Fired Orange Workers File Federal Complaint to Contest Firing

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla.) -- Eight of the workers fired from a law firm in Deerfield Beach, Fla., on March 16 for wearing orange have filed a federal complaint against their former employer, contesting the firing.

Attorney Donna Ballman, who represents the eight of the 14 support staff, filed the complaint, alleging unfair labor practices, with the National Labor Relations Board.

"We hope our case will help change the law for other Americans," Meloney McLeod, one of the workers who filed the complaint, said in a statement. "Nobody should be fired because of the color of their shirt. It's wrong."

The Elizabeth R. Wellborn law firm declined to comment about the complaint to ABC News.

Ballman said Elizabeth Wellborn's husband gathered most, though not all, of the employees who were wearing orange that day and they were "told that management thought they were wearing orange shirts to protest working conditions, and they should pack their things and leave," Ballman said.

Ballman said some workers may have been wearing orange to mimic the uniform color often used by the Florida Department of Corrections. Those workers may have been protesting new work rules imposed by a new manager in early March. She said, for example, that they could not speak to co-workers over the walls of their cubicles, even to discuss work-related matters.

The complaint filed with the labor board stated in part, "I believe I was discharged for engaging in and/or for being suspected of engaging in concerted activity for the purpose of mutual aid or protection with coworkers and for the purpose of causing a chilling effect on other coworkers who might wish to engage in concerted activity in the future. In addition, my former employer imposed restrictive covenants on me which I believe violate my rights under the [National Labor Relations] Act, particularly in Paragraph 7."

Section seven of the law states: "Employees shall have the right to self-organization...to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection...."

The law makes it unlawful for an employer "to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7."

"They couldn't go to the break room and get coffee while on the clock," Ballman said. "There were suddenly lots of new restrictions on them. Some of them were upset about those new rules."

Ballman said, "Different people were wearing orange for different reasons that day, but the fact is it doesn't matter."

She said there have been cases where firing employees because management didn't like their shirts were found to be unlawful, including when AT&T workers wore shirts that said "Inmate #" on the front and on the back said "Prisoner of AT$T," which was activity protected under the National Labor Relations Act.

In Florida, employment is presumed to be at will, which means that unless stated otherwise by something like an employment contract or a piece of legislation, an employee can be fired for any reason or no reason at all, said Kerri Stone, a law professor at Florida International University.

Janice Doble, 50, a fired copy room worker, also joined in filing the complaint. She said she was wearing orange because she was going to a happy hour with coworkers and was not protesting working conditions.

"Orange happens to be my favorite color. My patio is orange," Doble told Florida's Sun-Sentinel newspaper. "My lipstick was orange today."

Since the 14 workers were fired, three have reportedly been re-hired by the firm, possibly after explaining they were not a part of a protest, Ballman said.

Ballman is releasing a book this fall called Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired: Handle Your Workplace Crisis Before You Quit, Get Canned, Or Sue the Bastards with Career Press.

"Everybody who can be fired for no reason is an 'orange American,'" she said. "Everybody that can be fired for wearing an orange shirt to work should be outraged by this."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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