Nicholas Bergin, The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa), Apriol 26, 2007
German, Spaniard, Canadian, Chilean.
Do those words offend you? Are they words that identify a group of people?
How about a generalization involving such groups, such as: all Canadians eat fish. Does this offend?
Let’s say, you are offended. What consequences should follow? Is a stern warning deserved? Sensitivity training? How about a job?
Pipe welder Bill Hendeley Jr. said he was fired from his job Wednesday for using the word “Mexican” in describing a person from Mexico at a group safety meeting.
Hendeley said he has worked for Fagen Inc., an engineering and construction company based in Granite Falls, Minn., off and on for the past 10 years. The company is building an addition to the Big River Resources ethanol production plant in West Burlington.
At a group safety meeting Wednesday, however, Hendeley singled out supervisors and a Hispanic worker for smoking in inappropriate places. Smoking is only allowed in a designated area across the road from the plant.
“I guess if you’re a supervisor or a Mexican, you can smoke anywhere you like,” Hendeley reportedly told an Hispanic safety supervisor.
Several days earlier, a Caucasian worker was suspended by a Hispanic supervisor for smoking in the parking lot of the plant, said Jeff Kokemiller, a Fagen employee.
Following the suspension, Hendeley and his coworkers said they observed supervisors and a Hispanic woman smoking in trailers near the plant.
Hendeley said he simply was pointing out discrepancies in policy enforcement.
After the safety meeting, Hendeley was called to a private meeting with the safety supervisor and two other managers to discuss his comments, and was fired shortly after, he said.
“We don’t support discrimination on our job site,” said Chad Warner, Fagen project supervisor. Warner declined to comment on the case further.
Hendeley asked the safety supervisor if calling someone from Mexico a Mexican offends him. The supervisor answered “yes,” according to Hendeley.
The issue may not have been his choice of words, but his decision to single out a group of people, according to Ann Jones, a socio-cultural professor at Iowa State University.
“It is very much a perceptual thing . . . there are many ways of offending people,” Jones said.