Ten Commandments


 

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Separation of church and state

In order to move to Golden, Colorado, and support my youngest son, Matt, through his senior year of high school, I took a position as a database consultant with US West Dex (colloquially US Worst, and now Qworst after they were bought out by Qwest), a Baby Bell telephone company, in August, 1995. After about a month, they seated a particularly zealous Christian woman next to me.

At this point you might take a moment and read I Wonder Sometimes, written in 1960, to understand my early feelings about Christianity. My poem, And Who Shall Say?, published in 1959, also provides insight into my sentiments about organized religion. My adoption of the Buddhist philosophy should also be evident in the haiku I have written over the past forty years.

Like most of us, when our computer crashes, or a power outage occurs and we lose unsaved work, or other irritants occur, I tend to utter the odd swear word. Without saying anything to me, in which case I would have been happy to try and accommodate her sensibilities, the woman they had seated next to me complained to the US West Dex manager. Ironically, he swore more often, and loudly, than anyone else in the group.

Her complaint was then passed on to a woman with Analysts International Corporation (AIC) who managed "leased labor" (that has always sounded like indentured servant, or more crudely, pet nigger, to me) for US West. As a result, in early October, 1995, I was placed on two weeks probation for my use of the word "God," or possibly "Jesus Christ," that the woman sitting next to me had objected to.

The AIC manager then called a meeting of all the contractors in my group and during the course of that meeting I was told that I would obey the Ten Commandments. When I complained both verbally and in writing that I was being required to obey the tenets of a religion other than my own as a condition of employment, my contract was terminated.

I then filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). They found I had been retaliated against in violation of Title VII.

Subsequently I filed a discrimination suit in Federal court. AIC was unwilling to settle and my suit came on for trial the first week of December, 1998.

An article by Karen Abbott and Kevin Vaughn in the November 29, 1998, issue of the Rocky Mountain News , or the AP version about my case was picked up nationally and internationally. It was a mainstay of talk radio and television in Denver for the week of the trial, and I was interviewed from Los Angeles to London. Even the minister of the woman who originally complained called me. For the record, her pastor didn't feel the woman had acted in a Christian manner.


 

Which Ten Commandments?

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I have always been curious what "Ten Commandments" I was supposed to have obeyed. The woman complaining was a non-denominational, evangelical Christian. The AIC manager was Jewish. Both Jews and Christians have Ten Commandments, but there is no agreement on what wording and numbering to follow.

The Bible itself contains two versions, one in Exodus 20:1-17, for a total of seventeen verses that different faiths interpret and enumerate in differing ways, and a slightly different one in Deuteronomy 5:6-21, or sixteen verses rather than ten. There are also various English translations from the original Hebrew to choose from for those so inclined.

Moreover, there are at least five numbering systems because the denominations differ on what to include in the First and Tenth Commandments.

Judaism counts "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of land of Egypt..." as number one, while most Christians consider that a preface and list Judaism's Second Commandment as their First: "You shall have no other gods before me." Other Christians say the First Commandment consists of both clauses.

Next comes the commandment against idolatry ( "graven image" ), which Jews combine with an admonition about "no other gods," as do Catholics and Lutherans, but not other Christians.

As for the next seven commandments — taking the Lord's name in vain — which I am presumed to have done though I have no belief in a personal god – keeping the Sabbath (I don't do this either), honoring one's father and mother (and that I do), killing (has anyone told the Marine Corps about this one?), adultery, stealing, and bearing false witness — all groups divide them up identically but apply different numbers.

The Tenth Commandment of Jews and most Protestants is the entire "thou shall not covet" passage. But Catholics and Lutherans list two "thou shall not covet" commandments: one against coveting your neighbor's wife, and one against coveting your neighbor's property. Now how does one avoid offending a Jew or Christian with these inherent conflicts?

And what is the name of their god? Lord, Yahweh, or the many other possibilities? The complaint against me was apparently for my use of the word "god," a generic term to me.

There may still exist a Buddhist sect in Tibet who believe that the purpose of humanity is to state the nine billion names of God. My vocabulary is well in excess of 50,000 words and it is very likely, under that sect's beliefs, that most, or all of the words I use are names of God. I don't claim the wisdom to know. But how would I take one of those names in vain?

