BY Neal Broverman
April 07 2010 5:30 AM ET
Soon after, Korn/Ferry purchased Smye’s company, she was hired full-time, and the contracts were presented to her. Korn/Ferry management didn’t explain why there were two separate contracts, and Smye didn’t question the “choice of law” provisions.
“You don’t think you’re going to be discriminated against and you don’t think about whether you’re protected,” Smye says. “I hadn’t felt discrimination until that point in my life. I think it’s very important for LGBT people to be aware and make sure it does cross their mind what their protections are.”
The alleged discrimination against Smye accelerated when she began dating another woman in the company. Though the woman worked in another division and the relationship was not against company policy, Smye believes that was the beginning of the end.
“When [the relationship] came out I started hearing stories of people being outed and others not being hired full-time because they were gay,” Smye says. “Ultimately, [Smye’s partner] Denise did get fired. She went from her boss giving her the highest rating to the lowest rating on her review. From then on, we were on red alert.”
Smye says the company denied her a bonus and then fired her. Korn/Ferry officials take issue with Smye’s description of events, though they wouldn’t speak on the record aside from the aforementioned statement.
“Choice of law” provisions are certainly not new, and they’re sensible arrangements for big corporations, admits Smye’s attorney Gary Gorham. General counsels don’t want to be forced to learn the laws of other jurisdictions and almost always prefer home turf legal battles.
Gorham says he’s not clear how often gay people have been affected in the workplace by “choice of law” provisions, but he’s hoping publicity about this case — he and Smye are in the process of appealing the Los Angeles superior court decision — brings those stories to light.
“Whether or not they discriminated against Smye based on her sexual orientation is really not the issue,” Gorham says. “Even if they did discriminate against her, they contracted around it.”