Nov 8, 2017 in Analysis

Case Study of Pete Oiler and Winn-Dixie Stores

Introduction

            Pete Oiler was terminated from his job Winn-Dixie Corporation in an act, which has been criticized by many analysts as a blatant violation of his rights as an employee. No company is allowed to discriminate against an employee based on the sexual orientation of that employee. Companies are also prohibited by the law against discriminating against an employee based on the employee’s choice of dressing. Every person has the right to choose the way he or she will dress. It is even more absurd, as analysts argue, since Pete Oiler was fired on the basis of his choice of dressing while off duty.

            This was despite the fact that Pete Oiler, while working at Winn-Dixie Corporation, had a spotless record and had been a valued employee. Pete Oiler had been a loyal employee, and it was extremely wrong for the company to hire such a perfect employee. His rights were violated, and his privacy invaded. This action by Winn-Dixie Corporation has been said to be narrow minded and one that is not expected in this day and age. It has even been likened to actions that employers took only in the Dark Ages.

            Many organizations have been known to enforce upon their employees a certain dress code. As such, it would have been acceptable if Pete Oiler had been fired for wrong choice of dress while on the job. Some analysts still believe that even if Pete Oiler had been guilty of the wrong dress code, firing him was still the wrong thing for the company to do. He should have been given a warning. A warning would have given Oiler a chance to change his choice of dressing and to conform to the standards of the company. When organizations decide to punish their employees for the way they behave while being off duty, they should be prepared to be sued by their employees.

            This is because a company that holds an employee accountable for the way he or she behaves while off duty is being unfair, prejudiced and discriminate. Such a company may also lose its customers, business partners and even potential investors. The defendant in this case was Winn Dixie Stores, Inc. who was being accused of discriminating against an employee, Pete Oiler on the basis of gender. The Plaintiff, one Peter Oiler, was a truck driver for Winn Dixie Stores for more than two decades. Pete Oiler was fired from his job as a truck driver on the fifth of January in 2000 for not conforming to the dress code of Winn Dixie Stores, Inc.

            While not at work, Oiler dressed as a woman from time to time even adopting the persona of a woman. At the time of the hearing, Pete Oiler was 45 years old and lived in Avondale, Louisiana. Oiler was suing “Winn Dixie Stores, Inc.” ("Winn Dixie"), the defendant, a supermarket chain that was in operation, in fourteen states, in the southern parts of the United States. Having been hired by Winn Dixie in April, 1979 for a job of a loader, Oiler had risen through the ranks and became a truck driver. His job duties involved delivering green groceries to the various stores owned by Winn Dixie. His job involved loading the 50-foot truck from the Winn Dixie warehouse.

            Oliver would load the truck from the warehouse, drive the truck and supply the green groceries to various states, in the United States, including of Winn Dixie stores both in south-eastern Louisiana and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. He would also unload the groceries. In general, Oiler was an exemplary employee having received performance ratings that were above average. Pete Oiler was even promoted three times while working at Winn Dixie. Pete Oiler had been married to his wife, Shirley, for 23 years, and the two lived together in Avondale, Louisiana.

            Oiler had a meeting with his supervisor on October 29, 1999. His supervisor was known as Greg Miles. Previously, Oiler had requested Miles to act against a rumor that had circulated within the company concerning the sexual orientation of Pete Oiler. These rumors were to the effect that Oiler was gay. During this meeting, Greg Miles sought to find out whether those rumors had stopped. Oiler confirmed that the rumors about his sexuality had subsided.

            Oiler’s boss wanted to know why the rumors about his sexuality bothered him so much. Oiler responded that the rumors were a bother to him because he was not gay rather transgender. Greg Miles sough for further explanation and Oiler responded saying that transgender was a person, whose sexuality is sometimes not consistent with their feelings about their gender. Oiler further clarified that he did not intend to change his sex or to transition into a full-time woman. Greg Miles told Oiler that he needed to check with Winn Dixie about policy on such matters.