In a similar vein, and from a Christian perspective, I found the following in the Morrock News Service, dated December 5, 1998:


 

As I was reading today's news, the following paragraph brought a remembrance from me:

10 COMMANDMENTS ON TRIAL: A jury in Denver will decide whether a boss can require his employees to obey the 10 Commandments. Charles Corry, 60, sued his employer after he was fired for exclaiming "God!" when he had trouble with his computer. A coworker complained that his outburst violated the commandment against taking God's name in vain.

During a Sunday church service at TLC in Winchester, the pastor (interpreter) said "What is God's name?" He said that God's true name was unpronounceable, unknowable (cannot remember the exact word) in human language. "God" is a description that we use, a pseudonym for something beyond the "ken" of mankind. Unless someone knows God's true name, how then are they able to take it in vain?

Gratefully yours,

Reverend P. A. Colwell, Doctor of Divinity


 

Stopping discrimination

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My principal object in this suit was to stop such discrimination. Thus, to me the fact that the jury awarded me lost wages in the suit was insignificant compared to the propaganda value of the media coverage.

US West has been a leading contender in complaining to Congress that they can't find qualified technical workers ( "leased labor" ) who are citizens. Therefore, they claim they should be allowed to import ever more foreign workers. These foreign workers are then treated essentially as indentured servants, treatment American citizens will not tolerate as a condition of employment. Nor should we tolerate indentured servitude for any reason.

Involuntary servitude is specifically prohibited under the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. If a worker cannot leave their employer without losing their visa and being deported, how is that different from involuntary servitude?

I feel my lawsuit showed that US West's labor management, as practiced through their overseers, AIC, are a principal reason they are unable to attract qualified Americans regardless of any salary they may be willing to pay. That was brought home to me when my next door neighbor commented after the trial that she couldn't imagine working in such conditions.

Competition for computer consultants, particularly with database skills, is extreme along the Front Range in Colorado. US West already had a negative image among these consultants. I feel reasonably certain the extensive publicity associated with my case reinforced the adverse image many had for both US West and AIC, making it even more difficult for them to attract qualified American workers.

A reasonably well-managed company would have practiced some damage control, then taken steps to insure that such practices were stopped, and the antipathy of its employees minimized. That has not been the case, and AIC appealed, though their attorney fees far exceeded the money I was awarded.

The publicity continued far beyond the trial. Jeffrey Seglin featured the case in his The Right Thing column in the business section of the Sunday New York Times on May 16, 1999.

On May 11, 2000, my attorney and I were interviewed for Denver's Channel 9 @Issue television program on worker's rights with regard to language in the workplace. That program was broadcast in June of that year.


 

US Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals

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In an unusual move, on June 6, 2000, the United State Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the jury verdict Case No. 99-1158 and 99-1189 citing insufficient evidence that AIC intentionally interfered with my contract and my supposed use of objectionable language, i.e., the "F-word," which the people I worked with used jokingly to refer to a desktop publishing program FrameMaker, the program I use to produce this web site.

For reference, in the State of Colorado an employee has no rights if another employee objects to language used. The situation is compounded if the person is working on a contract to the company and the person complaining is female.

However, as noted above, this case attracted notable publicity and can't have helped AIC's efforts to recruit qualified American workers.

For more than five years US West has been consistently rated at the bottom of the major phone companies. US West has since been bought out by Qwest and it is hoped the shake up during the merger will improve the quality of their management. But the last time I talked to recruiters in the Denver area they indicated most consultants and contractors they dealt with refused to work for US West/Qwest. So recovery from their bottom ranking in terms of service and performance will not be easy.

The newspapers now carry more stories of how we must allow additional H1-B visas so that these skilled positions can be filled with foreigners. Such white-collar indentured servants have even fewer rights than I did. From indentured servitude it is but a short step to slave labor. But such workers will not produce the technical quality needed to survive in today's marketplace.

In our engineering schools it becomes ever more difficult to find an American graduate student, largely because engineering wages are held down by law, and the admission of ever more foreign workers.

Somehow the slope such companies are on looks mighty slippery to me. And since this case began the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has modified its rules regarding contract employees and their rights under Title VII. My hope then is that the next person will have more success in the courts at least partially as a result of my efforts.

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Last modified 3/17/16