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Byron firing of transgender fire chief raises this perplexing problem all jobs have

What does LGBTQIA mean?

You have heard of LGBT, but do you really know what the letters stand for? And how about QIA? Melissa Winter, youth advocate with the KC Anti-Violence project, breaks down the terminology for you in 90 seconds.
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You have heard of LGBT, but do you really know what the letters stand for? And how about QIA? Melissa Winter, youth advocate with the KC Anti-Violence project, breaks down the terminology for you in 90 seconds.

The small town of Byron earned a front page headline in The Telegraph recently with a story about the firing of its long-time fire chief. Rachel Mosby was given the pink slip by city officials over what they say were a number of performance deficiencies, but Mosby claims that her termination was motivated by prejudice over her gender identity. She transitioned from male to female during her time serving as fire chief.

According to a letter Mosby received from Byron’s city administrator when she was let go, her alleged performance deficiencies included failure to release business licenses in a timely manner, attending very few of the classes offered at a fire chiefs’ conference the city paid for her to travel to and failing to maintain a fire investigator certification that is part of the city’s job description for the fire chief position.

Those all sound like valid deficiencies, but are they enough to warrant the termination of a chief who, in the words of her attorney, “built Byron’s Fire Department from an all-volunteer organization into the professional agency that it is today?” And would the city have fired Mosby over these same issues if she was not transgender?

That’s the real question here, and it’s one that’s impossible to answer unless you have the power to read the minds of the people who made the decision to fire her. It’s fair to say that there is always some subjectivity involved when managers rate the performance of the people who work for them, and we cannot rule out the possibility that personal prejudice plays a part in those ratings at times.

And therein lies the problem with workplace anti-discrimination laws. They pretty much infer that the justice system has the ability to ferret out the true intent of managers who give negative reviews and know what internal motivations drive their opinions of the people who work for them.

That has, predictably, led to a number of problems for people whose job it is to rate other people’s job performance. There is a great deal of anxiety among managers about how honest they can be in reviewing any employee that falls into a category protected by anti-discrimination laws. Any sort of negativity may well be challenged as biased, and any termination may be subject to litigation.

And yet racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice have prevented many Americans from getting a fair chance to succeed in the workplace. Eliminating the only vehicle of redress for people who are judged on who they are and not on the work they do understandably strikes many of us as unfair, and unwise.

Is there a middle path here that would keep some kind of check on prejudicial behavior in the workplace but not create serious amounts of anxiety for managers who fear legal blowback for giving honest negative feedback to people in protected classes?

I think there might be, but we would need to get rid of the idea of protected classes, and concentrate on other means of giving employees who get treated unfairly (regardless of the reason for it) a chance to contest adverse actions taken against them at work.

Firing someone should never happen unless a review process is undertaken where the employee has a chance to answer any charges made against them, and if they believe that any sort of prejudice was involved they should have a chance to plead their case to someone other than the person who issued their performance review.

Which brings us back to the case of former chief Mosby. Apparently the city of Byron changed its personnel policy just a few months ago to take away the option for city employees to appeal terminations internally. The timing of that change does not seem like a coincidence, and if the situation turns into a lawsuit that will no doubt bolster Mosby’s contention that she was targeted and treated unfairly.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com.

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