Friday, November 23, 2012

Vegetarian Discrimination? - COTW #119

My blogging was a little light this week because it was a shortened holiday week. I hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving. Now, on with the Case of the Week!

A firefighter in New York has a disciplinary hearing resulting from his failure to show up for work during Hurricane Sandy. The fire department claims he's facing discipline for going AWOL but the firefighter claims it's something else . . . his diet. The NY Post reports FDNY firefighter says he's been ostracized - because he became a vegetarian:
He claims his own problems started when his colleagues started riding him about his dinner choices. But he said the harassment grew to the point where he became a pariah who was regularly given dangerous assignments on the roofs of burning buildings and threatened with physical violence.
I'm not aware of any statutes expressly protecting vegetarianism. I also doubt it is protected by a public policy exception to at will employment that would allow a wrongful discharge claim.

That said, obviously it would be a stupid reason to discriminate against your employees. In this case, the firefighter claims he is in much better shape now which is actually a huge benefit to the fire department. I also assume he is protected by a CBA through a union (again, my assumption - I don't know that for a fact). I should also note that many people are vegetarians for religious reasons, and religion is protected by federal and most (all?) state employment discrimination laws.

Then again, maybe the fire department just gives him dangerous assignments and expects him to show up to work during emergencies because . . . ya know . . . he's a firefighter! Sorry, that's the cynic in me bursting out. In any event, employers should protect their employees from diet-based harassment and discrimination because (1) it's just good business; and (2) the employee might be following his or her religious beliefs.