Virginia Man Rehired After Flap Over Pro-Marriage Slogan

July 7, 2008 - 7:23 PM

(1st Add: Includes comments from Erik Stanley of Liberty Counsel.)

(CNSNews.com) - A Virginia man who was fired earlier this month after displaying a pro-marriage message on his vehicle has been rehired and is expected to be back at work on Monday.

"This was all a big misunderstanding," said Wesley Carter, general manager of Cargill Foods' Timberville, Va., plant, where 40-year-old Luis Padilla is employed as a human resources clerk.

In early October, the Broadway, Va., man wrote "Please vote for marriage on Nov. 7" in white letters on his truck's rear window before parking the vehicle on plant property.

The reference was to an amendment to the state Constitution, defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

The company requested that Padilla remove the sign, which he did. The clerk then restored the message before returning to work the next day. In a bid to avoid further conflict with his employers, he parked on what he believed to be a public street, but it was in fact also company property.

Cargill fired Padilla on Oct. 5, and a statement from the company's attorney said he was dismissed because of insubordination, for ignoring orders to remove a sign that could be "reasonably construed as a show of hostility and intolerance toward homosexuals."

The case came to the attention of the Valley Family Forum, which describes itself on its website as "a citizens' group in the Shenandoah Valley that works to build faith, family and freedom in the public square."

"The action taken by Cargill against Mr. Padilla, the father of two young children, is a tragic example of political correctness run amuck," said Forum Director Dean Welty in a news release.

"This action exposes the hypocrisy of people who claim to stand for 'tolerance' but who instead do all they can to silence opposing views," Welty added. "In this case, those who accuse Mr. Padilla of 'harassment' have themselves become the 'harassers.'"

This week, Padilla and Forum representatives met with Cargill officials to discuss the situation. Cargill officials informed Padilla that he was immediately reinstated as an employee with full back pay and benefits and that the incident would be erased from his employment record.

"After reviewing all of the facts surrounding this case, we are satisfied that Mr. Padilla did everything in his power to comply with our requests and that there was no insubordination on his part," Carter said in a joint statement with Forum officials, released on Friday.

"We deeply regret any inconvenience that Mr. Padilla and his family have experienced as a result of this situation, and look forward to having him back as a productive member of the Cargill family," he added.

Cargill announced that it will issue a company-wide policy on Oct. 30 to govern employee expression. "We haven't seen the actual policy yet," said Carter, "but we are confident that under it, Mr. Padilla's sign would not have been a problem."

"We are so pleased that Cargill has come to appreciate the innocence of Mr. Padilla's conduct and is making positive changes to avoid recurrence of this injustice," Welty said in response to the company's actions on Friday.

"Because Mr. Padilla had the courage to stand up for himself," Welty added, "thousands of employees across the country will be spared the misery he has endured."

Erik Stanley, senior counsel for the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel, also praised the way the corporation handled the Padilla situation.

"We're pleased that Cargill Foods acted so decisively to backtrack," Stanley told Cybercast News Service. "They were certainly wrong in the first place to terminate him over having a pro-marriage sign in his window.

"There was no justification for that action, and it's nice to see a company acknowledge that they were wrong and take action to make it right," he noted.

Padilla was not available for comment. In Friday's statement, he maintained that the issue was not about winning.

"For me, this was about honor and freedom and justice," Padilla said. "Even though there may be some who believe differently, I would never treat anyone unfairly because of that, and I expect the same fair treatment from them. That is the American dream."

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