Complaint filed against Rite-Hite CEO for alleged election law violation

MILWAUKEE -- Faith and community leaders filed a formal complaint with the Government Accountability Board against Rite-Hite CEO Michael White on Monday, October 29th.

The leaders say White violated Wisconsin election law when he sent a memo to employees. In that memo, White urged employees "to understand the personal consequences...if President Obama is re-elected."

"When you start intimidating people or sending threatening e-mails to people, talking about consequences if certain people aren't elected -- that coming from an employer has a very chilling effect on employees in terms of exercising their right," Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinski said.

The group filing the complaint says White's memo was an attempt to intimidate the employees of Rite-Hite into voting for Mitt Romney. The group hopes the complaint sparks a criminal investigation.

"Back then, it was a poll tax, it was the grandfather clause, it was the literacy tests, it was intimidation, it was violence. Today, we have a new form of intimidation going on," Larry Miller with the Milwaukee School Board said.

Employment lawyer Jeffrey Hynes says one could defend White's memo on the basis of free speech.

"The employer certainly has a legitimate interest in expressing their own personal political views and we hold tightly to upholding that interest," Hynes said.

However, Hynes says detailed warnings, such as stating there's a good chance employees would lose company insurance if President Obama wins, could be considered intimidation.

"That could be interpreted as saying to employees 'vote for Obama and your benefits and livelihoods will suffer,'" Hynes said.

FOX6 News made multiple calls to Rite-Hite for comment on Monday's filing, but did not hear back. Last Friday, company officials say they would not comment on the memo.

The GAB confirmed it received the complaint. Officials say similar complaints are usually handled by the district attorney's office. A deputy district attorney told FOX6 News nothing has changed since Friday, and the DA's Office is aware of the memo and looking into it.

Monitor FOX6 News and for updates on this developing story.

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