Is political discrimination illegal? Case in point: The Chief Diversity Officer at a Washington, D.C., college for the deaf was recently suspended after she signed a petition supporting the reversal of Maryland's same-sex marriage law.
Now groups both for and against the same-sex marriage law are coming to the Chief Diversity Officer's defense, saying that the woman should not lose her job over her political beliefs, reports SFGate.com.
However, were administrators at Gallaudet University acting within their powers? Can an employer legally suspend or fire an employee based on the worker's political beliefs or voting preferences?
If you go through the list of federally protected characteristics, you will not see political beliefs on the list. Protected characteristics are basically the innate traits that federal anti-discrimination laws protect. These include traits like race, sex, disability, national origin, age, and religion.
So under federal law, private employers are generally able to base employment decisions like terminations and suspensions on someone's political beliefs. Keep in mind that there may be some exceptions -- for example, legitimate political union activity which can be protected under labor laws.
With that in mind, purely private employers can generally tell an employee not to wear political pins, to vote for Candidate X, or to support Measure 1234.
However, just because something is legal does not make it good business practice. For example, it is perfectly legal to charge $100 for a stick of gum. But you're not going to get any customers or earn any goodwill from this practice.
Similarly, while it may be legal for a private employer to tell employees to endorse a certain candidate, the employer may end up driving away half of her customers who endorse the other candidate. And if word leaks that an employer terminates someone for not voting a certain way, the business may soon find itself out of business.
Employment discrimination is a thorny issue. While discrimination against political beliefs is not explicitly illegal under federal law, employers should still be careful if they adopt political policies. Discriminatory enforcement (e.g.; only terminating Hispanic workers who vote a certain way) can still be illegal, and you may want to consult an employment attorney about your policy.