            Later that year, Miles summoned Oiler to another meeting. Miles informed Oiler that, after inquiring, he learned that Oiler had been seen dressed as a woman while off-duty by one of the supervisors. Oiler confirmed that while it was true that he sometimes would dress himself as a woman, he never did so while on duty. Miles informed Oiler that his actions while off-duty could harm the image of the company. He also informed Oiler that the company was determined to have his resignation. He was advised to go ahead and find another job. After several meetings during which Oiler insisted that he was happy at Winn Dixie and would not look for a new job, he was eventually terminated January 5, 2000.

            A transgenderis a person who seeks to change his or her physical sex or is already in the process of altering his physical sex in an attempt to be in conformity with his or her gender identity that is not physical, but rather internal. The term has also been used to describe a person who identifies and lives full-time as though he or she were a member of the gender that is opposite to their sex at birth, without any medical treatment. Those transsexuals that have transitioned from being male to being female are usually referred to as “MTFs”. Those that have transitioned from being female-to-male transsexuals are often referred to as “FTMs”.

Utilitarianism

            Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that determines right and wrong based on the outcomes or consequences, which occur as a result of choosing one policy or action over other actions or policies. Utilitarianism, therefore, goes beyond the person's own interests and takes into account other people’s interests. Utilitarianism defines morality as the maximization of net expectable utility for all parties, which are affected by a decision. Different forms of utilitarianism have been stated by various philosophers for centuries.

            Among the many philosophers, who have analyzed the theory of Utilitarianism, is British philosopherJohn Stuart Mill(1806- 1873). John Stuart Millis the philosopher who developed the theory from a hedonistic version that was explicit as put forward by Jeremy Bentham(1748- 1832). Jeremy Benthamhad been John Stuart Mill’s mentor and influenced most of his philosophies. According to Mill, the basic principle of utilitarianism is a principle: “Actions are right to the degree that they tend to promote the greatest good for the greatest number”. The greatest virtue is still not utterly clear and is subject to debate among many philosophers.

            There have been many objections to the theory of utilitarianism including the fact that it is not always clear what the consequences of an action may be. It is not always possible to know who will be affected by the consequences that occur as a result of an action or policy. For these reasons, it is not always easy to judge an action before its outcome. Those who are opposed to the theory of utilitarianism also claim that it is never easy to quantify pleasures. It is noteworthy that pleasure is quantified in terms of cost/benefit analysis.

            Winn-Dixie agreed that they had not fired Oiler for refusing to follow masculine stereotypes, but instead because he was a man who pretended to be a woman in public. The district court agreed with Winn Dixie that Oiler was not a victim of sex discrimination. The ruling on the case of Oiler is an outstanding example of how courts in the United States maintain a gender dichotomy. Oiler stated in his words, “Too many people don't see the middle ground between black and white. And that's where people in my situation really are. People hadn't even heard the word transgender. There is a whole bunch of people in the middle”.

            In his view, the courts needed to recognize that gender identity discrimination and sex discrimination are parts of the bigger picture. People like Oiler, who presents himself as male while at the same time expressing his female identity have remained vulnerable to sexual discrimination in the workplace. In order to determine what is wrong or right, a cost benefit analysis must be done. The calculation for cost benefit analysis is sometimes both time-consuming and complicated. Many situations do not allow for the time and sometimes there are not enough individuals who are capable of performing these calculations.

            The greatest good for the highest number of people is normally expressed in aggregate terms. As such, the greatest good for the greatest number of people could be achieved while at the same time harming others. This is because the theory of utilitarianism focuses on ensuring that the harm balances by a greater good. The theory of utilitarianism also does not acknowledge any rights of the individual that cannot be broken for the sake of the greatest good. The theory could even allow for the murder of a person that is innocent as long as it served the interests of a greater number.

Men who choose to have sexual relationships with fellow men go against the heterosexist view that “natural” sexual relationships are male-female sexual relationships. Federal courts have, however, been reluctant to protect non-gender-conforming men just like they have protected women under Title VII. These federal courts have been blinded by an overly narrow conception of sex discrimination, which occurs to women only and that men are not victims of sex discrimination at the work place. This denial of protection for men who do not conform to gender expectations has continued to contribute to the continued subordination of women.

