Utah business owner fires two who backed Obama
Labor • Reacting to Obamacare costs, he cuts pair to save.
Published: January 17, 2013 09:42PM
Updated: May 5, 2013 11:33PM
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FILE - This Jan. 14, 2013 file photo shows President Barack Obama speaking in the East Room of the White House in Washington. A Cedar City businessman says that he let two of his workers go, in large part because they were supporters of Obama and the national Obamacare health system overhaul. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

First, the owner of a smoothie bar in Vernal is charging liberals more for a cup of juice. Now, a Cedar City business owner who let two workers go because of Obamacare costs said he picked the pair in large part because of their support for President Obama.

Terry Lee, owner of Terry Lee Forensics, showed his support for the Vernal smoothie bar’s practice of trying to recoup the costs it says are incurred because of liberal policies by posting in the comments section of a story about it in Thursday’s Salt Lake Tribune.

“Love it. We had to let two employees go to cover new Obongocare [sic] costs and increased taxes,” Lee wrote. “Found two Obongo supporters and gave them the news yesterday. They wanted the idiot in the Whitehouse [sic], they reap the benefits.”

Contacted by The Tribune Thursday, Lee said he picked the two employees in large part on the basis of their politics.

“They were Obama supporters. We just knew they were,” Lee said. “I implied that sort of tongue and cheek [in the comments section] but there were other issues, too. They were not top performers.”

“Is your political affiliation protected?” he added, explaining that he thought what he did was not illegal. “I don’t believe it is, but I don’t know.”

Federal and Utah law do not prevent private employers from firing employees on the basis of political affiliation. The one exception is if they are a government employee.

“It doesn’t violate any of the statutes we enforce, which cover race, religion, age, gender, national origin,” said Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the Phoenix office, which covers Utah.

Although other states do prohibit such firings based on local statutes, Lauren Scholnick, a Salt Lake City labor and employment attorney, said that in Utah “there isn’t a clear statute that prohibits someone from firing someone based on their political views in private employment.”

According to the Utah Labor Commission website, “employment in Utah is generally ‘at-will.’ This means that an employer can fire an at-will employee without cause and without notice.”

“The Utah Legislature, as a general rule, believes in employers’ rights in their power to control their workforce in an at-will employment environment,” Scholnick added. But she said that letting someone go for their political views certainly is “unethical,” although she wouldn’t speculate whether the action could generate a civil lawsuit. “I think it’s unethical to fire employees for any reason than insufficient job performance.”

After letting the two part-time contract workers go, Terry Lee Forensics has nine employees who work with local law enforcement and attorneys to retrieve digital data from encrypted computer hard drives. Terry Lee would not release the names of the two part-timers.

He said that in the past couple of years he has had to cut costs as his business has slowed. But he said his accountant recently told him that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, had raised his company’s taxes and operating costs. Asked to detail those costs, Lee deferred to his accountant, who could not be reached for comment. Obamacare mandates that only businesses with more than 50 employees be required to insure full-time employees or face penalties.

Lee’s actions are just the latest of several instances in which companies have reacted to Obamacare or to the president’s re-election by saying they might have to trim their workforces. Darden Restaurants Inc., saw earnings decline after a customer backlash in response to its plans to cut hourly workers, which were later dropped. Coal magnate Robert Murray laid off 102 Utah miners at his West Ridge coal mine in Carbon County the day after President Obama was re-elected, citing the president’s so-called war on coal for the layoffs.

vince@sltrib.com