HR Administration

Retaliation for ‘Wife Swapping’?

By Jon Hyman

Jan. 8, 2015

Although we are only 8 days into 2015, Lowering the Bar brings us what might be the lawsuit of the year:

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs are “lifelong friends” and in the course of socializing, each of them fell in love with the other’s wife and the wives felt similarly.… The new living arrangements have been established; divorces are planned but have not yet been obtained. 

Although everyone involved is said to be perfectly happy with the situation, the plaintiffs allege that their employers were not, and “placed them both on unpaid administrative leave due to their co-habitation with a woman who is not their wife.” … Plaintiffs also allege they were told that if and when they returned to work, they would be demoted, and would have to “cease all contact” with the former co-habitors until such time as they obtained divorces.

The lawsuit — Coker v. Whittington [pdf] — is a constitutional civil rights action alleging that the discrimination is based on religion and violates the employees’ right to privacy and freedom of association.
 
Regardless of the legality of the termination (and I'm not convinced this employer did anything illegal), this lawsuit illustrates the pitfalls that face an employer that imposes its moral worldview on employees. An employer has no business firing employees because it disagrees with how they choose to live their private lives. Assuming that their private lives do not affect their job performance, it should not impact their employability. Next time you want to take a stand against an employee for how he or she chooses to live his or life outside of work, think again.
Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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