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03 December 2011

Repudiation: Wisconsin Steps Back from Protecting Gays in the Workplace

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin seems to be doing everything he can to undermine fairness in Wisconsin.  He went after public employee unions, voting rights, comprehensive sex education, women's reproductive rights, and now the LGBTQ Community.

In March, Governor Walker appointed Laurie McCallum to the Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission (LIRC).  She is one of a three person board who serve staggered six year terms.  Ms. McCallum is the wife of former Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott McCallum, who had first served as Lt. Gov. under Tommy Thompson.  Ms. McCallum is an attorney who has been employed by Wisconsin for over three decades.

The LIRC, among its other duties, determines discrimination claims.  Last month they heard the case of Chris Bowen who complained that suffered discrimination while an employee of Stroh Precision Die Casting.  This was reported in the Wisconsin Gazette.
In a 2-1 decision, commissioners Robert Glaser and Ann L. Crump found that Stroh was responsible for fostering a workplace environment hostile to Bowen because of his sexual orientation. Stroh did not deny that the harassment occurred; nor did the company argue that anti-gay harassment is allowed under state law during the eight years that the case bounced around the court system.
But McCallum, the politically connected wife of former GOP Gov. Scott McCallum, defied nearly 30 years of precedent in state law by asserting that sexual “preference,” as she put it, is not a protected category in workplace discrimination cases.
With this as an example of Walker appointments, the LGBTQ Community in Wisconsin has reason to recall Mr. Walker.  If he is not recalled, he will appoint another member of the LIRC, giving a majority view that discrimination of gays in the workplace is perfectly legal.  The discrimination described by Mr. Bowen, again from the Wisconsin Gazette article, was not trivial.

The court record showed that a group of Bowen’s co-workers repeatedly called him “fag,” “maricon” and “my little bitch,” among other slurs, over a period of years. Bowen once found a bulls-eye hunting target over which the word “gay” was written stuck to his toolbox. Someone put a sign that said, “queer” or “queen” on his locker. A sticker was put in his workplace that said, “Honk if you’re gay.”
In a statement that was excluded as evidence at Bowen’s administrative hearing, co-worker Kathryn Corroo said, “I witnessed the sexual harassment against Chris Bowen, especially during February 2002 through May 2002 by (co-employees) Tom Meier, Rick Hafemeister, David Lepke, Jesse Manhardt and Rose McGee.  … I heard Tom Meier say that Chris was not in a very good mood and that maybe it was because he (Chris) didn’t get a apiece (sic) of ass over the weekend at Pridefest, the day after the weekend of Pridefest. I heard Rick Hafemeister make comments to Chris and myself about how all nigers (sic) and queers, etc. ... (sic) should be put in a big hole and shot. And get rid of them all.”
The Wisconsin Gazette article continues with more along the same lines.

Harassment is wrong.  What Mr. Bowen put up with for years at work was wrong.  That Ms. McCallum finds this acceptable for the workplace, as evidenced by her dissenting vote, is not reasonable.  Mr. Walker really needs to be removed from office to give Wisconsin a chance to return to its progressive roots.

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