Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This...

May/June 2007 Issue Number 89

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.

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Upcoming Events  


Fire Rescue International, August 23-25, 2007 Atlanta, GA. Linda Willing will be teaching several workshops at this conference, including a pre-conference seminar on Leading Diverse Teams. More information will be available here in coming months.


In the News

The Limits of Equality

In 2006, Washington State enacted a law banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, the 17th state to create such protection. In 2007, the state legislature passed a law approving the recognition of domestic partnerships. Despite these protections, the City of Bellevue, Washington does not extend employee benefits to domestic partners. Why? According to city officials, it's all a matter of money.

According to Tim Waters, a city spokesman, Bellevue has adopted a "no new benefits" position in recent years as a way of addressing rapidly escalating health care costs. Studies show that extending domestic partner benefits would add 1-2% to overall compensation costs.

But now, in light of recent legislation, the City of Bellevue has been sued by three gay emergency workers, two firefighters and an emergency dispatcher, who believe that the denial of benefits to their partners is a violation of the state constitution. The suit, filed in King County Superior Court, accuses Bellevue of violating the privileges and immunities clause of the state constitution, which bans the granting of special privileges to one group that are not provided equally to everyone.

Efforts have been ongoing for years to have domestic partner benefits added for Bellevue city workers. The firefighters' union included them in negotiations with the city last year, but the issue failed to pass. Now, if the current lawsuit is successful, all public employers within the state would be required to offer domestic partner benefits.

Many already do. Major employers such as the cities of Seattle, Spokane and Burien, King and Snohomish Counties, the Seattle Public schools, the University of Washington and the State of Washington, already provide these benefits.

The lack of domestic partner benefits affects individuals and families in a number of ways. Without stated benefits, it is often not possible for an employee to take emergency leave to care for a same-sex partner who is hospitalized, or to attend the funeral of the parent of a domestic partner. The biggest cost is usually health care. Whereas a heterosexual employee would be automatically allowed to add a wife or husband to the health care plan, same sex couples do not have this option and must absorb the cost of health care through their personal finances.

There is certainly a cost to extending benefits to domestic partners. But there is also a cost to failing to extend this benefit equally to all employees. There is a message of disrespect and disregard for individuals and the implication that some workers are more important than others. The cost of such a message becoming accepted in organizational culture can be very high indeed.

Source: Seattle Times


News Brief

According to management specialist Dr. Tony Fiore, three recent studes show that managers within organizations spend 24-60% of their time dealing with interpersonal conflict among subordinates and peers, in contrast to attending to the technical aspects of their jobs.

Source: HR Daily Advisor, November 11, 2006

Sexual Harassment Update

Equal Opportunity Discrimination

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate for the purposes of employment based on five characteristics: race, sex, religion, ethnicity or color. The law was passed to reverse a long history of discrimination in the workplace, and the primary focus of the law in 1964 was race-- improving employment opportunities for African-American citizens.

But since the beginning, Title VII has always provided protection for anyone who experiences discrimination based on the characteristics named, including white people who face discrimination based on being white. When I emphasize this point in classes and presentations, there is usually some skepticism from white people in the audience.

"Oh sure," they say. "Like that's going to happen. A white person winning a discrimination lawsuit? It could never happen."

But it does happen. When white people face genuine discrimination based on race, and follow through with the legal process, they can win and win big. Most recently, a $1.2 million award was made to a group of City of New Orleans white firefighters who claimed that a hiring system in the early 1990s that was based on racial quotas was discriminatory toward them. Each applicant who sued eventually got a job with the New Orleans Fire Department, but the plaintiffs claimed that they lost back wages and seniority due to being passed over in earlier hirings. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the quota-driven hiring system was a civil rights violation, upholding a lower court decision.

Lawsuits are expensive, time consuming, and stressful for all involved. But sometimes filing a Title VII complaint is the only way to right a wrong or change policy for the future. When that time comes, the system is there to be used by everyone.

Source: Times-Picayune April 23, 2007


© Linda F. Willing, 2007

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