Leaders to file complaint against Rite-Hite CEO over political memo

MILWAUKEE -- Faith and community leaders are set to file a complaint Monday, October 29th against Rite-Hite CEO Michael White. A Rite-Hite memo White reportedly sent to his employees regarding why they may want to vote for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has created controversy, and at least one employment attorney told FOX6 News the memo is illegal.

The complaint to be filed Monday states that White’s illegal and misleading communication with employees, sent the week of October 21st was an attempt to intimidate more than 1,400 employees into voting for Mitt Romney.

In his memo, White urged employees to “understand the personal consequences if President Obama is re-elected.” The letter goes on to threaten the security of employees' retirement accounts and health care plans, stating that if the President is re-elected, "Every opportunity to make up for lost profits to taxes will have to be evaluated." 

A news conference to announce the formal complaint is scheduled for Monday morning.

According to Citizen Action Wisconsin, the state's election law makes clear that no employer can threaten workers’ wages, jobs, or conditions of employment in an effort to persuade them to vote a particular way.

"No employer or agent of an employer may distribute to any employee printed matter containing any threat, notice or information that if a particular ticket of a political party or organization or candidate is elected or any referendum question is adopted or rejected, work in the employer's place or establishment will cease, in whole or in part, or the place or establishment will be closed, or the salaries or wages of the employees will be reduced, or other threats intended to influence the political opinions or actions of the employees." Wisconsin Election Law 12.07(3)

"It's obvious -- you can't put a gun to someone's head and say 'you better vote for this person.' The same could be done through a letter. It's just a less threatening way of coercing and threatening and intimidating a certain vote," employment lawyer Randy Enochs said.

Enochs says it's not clear whether the owner of Rite-Hite committed that coercion in the memo to employees.

"In my mind, it's more than just a generalized statement about the effects an election may have on a business. This employer by their own quote is making this personal," attorney Jeff Hynes said.

Enochs says regardless of the outcome, the controversy should serve as a warning to other business owners with strong political views.

"Employers need to act with caution when they send these types of things because it is a very tricky, delicate situation -- especially with the election reaching its peak here," Enochs said.

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