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Kodak fires man over 'gay' stance

Posted By Joe Kovacs On 10/24/2002 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled

A 23-year veteran of the Eastman Kodak Co. has been fired after objecting to a pro-homosexual memo this month and is now looking to take legal action against the film giant.

Rolf Szabo, who worked as a millwright at Kodak’s world headquarters in Rochester, N.Y., was terminated for refusing to recant remarks officials say did not adhere to the company’s “Winning & Inclusive Culture” designed to promote diversity among employees.

The events that led to the action began when Szabo was forwarded an e-mail from his supervisor regarding the Human Rights Campaign’s annual “Coming Out Day.” The memo reads:

Today, Oct. 11, is the Human Rights Campaign’s 15th annual National Coming Out Day for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered. If one of your employees elects to “come out” at work, there are several things you can do to help that person feel comfortable in sharing his/her orientation in the workplace:

– Be supportive of the individual who wishes to share this information.

– Acknowledge his/her courage to publicly share this personal information.

– Respect the individual’s privacy. Understand how broadly he/she wishes the information to be shared.

– Acknowledge your level of awareness of this topic, and share your personal willingness to understand.

What can supervisors do in the work environment to support their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered employees who wish to be “out” to their supervisor or co-workers?

– Be sensitive to the employee’s language in defining their personal orientation.

– Support the employee in displaying appropriate personal photos in the work setting.

– Recognize and respect that not all (gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered) employees find it OK to be out at work. They should not be questioned or harassed about their sexual orientation.

– Act quickly and responsibly if any anti-gay humor or negative comments are made in the workplace.

A footnote referencing the last two suggestions reads:

Keep in mind that such behaviors violate Kodak’s Values as well as Kodak’s Equal Opportunity Employment Policy, which all supervisors are responsible for maintaining in their areas. Specific examples are cited in your “Call to Action” training materials. Reported violations of this policy are to be thoroughly investigated. If verified, disciplinary action is to be taken.

The response by Szabo was brief, but it was dispatched to all recipients of the original e-mail, some 1,000 Kodak employees:

Please do not send this type of information to me anymore, as I find it disgusting and offensive.

Thank you,

Rolf Szabo

Shortly after that comment, Szabo says another memo from manager Randy Bakel was sent to all of the workers, apologizing for Szabo’s remarks:

As you all know, our strategic thrust to build a Winning & Inclusive Culture drives us to behave in ways that value everyone regardless of differences. While I understand that we are all free to have our own personal beliefs, when we come to the Kodak workplace, our behaviors must align with the Kodak Values. I apologize for the e-mail sent to all of you from Rolf Szabo this morning. Rolf’s comments are hurtful to our employees, friends and family members who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. This behavior is not aligned with the Kodak Values and, therefore, is not acceptable.

Szabo tells WorldNetDaily he was asked to sign an ECP – an employee commitment plan – saying he was sorry for what he had written and outlining steps to make sure a similar incident would not recur. When he asked what the alternative to signing it was, he was informed “termination.”

“I would not submit and cave in to their trying to browbeat me into a confession,” said Szabo, who is looking for legal advice before telling more details of his story.

Kodak, meanwhile, confirms the veracity of the e-mail memos, as well as subsequent action it took.

“The whole thing is true,” said Jim Blamphin, Kodak’s manager of corporate media relations. “This chap was asked to take part in a program that fosters inclusion, and he refused.” But Blamphin also said there were additional reasons for the termination, which he would not specify.

Every possible definition of diversity is embraced by Kodak,” Blamphin said. “This is a company that does not take these matters lightly. Considerable thought is behind decisions that are made and policies that are established.”

Indeed, the company makes no secret of its commitment to diversity. Its website provides a large amount of material expounding upon its mindset:

“All of us at Kodak work from a set of core values,” says its mission statement, “and we’re proud to say that our resulting personal conduct allows for an environment that is free from inappropriate pressures and diversions. We show respect for the dignity of the individual. And in the process, we value and champion our human differences. This helps us maintain the diversity of our workforce.”

