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Gender discrimination and 'at-will' employment

Indiana recently became the 21st of what is known as a "Right to Work" state. Though such states have prevented non-union members from having to pay fees for representation in union shops, it has been found that there are other confusing or not well understood aspects that come along with this designation.

Idaho for example has found itself caught up in a wrongful termination lawsuit where a state worker claims to have been fired from her job because of her gender (and for various political reasons). Her employer claims that she was an "at-will" employee who the state could fire at any time. The judge in this matter in any case has allowed the matter to proceed.

There are many technicalities that are being pursued in this matter making such a case particularly complex. There are questions of whether the woman in question was a "classified" employee who was protected from being fired under certain circumstances. There is also the question of whether a state employee was entitled to such "classified" protections when private sector employees were not entitled to such. These are questions that lawyers will haggle over concerning state and federal laws that may or may not have anything to do with being a "Right to Work" state.

What makes this particular case intriguing are the possible discriminatory reasons behind the firing. Apparently one board member of the department where the woman worked was quoted as saying: "No little girl would be able to run this department... What are we going to do when she decides to start a family?"

Does a statement such as this rise to the level of gender discrimination? It likely depends on all of the surrounding circumstances that occurred at this place of employment. However, it does demonstrate how far we still need to go to eliminate such discrimination from the workplace.

Source: Idaho Press-Tribune, "ITD wrongful termination case may muddy Idaho Right-to-Work law," April 8, 2012

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