“I took pride in protecting the wronged”

Christine Dixler defends employees from discrimination—first in the public sector, now at Avis Budget Group

Christine Dixler knew early on that women could be as successful as—if not more than—men. Her grandmother, an entrepreneur and the first female business owner in their local “businessmen’s” association, taught her that firsthand. When Dixler took a job with the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission in the late 1990s, that lesson became a cornerstone of her passion for equal rights and anti-discrimination work.

Dixler now brings her passion and multifaceted perspective on employment law to Avis Budget Group. As senior employment counsel and equal employment opportunity (EEO) officer, she handles litigation, wage, and hour matters, as well
as discrimination and other issues for Avis’s subsidiaries.

Avis hired Dixler as manager of the company’s EEO department, placing her on the opposite side of the table from her place at the human affairs commission. “I took pride in protecting the wronged when we filed complaints or issued penalties against companies we believed were guilty of discrimination,” she says. “Coming to Avis Budget, where we can be on the receiving end of those types of complaints, gave me a rare opportunity for an inside view from both perspectives.”

Dixler used those perspectives to change how the company responds to EEO complaints.  “The position statements from South Carolina companies responding to a charge often didn’t make complete sense because they lacked key details, giving the impression they weren’t telling the whole story,” Dixler says. “I didn’t want us to be perceived that way. If we told our story in a clear, complete way, I knew we would get better results.”

She developed an enhanced position statement that encourages the company to provide enough background information—such as statistical, payroll, and staffing numbers—to demonstrate that there was no basis for the initial complaint. The strategy has helped increase the percentage of complaints found to have “no cause” findings from 70 to 99 percent.

Since joining Avis at the end of 2002, Dixler’s challenges include an increase in executive and legislative changes to employment statutes. Aside from the financial costs of wage and sick leave changes, she estimates that administering compliance alone will require more than doubling the man-hours previously needed to comply with requirements.

“If we told our story in a clear, complete way, I knew we would get better results.”

Some of these shifts have caused uncertainty for the legal team. A change by the federal Department of Labor concerning the classification of first-level managers, for example, has left lawyers wondering whether managers should be classified as exempt or nonexempt employees. “At the moment, these are still outstanding issues for which we need further clarification,” Dixler says. “The details are critical because they have a direct impact on legal advice we give to HR and management teams.”

In addition to legislative changes in the United States, Avis Budget recently purchased Avis Europe, which has increased the number of employees for which Dixler is responsible by 50 percent and added twenty geographic jurisdictions to her portfolio.

To address global differences in employment-related laws, discriminatory protections, and diversity initiatives, the company has designated a global firm to coordinate with the company’s local human resources and legal teams. Dixler and her team provide general oversight to ensure that advice and strategy at all levels is consistent with company goals and philosophies.

Dixler is committed to making Avis Budget one of the most desirable places to work. She is also keenly aware that her decisions and the advice she provides impact employees’ lives and careers.

“I consider myself a business partner with my human resources teams and know that my direction on how to address an inappropriate behavior or harassment complaint, for example, has real-world consequences for the employee, coworkers, and the company,” she says. “I take that responsibility seriously because, ultimately, it helps shape the culture of this company.

“I’m proud to be part of a company that maintains a healthy, positive, and lawful work environment while also recognizing and supporting its employees.”