            When a person changes his or her gender, this is seen as the ultimate form of gender nonconformity. When an individual is born with male genitals and decides to take female hormones or to undergo gender reassignment in the form of surgery, he or she is seen to violate the social expectations that dictate that he or she should behave as a person of the gender assigned to him or her at birth. According to Bennett Capers, who was a professor of law at Hofstra Law School, gay men and lesbians unveil the fact that the sexes are “complementarity”.

            The existence of transgender people challenges society’s conception of gender. Transgender people go against the belief that men and women are different from one another and that there are definite traits, which are naturally expected of a person’s biological sex. Bennett Capers insists that women will continue to be subordinated at work as long as the binary gender concept continues to exist.

Rights

            There is little, if any agreement, about what constitutes rights. Rights can be divided in to two broad categories. The first category of rights is institutional while the other is non-institutional. Institutional rights are those rights that have been created by institutions. These institutions include states, games, corporations and clubs. The institution of the law is extremely complex. Non-institutional rights are the rights of an individual which exist independent of institutions. Non-institutional rights are further subdivided into several other categories.

            One of such categories is a set of rights that are conferred by customs. A good example of conventional rights is a set of rules regarding queuing at a ticket counter. Customs and norms of a culture also form conventional rights. It can be observed in some cultures, for example, as the conventional right of a man to have more than one wife. Oiler’s employee’s rights were brutally violated when the organization failed to consider his long service to the company. Oiler had been a loader and a driver for the company, and he drove a fifty-foot truck which had a trailer.

            According to the Non-Discrimination Act, any form of employment discrimination against a person, who is considered lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers illegal. It goes against core American values that propose fairness and equality for all employees. It is harmful to discriminate against qualified individuals based on characteristics that are not related to the job that is to be done.

            The management of the company failed to consider his work record that was impeccable and unblemished. When dismissing Oiler, they did not take into account his productivity, punctuality or the fact that Oiler was trustworthy. Even though, the company had issues with the way Oiler dressed, Winn-Dixie never gave him the opportunity to correct his dress code. The company also had the option of offering him assistance in developing an action plan in order to correct his behavior. The company should have also come up with mechanisms, so as to find the reasons why Oiler chose to cross-dress or change his persona whenever he was off-duty.

            Sex discrimination by employers is prohibited by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act 1. This Act has been widely viewed as one that aims to correct the deprivation of women economically. It does this by ensuring that women are placed on “on an equal footing with men” while at the workplace majority of sexual harassment that are reported at the work place is filed by women, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is the federal agency that is entrusted with Title VII. This does not mean that men are not victims of sex discrimination in the workplace.

            Many men fail to report sexual harassment. Many of the men who do not present themselves in a manner, which co-workers or their employers believe a man should be, are often victims of sexual harassment at the work place. A man who chooses to wear lipstick and skirts and refuses to conform to the society’s demands about the way a man “should” look, for example, just like Pete Oiler, is likely to be sexually harassed at work. A man who is quiet or passive is treated differently by co-workers because men are expected to be assertive and aggressive.

            In the case of Pete Oiler versus Winn Dixie, the court maintained that an employer did not discriminate against Oiler sexually when the male plaintiff was fired for presenting himself as a woman when not at work. In his own off time, Peter Oiler, a truck driver for a company known as Winn-Dixie sometimes used a female name, Donna. Oiler wore skirts, put on makeup and used nail polish and wore a bra. Peter Oiler even went ahead and went through silicone prosthesis in order to enlarge his breasts. The President of Winn-Dixie fired Oiler, as soon as he learned that Oiler sometimes appeared in public as Donna.

            Oiler’s supervisor maintained that cross-dressing by Oiler was “unacceptable” in the place where Oiler worked. The supervisor maintained that company’s large customer base had various beliefs, both religious and family values, and were not comfortable associating with Oiler’s behavior.

