'Til Work Do Us Part

A couple chose to get married rather than 'live in sin,' so a Christian organization fired the husband because of an anti-nepotism policy

Sleeping in his broken-down car, David Larimore dreams of better times. He has to, since his recent nightmarish experiences with Goodwill Industries have left him destitute and homeless.

Founded in 1902 by a Methodist minister, Goodwill, according to its Web site, "would transform more than 5 million lives over the course of a century--all through the power of work." It continues: "We help people overcome barriers to employment and become independent, tax-paying members of their communities."

By reselling donated clothing and other items, Goodwill raises money and employs many disadvantaged people. It is an organization generally known for its good works.

But Larimore tells a different tale. Hired by the Southern Arizona arm of Goodwill in May of last year for a $7-per-hour job, the 40-year-old worked full-time at the agency's small used bookstore and collection center on Broadway Boulevard near Sarnoff Drive. He met a co-worker there, and by December, they had married, living in separate apartments while planning to move into a small house together.

Larimore knew that their employer had a personnel policy that might affect the couple--a statement in the employee handbook reads: "Goodwill Industries of Southern Arizona, Inc. does not employee (sic) immediate family members of current employees." Because he found the statement unclear, Larimore says the couple talked to Goodwill's human resources department to clarify their situation.

Susan Lawder of Goodwill in Tucson indicates that the policy was initiated when she became CEO in 1987, and that when couples marry, one of them has to leave the company. Since then, she says, Goodwill's 220 local employees have understood the statement, which was put in place because of several problems the agency had with married or related employees, including theft and possible nepotism.

"It appears this policy is difficult," Lawder says. "But we need to do the best we can do to protect our community trust. Our job is to take care of resources. It's a big responsibility, and (married employees) are a risk factor."

Part of the mission statement of Goodwill International, however, reads that the organization "will enhance the quality and dignity of life for individuals ... through the power of work, by eliminating barriers to opportunity for people with special needs."

When asked whether the local policy conflicted with that vision, Lawder replied she didn't think so, and that the agency tries to treat everyone fairly.

After meeting with the human resources department staff, Larimore says the newlyweds were both told their marriage wouldn't be a problem, but that they couldn't work at the same store at the same time. For a few months, that is exactly what happened; the situation seemed to have been satisfactorily resolved. But when the couple returned from a Las Vegas honeymoon in February, they had a surprise waiting for them.

"Goodwill said one of us had to go," Larimore says. "We were told the CEO gave an ultimatum."

When the Weekly asked Lawder about the meeting Larimore says he had with the human resources department, Lawder replied, "I didn't know about that, but I'll look into it right away." A few minutes later, she called back and insisted that a conversation between Larimore and the human resource department had absolutely not taken place.

Because his wife had worked for Goodwill longer than he had, Larimore was out of a job in March. The company gave him letters of recommendation, but he was still unemployed.

"Its weird," Larimore says. "Other couples are living together, and (it appears Goodwill) prefers to have people live in sin than to have them get married. We could have just moved in together, but did everything legally instead."

Noting that his situation is somewhat similar to the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," policy for gays, Larimore adds, "Goodwill basically said if they didn't know we were married, we could have stayed."

Lawder believes the agency would probably find out about a marriage between employees, either through workplace talk or other means. But, she admits, "We can't do anything if we don't know."

After losing his job with Goodwill, Larimore soon found other employment, but that didn't last. The couple continued to live apart, but under growing financial and emotional stress. Larimore, now broke, was forced to leave his apartment, and for various reasons, didn't move in with his wife. For the past four months, he's been living in homeless shelters or sleeping in his car.

Larimore applied for unemployment coverage, but he says Goodwill fought it because of its personnel policy, and that he was denied payments. He has appealed that decision, and the case is pending.

Unfortunately for Larimore, if he and his wife had worked for Goodwill in Phoenix, their situation would have been much different. Up north, the policy is that couples who disclose their marriage can both be employed by the company, though not in the same department or store.

That may be of little comfort to Larimore, but even given his current lifestyle, he remains fairly upbeat.

"We're still married," he says, "and I'm looking for work. If I had it to do over again, I'd still get married.

"I don't have anything against the people at Goodwill," he adds, "but a corporation based on Christian philosophy shouldn't have toyed with us. If they had been straight up with us, we could have waited a while to get married."

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