire a worker simply for legal off-duty behavior. In doing so the Court highlighted the gaps in existing employment anti-discrimination laws and indicated the need for additional legislation that would better protect against workplace discrimination.
Although Peter Oiler has found new employment and the quality of his work is undiminished, the job discrimination that he faced three years ago not only still exists but also has been strengthened. Oiler's firing by Winn-Dixie -- while unjust -- has been ruled legal under existing federal law. His case is strong evidence of the need for revised federal laws protecting against employment discrimination.
Courtney Sharp, a Louisiana activist who helped organize the Winn-Dixie protest campaign recommends that people continue to call Winn-Dixie management to remind them that the GLBT community has not forgotten this issue. "The transgender community had demanded that Winn-Dixie institute a non-discrimination policy for gender identity and expression and sexual orientation. We also asked them to institute sensitivity training. Those demands have not been withdrawn and were not dependent upon the legal case.?
Winn-Dixie contact information can be found at http://www.shameonwinndixie.org/action_main.html.
CONTACT THE PEOPLE WHO FIRED PETER OILER, and tell them they were wrong. (Contact information is below for Michael Istre and Gregory Miles, who supervised Peter Oiler at Winn-Dixie's Louisiana branch.)
E-MAIL OR CALL WINN-DIXIE'S NATIONAL PRESIDENT/CEO, WHO IS TRYING TO SILENCE CALLS FOR FAIRNESS and tell him we'll never stop speaking out against this discrimination. (Contact information for Al Rowland is below.) Click here to see the letter from Rowland's legal staff.
SPREAD THE WORD to your friends, family, allies and contacts in the South and nationwide. If they live in the South, they can go to Winn-Dixie's store directory to find out where the store closest to them is. No matter where they live, they can contact the executives who fired Peter Oiler and the Winn-Dixie attorney trying to shield the company from public shame.
Here's who to contact and why:
MICHAEL ISTRE ? ;
Istre is the President of the Winn-Dixie branch in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, where Peter Oiler worked. He was one of the two people who made the decision to fire Peter Oiler, and he is ultimately responsible for all of the division's employment policies.
GREGORY MILES ? ;
Miles swore under oath that he is the other person who made the ultimate decision to fire Peter Oiler, since he oversees the warehouse and distribution center where Peter Oiler worked. He also said in a recent deposition that he supported firing Peter Oiler because customers might "put two and two together" if they saw Peter Oiler cross-dressing in public off-duty, and think that Winn-Dixie supported that "lifestyle."
AL ROWLAND ? ;
Rowland is the Prsident and CEO of Winn-Dixie nationally, based at the corporate headquarters in Florida. Just a few days ago, his legal staff sent a letter demanding that a transgendered activist in rural Alabama remove www.ShameOnWinnDixie.org from the Internet. While Rowland wasn't directly involved in firing Peter Oiler, he could have intervened when he learned of the termination.
Here is a list of organizations who have joined the shameonwinndixie coaltion. You may ask them to distruibute the PR to their members. Thanks!
AFL-CIO, Pride at Work (National)
The American Civil Liberties Union, Lesbian and Gay Rights Project (National)
BGB, Louisville, KY,
Transgender Support Group
Camp Sister Spirit?Ovett, Mississippi
East Coast Female-to-Male Group (Northampton, MA)
Equality Begins at Home of Central Alabama
Equality North Carolina
Florida Organization for Gender Equality, FORGE
Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, GLAAD (Southeastern Region)
Gay & Lesbian Alliance of Alabama
Gender Education & Advocacy, Inc. (National)
Gender Program of Central Ohio
Georgia Equality, Inc.
Georgia Statewide National Organization for Women, NOW
Georgia Stonewall Democrats
Gulf Gender Alliance (Louisiana)
Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (HBIGDA)
IFGE The International Foundation For Gender Education
It's Time America
It's Time, Illinois
Kentucky Fairness Alliance
Lambda Center (Baton Rouge)
Lambda Letters Project (California statewide)
Lesbian and Gay Community Center of New Orleans
Louisiana Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus
Men of All Colors Together (Philadelphia, PA)
The Mississippi Gay & Lesbian Alliance
Mu Beta Gamma, Tri Ess International Chapter (Miami, FL)
National Center for Lesbian Rights
The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
National Organization for Women (NOW) of Montgomery, AL
National Transgender Advocacy Coalition
NMGAIN (New Mexico Gender Advocacy Information Network)
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, PFLAG (National)
PFLAG New Orleans
PFLAG Transgender Network (National)
The Renaissance Transgender Association, Inc.
Sexual Minorities Archives (Northampton, MA)
Southerns On New Ground (SONG)
Spectrum Alliance, Louisiana State University
Spectrum: The GLBT-Straight Alliance at University of Toledo (Toledo, OH)
StandOut! (Huntsville, AL)
Tampa Bay (Florida) Gender Alliance
Texas Association for Transsexual Support
TranScience Research Institute (Richmond, VA)
Tri-Ess International (National)
Tri-Ess International: Alpha Zeta Chapter
Tri-Ess International: Rho Tau Chapter
Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, MCC (National)
Wives and Significant Others of Alpha Zeta, Tri-Ess International, Phoenix
NTAC, the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, is a 501(c)(4) political advocacy coalition working to establish and maintain the right of all transgendered, intersexed, and gender-variant people to live and work without fear of violence or discrimination.