By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com January 22 2010 8:25 PM ET
Only months into his job selling Zoll Lifecor's wearable defibrillators in the Atlanta area, Roy Shelley says he started to notice it was getting harder. Unbeknown to Shelley, his boss, Bill Haun, was asking Shelley's coworkers what they knew about his sexual orientation.
Eventually, another coworker of Shelley's found out he was gay through an old University of Alabama fraternity brother of Shelley's and, a few months later, he was fired for "underperformance."
"Bill continued to ask around, 'Do you think he's gay?'" Shelley says. "And then when Adam found out, he outed me by telling him that I'm gay. The very next week, things began changing in the territory, like manipulating the territory."
Within 10 months of his hire date, Shelley says, he was driven from his job because the situation had become unbearable. As soon as Haun found out Shelley was gay, the boss restructured the sales territory, which Shelley shared with two other salespeople. Though he was allocated only 17% of the Atlanta region (while the others were given 16% and 67%, respectively), he was expected to deliver 46% of sales from the area.
"The guy that had 67% of the territory to cover had [to sell] 30% [of the territory], and the other guy had 20%," he says. "So everything was off-kilter, because it was all based on getting your target and filling your quota. It just made the perception that I was not meeting my objectives. So I was given a short stick, and I was required to do five times the amount of work."
Several calls to Zoll Lifecor went unreturned.
Shelley says it took him months before he found out that Haun was grilling employees for more information on Shelley's sexual orientation. He filed a complaint with the vice president of the company and made a request for reevaluation of the territory, but he was never given a response. But before he could move any further on his complaint, he was fired for underperformance.
"I immediately filed a complaint with human resources, but as it turned out, two witnesses that I provided, they were not interviewed," he says.
Shelley says that Zoll presented a six-month time frame in which company officials promised to investigate Haun.
"That didn't happen," he says. "I started to become more active in what, fundamentally, was going on, which is that people were being discriminated against. The more people that I told my story to, the more people believed it was wrong and that there were already protections in place. Unfortunately, that's not the case."
Shelley eventually learned that Haun was moved to another division within Zoll Medical, the parent company of Zoll Lifecor, and he is reportedly no longer in a managerial role. Still, the whole situation did not settle well with Shelley. Since Zoll Medical is based in Massachusetts, Shelley filed a complaint with the state's Commission Against Discrimination, as company policy advises employees to do (Pennsylvania, where Zoll Lifecor is based, and Georgia, where he worked for Zoll, do not have gay-inclusive antidiscrimination laws like Massachusetts).
Last week, however, his filing was rejected due to jurisdiction. Now, he says, he has no recourse.
"I live in a very small town, and I even live in the rural part of that," he says. "I knew that to try to increase awareness of this wasn't going to happen on the Clayton Highway."
So Shelley has recruited a group of friends to drive to Philadelphia, where Zoll Lifecor is headquartered, 2,000 miles from his home in rural Alabama. They set out over the weekend. From there, he hopes to lead a protest, raising awareness of the fact that so few states — 21 and the District of Columbia — have outlawed workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Even fewer states — 12, plus D.C. — prohibit gender identity discrimination. So he hopes to make a point about the need for a national law, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Legally, this is the end for Shelley, since he feels he has no remaining legal recourse. But this will not stop him from bringing attention to his complaint. After he storms Philadelphia, he has plans for the American College of Cardiology Conference in Atlanta March 14-16.
"Zoll Medical is one of the largest exhibitors at this conference," he said. "After living in Atlanta over 12 years, I expect to gather support to have a significant presence at this conference."