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Pressure to Donate to Presidential Candidate Alleged As Part of Discrimination Charge...

Earlier this week, I riffed a bit on the prospect of companies that might pressure employees to vote for a certain candidate in an election.  My take was that type of pressure was rare, but for higher level employees who are targeted for contributions to company PACs, the pressure is more real.  Don't want to give to the PAC?  Are you sure you're a team player?

A related story popped up in the Wall Street Journal late this week, with a California man claiming heRomney was fired as an executive at a consulting firm, in part, because he resisted pressure from his boss to make contributions to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

Richard Pimentel, formerly a managing director of Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group, said the company's chairman and CEO, Gary E. Holdren, "repeatedly linked his requests for donations to Huron's business prospects," the newspaper reported, and produced emails to support his contention.

The 65-year-old Pimentel has filed an age-discrimination complaint against his former employer with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He claims Huron dismissed him because of his age, and as retaliation after he had informed his immediate boss that "I was not comfortable with Mr. Holdren's numerous requests" for Romney contributions.The company denies the allegation.

From the Wall Street Journal:

"The company denies that charge. But officials confirm the authenticity of emails showing that the CEO of the Chicago-based corporate consulting firm, Gary E. Holdren, repeatedly linked his requests for donations to Huron's business prospects. The emails were provided to The Wall Street Journal by Mr. Pimentel.

"This is not about me trying to force a political candidate on you and trying to see how you vote," Mr. Holdren wrote in one email, dated Jan. 27, 2008, to Huron managing directors, the firm's senior executives. "This is just business and the way business works."

In another email, dated Sept. 21, 2007, Mr. Holdren wrote, "I wanted to thank all of you who contributed to Mitt Romney. You can't realize how much leverage this gives Huron going forward to ask various people for business."

Pretty messy to be sure.  The quote, "This is just business and the way business works", is true to a certain extent, especially among consulting firms that rely on relationships for business development purposes.

My guess is that this fact is just the sizzle on the steak, the PR deal to attract attention, and embarrass the firm into a quick settlement.  Supporting that view is the fact that this is an age discrimination charge, and the WSJ article offers up the following tidbit:

"Mr. Romney received at least $92,000 in contributions from Huron executives, Federal Election Commission records show. That compares with $27,000 in donations to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's Democratic campaign for president; nearly $8,000 to his former rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York; and less than $4,000 to John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee."

Offering up a few people of similar age who made donations to Obama, yet managed to keep their jobs would seem to be a solid start to the initial response to the EEOC.  Still, it's sloppy work via the email trail, and there are lots of lessons to be learned from the details.

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