Worker Suspension Lifted on Border Comment

April 10, 2008 ( - A Denver city employee was suspended for four days after he asked two Hispanic co-workers how much it cost their "people to get across the border these days."

But the disciplined employee, Jack Burghardt, 32, an administrative support assistant in the Clerk and Recorder’s Office, appealed his suspension – and won, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

Burghardt, a Polish immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for the past 13 years, told a Career Service hearing officer that he meant no harm and that in Europe, people wouldn’t be so easily offended, according to the report.

Fast Food Notions?

He “testified that he did not intend to be demeaning in asking the question, which came to his mind in thinking about the movie ‘Fast Food Nation,'” according to the report, citing city documents that were recently made public. That movie “centers around a meatpacking plant that employs undocumented workers from Me and produces tainted beef in unsafe and unsanitary working conditions,” the documents say. “In one of the opening scenes, a group of Mexican people paid a trucker to take them across the border. They are later hired by the meatpacking plant, and their story forms one of the main plotlines in the movie.”

Burghardt told the hearing officer that he was thinking about the movie when he said aloud to himself: “I wonder how much it costs to cross a border with a guide.” But co-workers Tina Gallegos and Consuelo Dominguez, who were in the break room eating at the time, had a different recollection of what Burghardt said. According to the Rocky Mountain News, Burghardt asked, “How much did it cost for your people to get across the border these days?”

Dominguez was “shocked,” and Gallegos “was extremely upset” and “humiliated” the rest of the day. In the afternoon, Gallegos – whose father, the story reports, “arrived in the U.S. by crossing the Mexican border” (the report doesn’t specifically mention if that crossing was illegal) – broke into tears, according to the report.

Clerk and Recorder Stephanie O’Malley found that Burghardt’s comment contained “disturbing racial overtones” and concluded that a four-day suspension was appropriate, documents state. But the Career Service hearing officer ruled that O’Malley’s office failed to establish that Burghardt “intended his question to be derogatory on the basis of national origin” and reversed the suspension.