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It was a year unlike any other. The images of Sept. 11 are still fresh in our minds. While our leaders have pronounced that the world has changed forever, some things remain constant. The 2001 survey of the wackiest employment law cases delights and amazes us with examples of bizarre human behavior. CRANKY JUDGE LETS LOOSE 10. A feisty federal judge in Texas seized upon a routine employment case involving a tugboat worker and the Jones Act as an occasion to reprimand counsel for both sides. The judge castigated both counsel for “together deliver[ing] some of the most amateurish pleadings ever to cross the hallowed causeway into Galveston, an effort which leads the court to surmise but one plausible explanation. Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact ��complete with hats, handshakes and cryptic words ��to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the backsides of gravy-stained paper place mats in the hope that the court would be so charmed by the child-like efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed.” For his bold pronouncements regarding the use of Crayola products in drafting legal pleadings, we salute this remarkable judge. A MORALE BOOSTER 9. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the termination of a civilian Marine Corps morale manager for having an affair with the wife of a Marine who was deployed overseas. The court found the termination reasonable because the morale manager’s personal off-duty misconduct abused the unique role he was supposed to play of ensuring the well-being of Marine Corps families and adversely affected the Corps’ trust and confidence in his ability to carry out his job, and was antithetical to his overall recreation mission (although some cynics have suggested that his frolicking fell directly within his job description). LADIES ONLY (LITERALLY) 8. In a case involving issues of great importance, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that transgendered employees may be required to use the restroom of their biological gender. The transgendered plaintiff had used the women’s restroom and female employees objected. The court concluded that a workplace rule barring a transgendered worker from choosing a restroom based on “self-image of gender” was not sexual-orientation discrimination. PAGING OLIVER STONE … 7. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a mentally ill employee whose employer denied his request for a transfer back to his old job, or for a fuller investigation of an alleged conspiracy among his co-workers to harm him, has no claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In rejecting the claims for accommodation, the court reasoned, “If [a plaintiff's] mental illness manifests itself in the form of delusions or hallucinations, it is difficult to argue that an employer should have accommodated the disability by addressing working conditions that are the product of the employee’s imagination.” The learned jurists did not ascribe to the old adage that just because you’re paranoid does not mean that no one’s conspiring against you. BAD ATTENDANCE 6. Showing up for work counts. The 7th Circuit ruled that regular attendance generally is essential to a job and therefore a trucking services company did not violate the ADA when it terminated a dock worker with AIDS who had a poor attendance record. The court found the request for “unlimited sick days” unreasonable, figuring “if one is not present, he is usually unable to perform the job.” PASS THE PROZAC, PLEASE 5. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that a probation officer claiming an inability to continue working because of depression following his suspension for sexually harassing several female public defenders may not be denied workers’ compensation based on his status as a sex harasser. In its decision affirming a monetary award for repeated conduct in violation of federal employment laws, the court gave new meaning to the word irony. OF HUMAN BONDAGE 4. The Illinois Supreme Court suspended a Chicago attorney for two years for kinky misconduct, finding he committed “gross improprieties” in tying up a legal secretary and two job applicants, restraining them against their wills. The court rejected the attorney’s argument that sanctioning him would constitute employment discrimination on the basis of his mental disability — paraphilia — a sexual disorder characterized in his case by desires to tie up women with rope. No one can say this court got tied up in technicalities. “TOY”-ING WITH EMOTIONS 3. A waitress in Florida sued her employer, claiming breach of contract and fraud. In a sales-incentive program, employees who sold the most beer for the restaurant were eligible to win a Toyota. The plaintiff’s name was drawn, and she was blindfolded and taken to the restaurant parking lot where she was presented with her prize: a toy Yoda (of Star Wars fame). Allegedly, the manager found this laugh-out-loud funny. Not amused, the waitress quit her job and sued, seeking enough damages to buy a Toyota ��– the kind on four wheels. Can Yoda settle this one? DANGEROUS LIAISONS 2. A Pennsylvania man sued a local American Legion Hall for allegedly serving him too much liquor, which he said caused him to break into his ex-wife’s workplace, shoot at her and her lover, and ram a police car. His wife then sued the company she worked for, claiming they should have prevented her from taking a co-worker as a lover. Both lawsuits were eventually dismissed. However, her claim, if successful, would have blazed new trails in the development of the law and posed a unique challenge to human resources managers everywhere. TONGUE IN CHEEK 1. A grocery chain employee was fired for refusing her manager’s request to stick out her tongue to show him she was not wearing a tongue ring, which would have violated company policy. She was ordered reinstated because “she had a reasonable expectation of privacy in her mouth.” The arbitrator said a mouthful. Gerald D. Skoning is of counsel to Chicago’s Seyfarth Shaw, where he specializes in representing management in labor and employment law matters.

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