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Despite the prolonged national agony over the war in Iraq, there was reason to smile in 2006. This year’s survey of the top 10 bizarre employment law situations presents another potpourri of workplace wackiness. Workplace hustler 10. Los Angeles County Superior Court has certified an arbitrator’s decision that Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt must pay $1.1 million to a former secretary who alleged that having to comply with Flynt’s trysts with prostitutes in his private office created a hostile work environment. Elizabeth Rene Raymond alleged that she had to participate in an “early warning system” when Flynt’s wife was approaching the executive offices during one of these trysts. It seems that Flynt didn’t understand that what is portrayed in his magazines isn’t quite appropriate office behavior. Discharge-of-the-year award 9. Two employees of a Boise, Idaho, ice skating rink were fired for making a midnight fast-food run with two Zambonis. An anonymous tipster reported seeing the two big ice-surfacing machines chug through a Burger King drive-through and return to the rink at about 12:30 a.m. The squat vehicles, which have a top speed of about 5 miles an hour, drove 1.5 miles in all. To date, the two have not challenged their discharge in court. A few experienced lawyers say that, if they do, they’ll be skating on thin ice. Family-leave hoax 8. A newly hired salesman did no work for months, after telling bosses his 3-year-old son had cancer. He was revealed to be a liar when his employer tried to send flowers to the family, after being told the boy had died. That was the allegation in a suit filed last year by Lancope Inc., a software firm against Michael Ruffalo, who launched his tales of hardship right after he took a job and was given paid leave for several months. Lancope was awarded $52,517 in damages this year. No claim over jealous wife 7. The Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that an employee who admittedly engaged in physical, suggestive contact with the owner of the company for which she worked has no sex discrimination claim against him or the company, nor a tort claim against his wife, who insisted she be fired. The court reasoned that the plaintiff, Maelynn Tenge, was not fired by Scott Phillips, owners of Phillips Modern Ag Co., because of her sex, but rather because of his “desire to allay his wife’s concerns over Tenge’s admitted sexual behavior with him.” The court concluded that “Title VII is not implicated because any benefits of the relationship are due to the sexual conduct, rather than the gender, of the employee.” An explosive arbitration award 6. The Eastern District of New York has ruled that an arbitration panel did not err in ordering the reinstatement of a warehouse employee, with a history of violent behavior and felony indictments, to his job, which involved handling highly explosive chemicals. According to the court, Anthony Bennett was repeatedly disciplined for misconduct at work. His co-workers were afraid of him, citing erratic behavior, including beating a woman and on another occasion bringing a 9-millimeter gun to work. Amazingly, the court ruled that enforcement of the arbitration award did not violate public policy. Dubious ‘team building’ 5. A California jury has awarded $1.7 million to a female sales employee on her claim for sexual harassment against her former employer, Alarm One Inc. Janet Orlando alleged that she was spanked on three occasions in what the company called a “camaraderie-building exercise.” She claimed that being spanked in front of her colleagues, many of them young men who taunted her and made lewd remarks, was so humiliating she was compelled to quit. Sex, drugs and religion 4. The Eighth Circuit has rejected sexual and religious harassment, retaliation and other claims by a Yellow Book U.S.A. employee who alleged that her female co-worker propositioned her for sex, spiked her drink with methamphetamine and, after a religious conversion, tried to proselytize her. The court reasoned that the company had taken prompt and effective remedial measures in response to Tammy Powell’s complaints about co-worker Victoria Kreutz’s proselytizing, that the sexual harassment was not severe or pervasive and that Powell provided no evidence of the drink-spiking. Profitable panic attack 3. A California superior court jury has awarded $6.5 million to a health care case worker who claimed he was denied a promotion because a panic disorder prevented him from meeting clients. George Alberigi was diagnosed in 1986 with panic disorder and agoraphobia. For most of his 14 years with the county’s Human Services Department, he was allowed to interview clients by phone, but a promotion he applied for required meeting clients in person. He was denied the promotion and eventually went on permanent medical disability. His award included $1.5 million in lost wages and $5 million for pain and suffering. Shoot self in foot, then sue 2. A Drug Enforcement Administration agent who accidentally shot himself in the foot while demonstrating gun safety to school children is suing the agency, saying that a video of the incident has made him the laughing stock of the Internet. Moments before the shooting, Lee Paige, a 14-year agency veteran, told the students he was the only one in the room professional enough to handle a gun. His suit alleges that the agency leaked the video to the public and that he has become the “target of jokes, derision, ridicule and disparaging comments.” Peeping and poison ivy 1. The Eighth Circuit has ruled that a supervisor who spied through a peephole into a women’s restroom for years and placed a substance apparently containing poison ivy on the toilet seat did not create hostile environment liability for the employer. Jill Cottrill and a co-worker sued their employer, MFA Inc., based on these activities of which they were, at the time, unaware. The court ruled that an employee “may only rely on evidence relating to harassment of which she was aware during the time she was allegedly subjected to a hostile work environment.” Gerald Skoning is a senior partner at Chicago’s Seyfarth Shaw. This piece originally appeared in the National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate.

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