Justice

            Three years after Peter Oiler was fired from the grocery chain of Winn-Dixie over an issue of a cross-dressing while off duty, and four months after the hearing at the federal court, which announced that it was legal to fire employees based on how they act while on their own time, many activists begun to protest about such action. Employment discrimination is at the very centre of core values in America. Many people in America are of the opinion that a person who is qualified and is hardworking should not be denied an opportunity to work, be fired or discriminated in any manner and for any reasons other than their ability to do their job well.

            According to John Rawls, one of the philosophers who believe in justice theory, the difference principle allows for inequalities in the way that goods are distributed only in the event that the inequalities are for the benefit those members of society who are worst-off. He believes that the difference principle would be a choice that is sensible to ensure that there is equality in the community in the long run.

            In his theory Principle of equal liberty, Rawls attempts to show how questions such as how a society should be structured, the way in which basic duties and rights should be given to individuals, and also how social and economic advantages should be distributed to each and every member of society. Rawls’ main concern is the definition of the principles of justice which are meant to regulate a society considered ideal instead of dwelling on the description of how justice can be restored to a society that is unjust. The Principle of fair equality of opportunity on the other hand maintains that offices and positions should be left open to any person. There should be no discrimination based on race, or social standing.

            Many laws have been formulated that are aimed at preventing violations at the workplace, and many human rights activists have stated that any form of discrimination at the workplace is reprehensible. Employers today are not willing to accept discrimination at the workplace. The case that Pete Oiler filed against Winn-Dixie clearly showed that these forms of discrimination against employees still do occur. The owners of Winn-Dixie openly admitted firing Oiler only because of the clothes he chose to wear during his own time and not during company hours. According to a federal district judge, the action by Winn-Dixie was morally questionable. He, however, ruled that it was also permissible under current U.S. law.

            The federal courts of the United States have acknowledged that stereotyping based on one’s sexuality is, indeed, a form of sex discrimination. Pete Oiler represented the men who do not satisfy the expectations of the society with regards to masculinity and, as a result, did not succeed on Title VII claims. The courts maintain that behavior considered “feminine” in men is a sign of homosexuality because it is considered a mark of one’s status. The term “homosexual” has been presented by analysts as a tag that society places on men who are seen to behave in a manner that is considered non-gender conforming.

            A man thought to be having sex or romantic relationships with other than men. Just like in the case of Pete Oiler verses Winn Dixie, a sex discrimination claim asserted by a transgender male plaintiff, who is considered gay by his co-workers, courts normally rule against the plaintiff. These judgments are usually passed on the ground that Title VII does not necessarily protect people who experience discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

            By the time he was fired, Pete Oiler had worked for Winn-Dixie for 23 years. In an attempt to resolve rumors at his workplace that he was gay, Oiler had told his supervisor that he sometimes chose to wear clothing designed for women's, while not at work. Michael Istre, acting as President for Louisiana Winn-Dixie, after listening to the rumors about Pet’s sexuality stated that Peter Oiler had to resign. Oiler sued Winn-Dixie in U.S. District Court, stating that he had been discriminated on the basis of sexuality. According to Eric Ferrero, Public Education Director of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights/AIDS Project, "This case is about whether someone can be fired because he doesn't look or act the way his employer thinks a man should".

            In his testimony to the court, Michael Istre admitted the firing Oiler for no other reason than his concerns about his business and the impact that Oiler’s behavior would have on his business and customer base. He was concerned about the effects that Oiler’s mode of dressing would have on the image of the store. By making his decision, the U.S. District Court upheld the right of an employer to dismiss a worker based on his or her legal behavior while off-duty. In so doing, the U.S. District Court brought to the forefront the gaps that exist in the anti-discrimination concerning employment laws. The ruling also indicated that there was a need for further legislation that would protect employees better against discrimination at the workplace. Federal courts have often rejected many of the sex discrimination claims that have been brought by transgender persons just as Peter Oiler.

