Uncivil Tongue

Chuck Corry is an ex-Marine and a Buddhist, which means he doesn't want people telling him not to swear and he doesn't want people telling him to act like a Christian.

Nor does he appreciate people firing him. And two years ago, he claims, he lost his consulting job with US West because his supervisor said his use of profanity violated the Ten Commandments.

Ellen Ritt, who worked for a US West subcontractor named Analysts International Corporation (AIC), "said the use of the word 'God' was governed by the Ten Commandments," Corry recalls. "I pointed out that I wasn't Christian and I refused to be governed by those tenets. She was very irritated. I compared her behavior to Nazism."

Then Corry went further. In January he filed suit against US West--as well as AIC and its subcontractor, Quest Database--claiming he'd lost his job because of religious discrimination and retaliation. That lawsuit follows three separate complaints Corry lodged last year with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which ruled that there was probable cause to believe that US West and AIC had retaliated against him.

US West officials deny Corry's claims, and AIC general counsel Thomas Mahler says Corry was given "ample opportunity" to correct his behavior. "When he didn't change," says Mahler, "he was taken off the [consulting] project, and on his way out the door, he claimed his right as an ex-Marine to use foul language was violated and, by the way, he was a Buddhist."

Mahler describes Corry's claims as a "last-ditch effort to try and preserve his job." Although he declines to provide examples of what exactly Corry is alleged to have said, Mahler adds, "At trial, it will be very clear his language was offensive."

Corry, a geophysicist by training, is a mixture of gruff ex-military man and smug intellectual. Years ago, he titled an as-yet-unpublished--and maybe unpublishable--essay "The New Niggers." Essentially a rant with footnotes, it discusses the dearth of professional scientists and engineers.

His troubles with US West began in August 1995, when Quest Database offered him a job as a computer consultant for US West Marketing Resource Group, the division that handles phone books and was recently renamed US West Dex. Corry's contract was supervised by AIC, which US West had hired to select its contractors.

The geophysicist was given a six-month contract that paid $40 an hour. He and about a dozen other people shared a big desk in a room with no partitions and little privacy. Before October was half over, those close quarters helped usher Corry out of a job.

"It was an extremely uncomfortable environment," says Bradley Reeger, a former consultant in the office and a friend of Corry's. "It was very close, no privacy. Even something mumbled under the breath might have been heard."

According to Corry and Reeger, everyone swore now and then, most commonly muttering "goddammit," "hell" or "shit." One of the US West employees working with the contractors, Lynda Fowler, apparently didn't appreciate any of it, especially phrases with "God" in them. "She would noticeably react when somebody would say 'goddamn,'" Reeger recalls. "She was four or five seats away from Chuck. She might have singled him out because he was least penitent about it. He'd laugh if someone tried to talk to him about political correctness. We all laughed."

Corry, Reeger and another former worker, Bill Gatz, don't recall that Corry swore more than anyone else. Fowler apparently thought otherwise. Though she declines to comment to Westword, in a statement about Corry's behavior prepared for the civil-rights division, Fowler said that "not only was the frequency excessive (his use of highly objectionable language was at a daily and even hourly level), but I was also bothered by his disrespect for the feelings of his co-workers in regard to that matter." Corry's most-repeated profanities, Fowler wrote, were "fucking," "goddamn," "Jesus Christ," "bullshit," "bastard" and "son of a bitch."

Corry insists that while he may have muttered these words under his breath "when my computer terminal went bad," he never said them out loud or directed them at anyone.

Nevertheless, by the start of October, Fowler had complained to her bosses. Corry was taken to lunch by Tom Hickey, the Quest staff manager who had hired him, and told he was on probation for two weeks. Hickey, who no longer works at Quest, says now that he thought the incident would blow over quickly. Corry didn't know what to think. "It was kind of out of the blue," he recalls. "I tried to joke with the guys: 'At least I got a free lunch out of it.'"

But he wasn't laughing for long. That same afternoon he met with Ellen Ritt, who told him that Fowler had complained to US West manager Sean Golden. That seemed ironic to Corry, who calls Golden "a real potty mouth." (Neither Ritt nor Golden would consent to interviews with Westword.)

The next day Ritt called a meeting of all the contractors and announced that someone had complained about inappropriate language. Ritt didn't name names, but Corry says everyone knew whom she was referring to.

"She got right to the point fairly quickly," says Reeger. "She said, 'You will follow the Ten Commandments or you will lose your job.'" She was looking directly at Corry when she said that, Reeger adds.

(Ritt later explained that she mentioned the Ten Commandments only "to explain to Mr. Corry why some people would consider his language to be offensive.")

Reeger, an atheist, says that if he was miffed by Ritt's statements, Corry was stunned. "His eyes almost popped out of his head," says Reeger.

Corry recalls walking away "baffled" by the meeting but convinced that it represented a "definite escalation of the incident." He filed a formal complaint with the US West human-resources department, saying the company was making him embrace a religion he didn't believe in. About a week later, he was told by AIC that his contract had been canceled.

US West claims it had nothing to do with Corry's firing by AIC. "We requested he be removed from the project," says US West spokeswoman Wendy Carver-Herbert, "but we did not ask for his dismissal."

No trial date has been set, but depositions in Corry's suit could begin this month, says Charlotte Sweeney, one of the attorneys representing Corry.

Those depositions should be interesting. Corry, who is given to wordplay, says he's been "damned by the perfidious digit of astral predestination."

In other words, "fucked by the fickle finger of fate.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
T.R. Witcher