Kodak also touts a list of accolades received in recent years, with a consistent theme of equal opportunity and inclusion. Some of the honors refer to the sexual orientation of employees:

  • 10 Best Places for Lesbians to Work (1999)
    Kodak was given the above recognition by Girlfriends magazine, a national lesbian publication.

  • Diversity 100 (1999)
    Kodak was identified by Next Step magazine as taking the lead in addressing diversity, and was acknowledged for its commitment to building and managing a diverse workforce.

  • GFN.com 50 (1999)
    The Gay Financial Network identified Kodak as No. 28 on the 1999 “GFN.com 50,” its list of the 50 most powerful and gay-friendly publicly traded companies in the Fortune 500.

  • National Partnership for Reinventing Government – Diversity Best Practices (1999)
    Kodak was one of 11 companies selected for Vice President Al Gore’s National Partnership for the Reinventing Government benchmarking study on best practices: Achieving workforce diversity.

  • Top 25 Companies for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Employees (1999)
    Kodak was recognized by The Advocate magazine as one of the 25 top companies that provide a good working atmosphere for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered employees.

Kodak CEO Dan Carp

And just this year, Kodak was one of 13 companies that earned a perfect rating of 100 percent in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s first Corporate Equality Index. The index rates large corporations on policies affecting their “gay,” lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, investors and consumers. The others sharing top honors were Aetna, American Airlines, Apple Computers, Avaya, Intel, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Lucent Technologies, NCR, Nike, Replacements Ltd., Worldspan and Xerox.

“In the name of tolerance they foment a spirit of intolerance,” says Rochester radio talk-show host Bob Lonsberry, who has been discussing Kodak’s firing of Szabo on the air and in his online column. “Their ongoing incessant theme is diversity of the most progressive sort, but those in the workplace feel it’s rubbed in their face.”

Response to the issue on Lonsberry’s message board has favored Szabo overwhelmingly.

“I work in the same division as Rolf,” said one message poster. “Kodak is constantly trying to cram this diversity/inclusive culture crap down our throats. We are told by management that all beliefs are welcome. Well, as Rolf found out, if your opinions and fundamental beliefs go against the Kodak party line, you will be gone.”

“What a crock,” writes Paula from Rock Glen, N.Y. “You are now required at risk of your job to go along with things that to you are immoral. How nice. Now lets all holds hands and sing gay songs. If it is hurtful to the gay or lesbian person that not everyone likes what they do maybe it is their own ideas that what they are doing is wrong. And as for family of these people, I am one of those, and I do not get offended at any person being offended by what they are. They are immoral.”

Lonsberry says this isn’t the first time Kodak has gone overboard with political correctness. He points out the company had planned to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon by holding two all-day classes promoting inclusion as pointed out in this memo:

  • Diversity: Beyond Race & Gender focuses on helping employees to better understand diversity and inclusion as well as Kodak’s commitment to creating an environment in which employees leverage diversity and inclusion to maximize the potential of everyone. Stephanie Street gives a lively presentation that provides employees the opportunity to think about diversity and inclusion in broader terms than just race and gender.

  • How Has 9-11 Changed Our View of Diversity & Inclusion? is an open forum in which employees are provided the opportunity to openly discuss where they were on 9-11, their reactions, and subsequent insights into diversity. This forum provides informal conversation with Brian O’Connor moderating the discussion to ensure that everyone who so desires has an opportunity to share.

“They turned Sept. 11 into a diversity field day,” recounts Lonsberry, who points out backlash prompted the company to scrap plans for the classes and simply hold a moment of silence.

Headed by CEO Dan Carp, Kodak is among America’s best-known companies, employing 54,800 people in the U.S. and 97,500 worldwide, with global sales of $13.2 billion.

Officials admit to getting some e-mails and calls about the termination, most of which are sympathetic toward Szabo. And while Kodak won’t comment now on the potential of any lawsuit, it doesn’t appear overly concerned about the possibility of a consumer boycott.

“Any situation that casts a cloud over any large corporation, the first thing people think of doing is stopping buying products,” Blamphin said. “On any given day, there are over 1,000 boycotts against American products. … You can’t name any, I can’t name any.”

Kodak can be contacted using this link on its website.


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