Virtue

            Virtue theory is a wide terminology for a hypothesis that puts a lot of emphasis on the role of that character plays. It is necessary to perform one’s obligation or standing in order to ensure that appropriate consequences are achieved. Virtue demands that one should act a manner that is virtuous. The theory of virtue was inspired by a philosopher known as Aristotle. Aristotle believed that a person who is virtuous is one who has character traits that are seen to be ideal. In view of Aristotle, a virtuous person is a person who is generous in all manner of circumstances over a limitless time. This is because the person would be acting within character traits.

            The person would, therefore, not be acting in order maximize favors or gains in any way. He or she would be simply doing his or her duty. The theory of virtue ethics does not aim simply to apply principles that are considered to be universal, and can, therefore, be applied in any situation that is moral. The virtue theory, therefore, answers questions such as how a person should live, factors that determine a virtuous life, as well as excellent social and family values.

            Modern theories of virtue are also subjective to the Aristotelian view of what constitutes moral character and virtuous living. Aristotle was particularly concerned with the state of being. The theory of virtue is concerned also with the inner states. Many people who are transsexual experience discomfort. This sense of discomfort is usually from the strong internal feeling that their true gender does not resemble their biological or physical sex. Gender identity disorder or gender dysphoria is the medical term for this feeling of discomfort. This sense of discomfort can be quite severe.

            Most of the times people who suffer from gender dysphoria or GID have experienced the internal discomfort since they were children. Transgender people only try to suppress the conflict, from which they suffer for as long as they can. It, however, gets to a point where they genuinely feel that they cannot stand living in their birth sex and decide to go through a transitionof their gender. This change, which sometimes involves a form of hormone therapy and reassignment of sex organs, is mostly done through surgery. This is usually done under medical supervision, which normally involves a strict procedure based on a given set of standards created by qualified medical professionals.

            Not many people in America know about issues surrounding transgender people. According to a research conducted in the United States, out of ten voters, nine said they had heard about transgender people. Many pluralities of voters were found to be neutral toward people who are transgender. When compared to gays, bisexuals and lesbians, many Americans showed positive feelings toward transgender people.

            As far as public policy issues are concerned, many of people interviewed felt that the laws in the United States should be reformed in order to protect people who are transgender. About half of the people who were interviewed believed that more stringent laws were needed to protect people who are transgender from suffering from job discrimination, similar to Pete Oiler did in the hands of the management ate Winn Dixie. More than 64% of the respondents polled thought it was unfair for an employer to fire and refuse employment to someone, simply because that person was perceived to be transgender. They also felt that transgender teenagers had the right to attend public schools just like everyone else.

Care

            People who are transgender like Pete Oiler exist in a 'grey area' of society, making such a person open to question. There are various theories that society uses to analyze the case of transgender persons. One of the theories is that there exists a hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a hormone that controls an area of the brain. Other theorists have also referred to transgender persons as belonging to the 'wrong' gender due to a host of social reasons. Medical research has shown that being transgender is an 'intersex' condition.

            There is a theory that states that there are physical changes that occur to the brain before birth, which cause some parts of the brain to develop in a way that goes against the physical gender of either being a woman or a man. Many people, who are like Pete Oiler, confess that their state of mind (gender confusion) began fairly early in life. Some begin to notice a difference as early as five to six-years of age. Once Oiler understood the social hostility to his condition at the work place, he is said to have remained hidden for many years. Many transgender persons choose to hide their state even from particularly close family members and the truth only comes out through a chance occurrence. This can be related closely with the gay persons who are said to have come out of the closet. The decision for gays to come out of the closet causes a lot of fear and confusion for such persons.

            The community fails to recognize transgender people as a special group of people that usually faces unusually differing needs and challenges. Transgender people for the most part remain 'underground' as far as their activities are concerned, some resort to meeting at private or social gatherings where other transgender persons meet to share ideas. Information about taking care of persons, who are transgender, or the challenges these people face is not available.

