The day after the Chicago Bears’ agonizing loss (note, this is written by Illinois attorneys) to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship, John Stone decided to show off his Packers pride at work. Stone was a salesman at Webb Chevrolet in Oak Lawn, and he went to work wearing a Packers necktie. When Stone’s general manager, Jerry Roberts, saw the tie, he huddled with Stone and instructed him to remove it. Reports suggest Roberts gave Stone multiple warnings to remove the tie or face consequences. Stone refused, and Roberts fired him on the spot.
Is that legal? Short answer: most likely, yes. From what we understand, Stone was an at-will employee. So Webb may avoid a penalty flag on this play.
The central meaning of at-will employment is that an employer can fire an employee for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all, so long as it isn’t for an unlawful reason such as the employee’s gender, race, religion, and so on. While those of us near the Illinois-Wisconsin border may behave as if the Bears-Packers rivalry is religion, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the courts don’t see it that way.
Even for at-will employees, you are usually better served to have some legitimate and rational reason for deciding to terminate abruptly. An official review of the play for illegal procedure (for example, by the EEOC, a judge, or a jury) probably will expect you to have a legitimate reason for taking that kind of action. If you don’t, you’ll likely be sacked. In the necktie case, Webb’s decision reportedly wasn’t based simply on allegiance to the Bears or hatred of the Packers. In fact, the company had run a promotional campaign involving the Bears, and Stone’s tie conflicted with it.
Don’t feel too bad for Stone. Not only did his beloved Packers make it to the Super Bowl, but reports indicate that another Chicago area dealership has offered him a sales position. According to those reports, the dealership is in Homewood — on Chicago’s south side. For his sake, let’s hope Stone isn’t a Cubs fan as well.