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Packers Fan Fired Over Team Necktie; Will Litigation Ensue?

Is wearing this necktie a firing offense?

I saw this story on Mike & Mike this morning, and it’s just been gathering steam all day. A Green Bay Packers fan showed up to his job on Monday at a Chicago area car dealership wearing a Packers tie. As many of you know, the Packers defeated their hated rivals, the Chicago Bears, in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. The man’s boss asked the Packers fan to remove the tie. He refused. The Packers fan was then fired.

When I first heard about this, my initial thought was “Good, serves him right.” I’m not a Bears fan. And I often wear my own sports paraphernalia into the ATL office. But if your boss tells you to take off your gear, you do it. It’s not a hard question for me. I’ll stand up to my CEO on any number of professional issues, but over some team bling? Are you kidding me? It’s called “picking your battles,” or “not being a idiot,” if you prefer.

Over the course of the day, however, more and more media types have been coming to the defense John Stone, the Packers fan who was fired. Some are even saying that this will lead to a wrongful termination lawsuit.

You know how I hate telling the MSM that their cute little puppies are going to die, but does rooting for the Packers make you a member of a protected class now?

Maybe I’m totally off here, but the only thing I find surprising is that some idiot went to work wearing a Packers tie in Chicago. Maybe you’ll see something different? Here’s the story, from the Chicago Sun-Times:

The morning after the Chicago Bears’ hated rivals beat them at Soldier Field to advance to the Super Bowl, Webb’s general manager Jerry Roberts says he fired Stone for refusing to remove the Packers-branded tie.

The facts aren’t in dispute, only the appropriateness of the novelty neckwear.

“He said, ‘You have two options,’ ” a furious Stone said later Monday. “Remove the tie, or you’re fired.”

“When I didn’t, he said, ‘You can leave, you’re fired.’ Does that sound fair to you?”

The article goes on to say that Stone was asked to remove the tie five times.

Did general manager Roberts overreact by firing Stone? Possibly. I just secured verbal confirmation from Breaking Media’s CEO, John Lerner, that if I showed up wearing Pittsburgh stuff (he’s a Jets fan), I would not be fired. Maybe told to take an unpaid vacation day, involving going home and examining my motives, but not fired. Fair enough. Surely Stone could have been punished in a manner that fell short of termination. Most likely there was something else going on between Roberts and Stone that led to them to the point where both parties were willing to sever their employment relationship over a necktie.

But now that it’s happened, is there anything Stone can do about it? Some commentators — like Mike Golic this morning, and Stephen Douglas of The Big Lead — say that this is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

But is it? I’m not so sure (although I’m also not an expert on employment law). It seems to me, though, that Roberts had legitimate business reasons for regulating the dress of his employees in this way. The Sun-Times reports:

Roberts agreed that no customers had complained about the tie when Stone was asked to remove it at 10:30 a.m., and that Stone was a good salesman who sold 14 cars last month.

But he said the tie was “salting the wounds” of Bears fans including himself and that it “makes it harder to sell cars in what’s already a competitive sales environment.”

“We spend $20,000 a month on advertising with the Bears on WBBM during the season, and we have Bears players including Corey Wootten driving loaner vehicles, and here was a salesman openly undoing that work.”

Remember that this was a crushing defeat for Bears fans. It’s entirely possible that the car dealership could have lost business if one of their salespeople was openly supporting the Packers on the Monday after a tough loss.

And I’m not even sure Roberts needed a reason to fire Stone. Labor and employment lawyers: aren’t car salesmen generally at-will employees? Couldn’t Stone have been fired for any reason or no reason at all? I’m pretty sure that rooting for a particular football team does not give you protected class status — Stone wasn’t wearing a Cheddar-Jesus tie, he was wearing a Packers tie. No protected class, no state action — couldn’t Stone have been fired for putting cheese on his sandwich that Monday?

Is there any kind of legal action here Stone could bring? Maybe there was some person who showed up to work with a box tampons (equally offensive to Bears fans given the play of their quarterback, Jay Cutler), who didn’t get fired? Maybe Roberts fired Stone because Brian Urlacher paid him cash to draw attention away from the fact that Urlacher was tackled in the open field by the wind generated when Aaron Rodgers fell down in front of him? Stone is black; maybe he’s about to argue that a white Green Bay Packer fan wouldn’t have been fired? Who knows what Stone might come up with if he talks to an attorney.

I just don’t see how this is a slam-dunk lawsuit waiting to happen. Stone lives in enemy territory and wore Packer stuff to work anyway. His boss gave a direct order, five times, which he refused. Stone’s lucky he just got fired. I’m sure the Packers fan who wore team apparel in Philly after the Pack beat the Eagles hasn’t yet had a chance to tell his story to the newspapers because he’s still eating out of a straw.

Packer backer fired for wearing Green Bay tie [Chicago Sun-Times]

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