Frank Whelan, who is gay, said he was suspended for two days without pay over what the newspaper called a violation of its ethics policy, which prohibits employees from publicly associating themselves with causes.
Whelan, who has not worked since the parade, said he is planning to file a civil rights lawsuit against the paper and pursue the matter with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces laws against workplace discrimination.
"I was naive enough to believe the Morning Call would be happy (for me) because they are always talking about how they believe in diversity," he said.
Morning Call spokeswoman Vicki C. Mayk said Whelan violated the paper's code of ethics by marching in the Pride in the Park parade in Allentown on June 17. The ethics policy prohibits employees from participating in "public demonstrations in favor of or in opposition to a cause." She pointed out that a news release issued by the parade's organizer, Pride of the Greater Lehigh Valley, stated that Whelan and his partner, Bob Wittman, were selected as grand marshals in part to highlight the need for "marriage equality."
"We felt that clearly tied his participation to an issue," Mayk said.
A Gay Pride event is no different than any other ethnic event. Applying the Morning Call's standard, an African-American journalist in Indianapolis could be disciplined for participating in Indiana Black Expo, which promotes equal opportunities for African-Americans. During Indy's recent Pride Festival, a gay news reporter for one of Indianapolis' local television stations stopped by my booth to say hello but would not sign a petition opposing legislative efforts to ban same-sex couple adoptions. He cited a similar ethics policy of his employer as the reason he could not sign the petition, which was understandable since he is a news reporter.
In Whelan's case, however, he worked as a columnist for the newspaper, not as a reporter. Columnists express their personal viewpoints each time they write a column, making the policy problemmatic. Does it mean that Whelan could write a column sympathetic to gay marriage, but still run afoul of it by participating in an event which officially supports gay marriage?
Interestingly, Whelan's EEOC complaint is based on age discrimination. He says he was among dozens of employees offered early retirement last fall but turned it down. He believes his parade participation is being used as a pretext for getting rid of him because of his age. The newspaper's owners seem to be somewhat duplicitous on this issue. The Tribune Company's Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV regularly sponsor floats in Chicago's Gay Pride Parade, which took place today. Today was no different, both had floats in today's parade. George Takei, who played Sulu on Star Trek, served as the parade's grand marshal, and the theme for this year's event was "Pride, Not Prejudice." How ironic.