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You Can’t Fire Me! Four Outrageous Termination Cases

With unemployment rates in the double digits these days, getting fired from a job carries less of a stigma than it once did. Major corporations form and fall in the blink of an eye, meaning that presumably, most of us can expect to have our employment terminated at least once in our career. Getting laid off because your company can no longer support your salary or because you made fifty Xerox copies of your butt during business hours is reasonable, but what about being axed for posting Dilbert cartoons in your cubicle?

Too Sexy for the Job
Firing a woman who wears a bikini to work is a reasonable step, but what about a woman who wears formfitting outfits? Debrahlee Lorenzana, a former banker for Citibank, claims she was fired for being too sexy and that before her termination, her bosses banned her from wearing turtlenecks, pencil skirts, three-inch heels, and fitted suits. After Lorenzana countered that the bank tellers in her office frequently wore miniskirts and other revealing outfits, “they said their body shapes were different from mine, and I drew too much attention,” she told the Village Voice.

Following the conference during which her bosses told her she was too sexy, Lorenzana says, she received a letter saying she was on six months’ probation for falling behind on sales targets. Despite the fact that she frequently asked them to provide her with the training she needed to complete her job, Lorenzana claims that her managers never did so, thereby forcing her to refer clients to other bankers. Even though she brought in new clients, she says, they were all passed on to her male colleagues.

After she sent several emails to Citibank’s human resources department, the company transferred Lorenzana to a different branch, to work as a telemarketer. Six months later, following her complaints about her demotion, Lorenzana was fired. She claims that the manager who dismissed her brought up her wardrobe dispute at the other branch, but not her work ethic. He told her she had to leave because she didn’t fit into the Citibank culture.

Lorenzana’s case is being determined by an arbitrator because she signed a mandatory-arbitration clause when she was employed. Citibank issued the following statement regarding the case:

“Ms. Lorenzana has chosen to make numerous unfounded accusations and inaccurate statements against Citibank and several of our employees. While we will not discuss the details of her case, we can say that her termination was solely performance-based and not at all related to her appearance or attire. We are confident that when all of the facts and documentation are presented, the claim will be dismissed.”

That seems a lot of trouble for a company that, by its own logic, could simply dismiss Lorenzana’s suit for being too formfitting.

Where There’s No Smoke, Someone’s Getting Fired
In 2008, a German boss fired his nonsmoking employees and replaced them with smokers because, he said, the smokers “fitted in better,” according to the Times Online.

“Smokers have always been our best employees,” said Thomas Jensen, who heads a ten-person, Internet-based computer-supply company in Buesum, Germany. “Non-smokers interfere with corporate peace. They just complained all the time about smoking, and I don’t like grumblers.”

Jensen also told the Germany daily Hamburger Morgenpost newspaper, “Our non-smoking employees were of the opinion they had a right to smoke-free areas. My answer was to immediately hand them their walking papers. Smokers make for more even-headed, better employees at our company.”

Among the deficiencies of the nonsmoking former employees, he told the Times Online, was their tendency to “distance themselves from the smokers at social events … it didn’t build any team spirit.”

And Jensen apparently has a soft spot for the underdog in a country that bans smoking in public places (small offices are an exception). “Everyone’s always beating up on smokers, but now the shoe’s on the other foot,” Deutsche Welle reports Jensen as having said. “In any case, I’m only hiring smokers in future.”

The law, however, is not on Jensen’s side. The three terminated employees challenged their dismissal, and labor-law expert Malte Masloff told the Hamburger Morgenpost, “If employees make use a right like health protection, they aren’t allowed to be fired. And unlike other laws concerning firings in small businesses, this rule also applies to firms with ten workers or less.”

Jensen’s dreams of a tobacco-filled office, it seems, have gone up in smoke.

Man Posts Dilbert Strip in Office, Becomes Comic Fodder
A casino employee in Des Moines, Iowa, was fired for posting a Dilbert comic strip at work, causing Scott Adams, Dilbert’s creator, to write a series of comics based on the incident.

David Steward, who had worked at the Catfish Bend Casino for seven years, lost his job in 2007 after posting a Dilbert comic strip in his office that compared managers to “drunken lemurs.” The casino’s human resources director, Steve Morley, called the cartoon “very offensive,” according to Fox News. “Basically, he was accusing the decision-makers of being drunken lemurs,” Morley testified at Steward’s hearing on unemployment benefits. “We consider that misconduct when you insult your employer.”

The circumstances surrounding his dismissal made Steward the muse for Adams’s new series. “I know good comic fodder when I see it,” said Adams, “and any chance to mock the humorless is worth the effort.” Adams added that Steward’s case was the first confirmed instance of an employee’s being fired for posting a Dilbert strip in the workplace.

For example, one of the strips in the series includes the following exchange between Dilbert characters Catbert and Wally:

Catbert: “Wally, I have to fire you for posting a comic comparing managers to drunken lemurs. You won’t be eligible for unemployment benefits unless you can prove you were stupid as opposed to malicious. Can you prove you’re stupid?”

Wally: “Is there another explanation for working here?”

According to Steward, he shared the comic with coworkers amid news that the casino was about to close. “We were all laughing about it. Everybody said, ‘Well, why don’t you put it on the bulletin board; maybe it’ll cheer some of them up.’”

Steward posted the comic before leaving work for the weekend, and when he returned, “I was told that I’m not a team player. ‘We’re going to let you go.’”

Administrative-law judge Lynette Donner ruled in Steward’s favor, declaring the comic posting “a good-faith error in judgment,” not intentional misbehavior. But Steward is ready to move on. “I hope to work somewhere that has a sense of humor,” he said.

Cockroach Sends Workers Scurrying
Thirty workers at a Turkmenistan television network were sacked after a cockroach scampered across the anchorperson’s desk during a live broadcast in Feburary 2008, reports the British Telegraph. The roach made a full lap of the news desk during the nine o’clock news program, Vatan, and the network aired the clip again on the eleven o’clock edition of the show.

Horrified viewers complained to the station, and officials from Turkmenistan’s ministry of culture informed the country’s president, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedo. Berdymukhamedo was so appalled by the incident that he fired thirty of the station’s employees, including journalists, directors, camera operators, and technical staff.

It wasn’t the first time that Turkmenistan’s president had had a run-in with the state news channel. Former president Sapurmurat Niyazov, infamous for his “authoritarian eccentricities,” showed several television executives the door after drunken technicians failed to screen his New Year’s address to the nation.

Feet to the Fire
With employment scarce and the market saturated with job seekers, it’s so easy to replace workers these days that we’ll probably see more such stories of bosses firing staff members for far-out reasons. Fortunately, there are still avenues through which the unemployed may appeal their dismissals, but just in case, hold tightly to your position and keep your Dilbert comics—and your bugs—at home.