Judge: Love is loser in nonfraternization policy

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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Although the United Parcel Service Inc. came out as winners in a discrimination case in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, love and marriage were deemed the losers by the appellate judges.

In Gerald C. Ellis v. United Parcel Service Inc., No. 07-2811, Ellis filed a discrimination claim against UPS after he was fired for fraternizing with a fellow employee. Ellis, a manager who is African-American, claimed he was fired after his supervisors discovered he was dating and eventually married a white woman who worked in UPS' phone center.

UPS has a strict nonfraternization policy, which forbids managers from having a romantic relationship with any hourly employee.

Despite this policy, Judge Terence Evans noted many employees dated each other and love must have been in the air at UPS because Ellis and Glenda Greathouse started dating and married after four years. They kept their relationship a secret from the company, but eventually Ellis' direct supervisor Angela Wade, who is African-American, learned about their relationship. Wade reported the relationship, and Ellis met with human resources manager Kenny Walker, also African-American. Walker explained the nonfraternization policy to Ellis and said the two would have to break up or one would have to quit.

Ellis didn't end the relationship and the two married a little more than a year later. Later, the company discovered Ellis did not break up with Greathouse, and Walker fired Ellis for violating the policy and for dishonesty after he refused to resign.

In his appeal, Ellis didn't present evidence to show he was fired for having an interracial relationship with another employee, wrote Judge Evans. The evidence he produced of multiple intraracial relationships being treated more favorably were not subject to the same decision makers as Ellis when they allegedly violated company policy by fraternizing. His failure to establish that any other similarly situated manager in an intraracial relationship was treated more favorably doomed his discrimination claim, the judge wrote.

Judge Evans emphasized the court's decision to affirm summary judgment in favor of UPS shouldn't be construed as an endorsement of the nonfraternization policy at UPS. The judge went on to note that these days, more and more people are meeting significant others at work because that is where they spend most of their time. Also, Ellis was a good employee and had a long work history with UPS, and that he met his future wife while at work makes for a fairly nice story, he wrote.

"Although UPS, for the reasons we have stated, comes out on top in this case, love and marriage are the losers. Something just doesn't seem quite right about that," Judge Evans wrote.

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