December 22, 2008
Employee Forced to Say “Happy Holidays” Was Fired After Objecting to the Greeting
Panama City, FL – Tonia Thomas, a rental assistant for Counts Oakes Resort Properties, was fired on December 10, 2008 after she objected to saying “Happy Holidays.” Counts Oakes Resort Properties is a property management company that manages resort properties in Panama City. Thomas has worked in the same office since July 2007 and has never been reprimanded or disciplined. In fact, her responsibilities increased and she was running one of the company’s offices virtually by herself.
In late November, all company employees were told to answer the phones by saying, “Happy Holidays from Counts Oakes Resort Properties. How may I assist you?” Thomas objected to her supervisor and offered to say either “Merry Christmas” or to continue greeting callers the same way they are greeted throughout the year. She explained that her religious beliefs prevented her from contributing to the secularization of Christmas, and asked for an accommodation of her beliefs. On December 10, when the company president, Andy Phillips, came to see her, she politely reiterated her concern. Phillips then fired her for “insubordination” because she refused to say “Happy Holidays.”
After being fired, Thomas began gathering her personal things. Phillips told her that she needed to leave right away or he would call the police. He then became verbally abusive and taunted Thomas by saying: “We are going to have a Merry Christmas here; are you going to have a Merry Christmas with no job?” Adding insult to injury, Phillips summoned the police after Ms. Thomas insisted on retrieving her purse from inside her desk before leaving. Thomas was not arrested, but was forced to leave.
Thomas served her country honorably as an airman first-class in the Air Force. Her husband is still in the Air Force, and they have a six-year-old son. Left without a job on the eve of Christmas, the family will now have to forgo some Christmas presents this year. Thomas filed a complaint with the EEOC and contacted Liberty Counsel for legal representation.
Harry Mihet, Senior Litigation Counsel of Liberty Counsel commented: “The callous manner in which Counts Oakes Resort Properties treated Tonia Thomas on the eve of Christmas is unconscionable. It would have been reasonable to accommodate Ms. Thomas by allowing her to greet customers with the normal greeting. Instead, Andy Phillips ridiculed Ms. Thomas because of her religious beliefs and then taunted her and called the police after he fired her. Mr. Phillips will have to learn a lesson understood by all human resource officers who use common sense.”
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