            Like in the case of Oiler versus Winn Dixie, the employers treated Oiler like an outcast rather than caring for him and giving him the support. People tend to give issues of transgender a psychological and surgical approach and not from a social care point of view. This is the main reason, why the issues surrounding transgender still requires a lot of research in order to provide the necessary information. It is not easy to gain access to the transgender subculture especially for one who is not transgender. The subculture is a bit complicated and highly confidential making hard to understand the transgender community.

            Many have believed that transgender people are 'camp' extroverts who do not socialize much. This is contrary to the truth because the reality is that transgender people are ordinary people who are capable of holding regular jobs all through the society. The truth is that many transgender persons will not be found in nightclubs entertaining people but are more likely to become business people, academics or professionals. Instead of Winn Dixie being harsh to Pete Oiler and firing him, the company should have been more compassionate and caring. Transgender people are treated with lots of hostility, and this form of treatment only makes the situation worse for transgender persons. Transgender people often are baffled by this hostility. They often want to be treated just like everybody else.

Conclusion

            In my opinion, the rights of Pete Oiler were largely violated. The ruling by the District Court was wrong, and the ruling should have gone in favor of Oiler. For transgender people, lack of employment and under-employment are issues that are extremely crucial. The theory is  most useful, in my opinion, for people who are transgender is the case study of Pete Oiler and Winn Dixie Stores. People, who are transsexual, often lose their sources of livelihood when they decide to transition or after their gender transitions. I believe considerations should have been made about the length of time that Oiler had spent working for Winn Dixie and his conduct during this time. The judge should have been more sensitive to the effects that firing Pete Oiler would have had on his family, especially his wife, before he was dismissed.

Transgender people, just like in case with Pete Oiler, often become victims of blatant discrimination from employers despite working for a company for a long time. These people often do not understand or accept people who are transgender. When people like Pete Oiler decide to look for a new job, they may end up going through the same discrimination from the potential new employers once they find out that the new employee is a transgender.

            The rights of people who are transgender are often violated, and the law does not protect them from any forms of stereotypes and discrimination. It is not uncommon, for example, to find dramatically underemployed people within the transgender community. Employers are not willing to hire someone who is transgender, regardless of their educational background or experience that they may have on the job. For example, Oiler was a professional who did an outstanding job, even though he was getting promoted several times. The managers at Winn Dixie did not hesitate to fire Oiler simply because he was transgender, Despite Oiler was doing an excellent job.

            The rights of people who are transgender are often violated, with access to facilities such as the restroom in the workplace also being inconveniencing. Employers also need to resolve this issue. They could start by simply working together with their employees, who are transgender, and allow them to use the restroom that matches their outward gender presentations. An employee, who is male yet presents himself as a woman, should be allowed to use the ladies’ washrooms.

            Also, the best practice at the workplace should be for an employer to allow his or her employees to dress appropriately depending on the nature of the job. The gender of the employee should also be considered. It is the right of an individual to dress as he or she wants, especially when not on duty. The gender presentation of the employee should also be considered. As long as the laws in the country do not protect people who are transgender, workplace discrimination is bound to continue. Many Americans who are transgender will continue to be transgender.

            Oppressed and forced to go through psychological pressure that are extreme in nature they will have to continue hiding their true gender identity. This is because revealing their true sexual identities would expose them to the risk of losing their jobs, which in most cases is their only source of livelihood. As a result of the efforts of many human rights activists and human rights organizations, many employers have begun to developed certain forms of job protections that are meant to protect employees who are transgender.

This momentous step has been necessitated by HRC which insists that, before any organization or company can be recognized by the HRC Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index and able to achieve a perfect score, they have to include transgender protections in the non-discrimination company policy. These transgender protections in its non-discrimination company policies determine how the company treats gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who work at the organization.

            Despite these milestones in the treatment of transgender people, they continue to lose their jobs as a result of issues that have nothing to do with their job performance, and as such, there is much work that still needs to be done so as to ensure that people who are transgender are not exposed to discrimination.

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