Put down that necktie and step away from the wardrobe

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May 14, 2006|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Is polyester a protected class? I ask because PSC Chairman Kenneth Schisler testified at a legislative hearing the other day that he fired the commission's chief engineer, in part, for wearing a "dorky, '70s-era tie."

I consulted two experts in labor law. Their verdict? Bad news for disco diehards.

"Wearing polyester is not protected by law," said Robert Kellner, chairman of the employment law practice group at Gordon, Feinblatt. "At-will" employees can be fired in Maryland for any reason, except an illegal one, such as age, race, religion, sexual orientation, he said.

"If the employer says to the person, `Listen ... this three-piece white suit is not the kind of image that I want to give, you need to change your appearance,' and the person persists in wearing John Travolta clothes, that would be a [legitimate] reason," he said.

But c'mon. It's not like the guy showed up at the office in Gregory Maddalone's sparkly ice-dancing costume. Isn't "dorky" in the eye of the beholder?

"It's very hard to describe, but sometimes you know it when you see it," Kellner said. "If you're wearing clothes that are so out of style that they appear to be out of place, particularly if you've been warned about it, I can see an employer taking an action on that."

Harriet Cooperman, a partner with the Baltimore law firm Saul Ewing, agrees.

"If you have a situation where somebody wears clothing because of religious beliefs, or cultural, now that would raise an issue, that would be a basis of a discrimination" claim, she said. "But just 'cause the guy can't get out of the '70s, that's not sufficient."

The alleged tacky tie-wearer is Blaine Keener, who Schisler also said wore ripped jeans and an "anti-authority demeanor" around the office. Keener is one of several ex-PSC employees who claim they were fired in April 2004 to make room for workers with more enthusiasm for wildly higher electric rates. Keener said he couldn't comment on that '70s thing because of his pending lawsuit.

But would he please, please just let me see his awful '70s tie? Keener claimed not to own one: "I don't have a smoking tie for you."

Hampden's the place to tie one on

What are the distinguishing characteristics of a '70s tie, anyway?

"Just really wide ties, with the synthetic fabrics," said Rob Chadwick, owner of Rusty Zipper, a Web-based vintage clothier. "You had a lot of texturized polyester."

Surely a man who traffics in 30-something neckwear - some are 5 1/2 inches wide, compared to today's standard 3 1/4 - will come to its defense as proper workplace attire. Or not.

"I think people who are wearing it as part of their everyday wardrobe are doing it tongue-in-cheek," he said. Most of the ones he sells are for '70s parties or Halloween.

The kitschy cravat got more support at Fat Elvis, the Hampden shop whose very name celebrates dated sartorial excess.

"You can't tell me that's a legitimate reason to fire someone," said owner Joe Leatherman, who says offbeat ties provide a workday "kick."

"That piece of cloth around the neck, which is a silly thing that we wear anyway, that might make somebody more productive at their work," he said.

But he admits the kick comes with a cost: "Somebody else has to look at that necktie."

That isn't a polyester muscle shirt, is it?

Go ahead and search the newsstands, but you'll never find that issue of Men's Fitness with Martin O'Malley on the cover. But he was right there, rockin' out in a black muscle shirt, on the front of a magazine promising "More Muscle!" and "101 Gut Loss Tips."

Turns out the cover was just a mock-up - one produced by the magazine when it came to town in February to crown Baltimore America's fittest city. The picture was posted on the Web site of O'Malley's March, the mayor's allegedly mothballed Celtic rock band.

And then, Poof! It was gone.

The photo was recently yanked from the site - just as Doug Duncan launched his anti-style offensive. With his Democratic gubernatorial rival trying to dismiss O'Malley as a pretty boy, is the mayor suddenly trying to play down the rock star thing?

If so, then what's with the message sent out to fans of the band, saying O'Malley will perform at a campaign fundraiser May 21? "Note: Martin is singing and will be playing a long, full set with the band!" it says.

The campaign says O'Malley has no "official plans" to perform, and that the message might have been "wishful thinking" on the part of fans.

Give 'em that old razzle-dazzle

Democrat Dennis Rasmussen, the U.S. Senate hopeful who bills himself as the "common sense moderate" in the race, has posted an ad on his campaign Web site with cartoon images of himself and rivals, set to a toe-tappin' jingle. He calls it "Razz-Ma-Tazz."

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