This marks the 15th anniversary of the annual top 10 tribute to wackiness in employment law. The crystal anniversary features a strong field. It seems each year the cases just get stranger.
Maternity wear, pregnancy suit
10. Philadelphia-based maternity clothes retailer Mothers Work Inc. agreed to pay $375,000 to settle a suit alleging that it refused to hire qualified female applicants because they were pregnant. LaShonda Burns alleged the company would not hire applicants for sales positions who were “visibly pregnant” or who it learned were pregnant through interviews. Company president Rebecca Matthias denied any discrimination, but said the settlement was reached to avoid “huge” costs and “distractions” of protracted litigation. She added, “It’s important to make sure our culture and policy are lived at every one of our stores.”
Talk of ‘cat rape’ not actionable
9. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a part-time school bus driver who complained of workplace conduct had no claim for hostile environment harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court reasoned that Carla Yuknis, who was fired by First Student Inc. for “her excessive complaining,” did not show that most of the speech and conduct she complained of was directed at her, individually or as a group member. One notable complaint was an incident in which her manager described his female cat being raped by his male cat.
Why is it the ‘Grand Ole Opry’?
8. Country music star Stonewall Jackson sued the Grand Ole Opry in federal court in Nashville, Tenn., for allegedly keeping him off the celebrated stage because of his age. Jackson, 74, alleges that a new general manager, Peter Fisher, limited Jackson’s appearances because he was “too old and too country.” Jackson further alleged that Fisher told him “I don’t want any gray hairs on that stage or in the audience, and before I am done there won’t be any.” The Grand Ole Opry is the longest running radio show in the country. It remains to be seen whether it will become the “Grand Young Opry.”
Drunken Zamboni driver skates
7. A Zamboni operator, John Peragallo, 64, was charged with drunken driving after a fellow employee at the Mennen Sports Arena in Morristown, N.J., told police the machine was speeding and nearly crashed into the boards of the hockey rink. Police testified that Peragallo’s blood alcohol level was 0.12%, well above the 0.08% legal limit. A state judge found the defendant not guilty because Zambonis aren’t motor vehicles: They aren’t usable on highways and can’t carry passengers.
Boorish hands on workers
6. A federal district court in Green Bay, Wis., ruled that two female employees who complained about a male co-worker’s flirting with and fondling of a female colleague have no sexual harassment claim because the consensual conduct was not harassment. Elenora Rait and Amber Rupert claimed that co-workers Mark Bidwell and Pam Wesner regularly fondled each other in full view of co-workers. In granting summary judgment to Oshkosh Door Co., the court ruled that, although Bidwell’s behavior might have been “boorish,” it was not unwelcome conduct based on sex and thus did not violate Title VII.
5. A man fired by IBM for visiting an adult chat room at work filed suit in federal court in White Plains, N.Y. Claiming that he is an “Internet addict,” James Facenza alleges that he visits chat rooms to treat traumatic stress incurred in 1969 when he saw his best friend killed during an army patrol in Vietnam. In seeking dismissal, IBM has argued that sexual behavior disorders are specifically excluded from the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
What would Jesus do?
4. A federal court in Sioux Falls, S.D., dismissed the disability discrimination claims of a software engineer who alleged he suffered from “Jesus-guy Syndrome.” The court found that the plaintiff was not so impaired that he did not comprehend an agreement that waived his ADA rights. It reasoned that, despite claiming that unique syndrome and bipolar disorder, the plaintiff failed to present evidence that he was of unsound mind.
3. The Employment Relations Authority of Australia ordered an office manager who allegedly spent $32,000 of company money on personal items, including a home theater system, a couch and a vibrator, to reimburse the company. Member Dzintra King said it was difficult to see how the $24 sex aid and other items “could in any way benefit” Paania Paki’s former employer, Panel Holdings.
The telltale journal
2. An Iowa administrative law judge denied unemployment benefits to a woman fired for keeping a journal that detailed her elaborate efforts to avoid work. Emmalee Bauer, as a sales coordinator for Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, wrote: “This typing thing seems to be doing the trick. It looks like I’m hard at work on something very important.” She also wrote: “I haven’t really accomplished anything in a long while . . . and I’m still getting paid more than I ever have.” The ALJ said the journal showed a refusal to work and Bauer’s “amusement at getting away with it.”
Necrophilia in the lab
1. The 7th Circuit affirmed a summary judgment against a crime lab employee who claimed that a supervisor harassed her after he retired by leaving behind “ghastly” pornographic videotapes involving corpses. Kelly Coolidge sued under Title VII after she was fired from a forensic services agency. The court stated, “[C]rime lab employees frequently worked with corpses, so pornography depicting necrophilia might not have the same shocking overtones there as it would in another setting.”
Gerald Skoning is a senior partner at Chicago’s Seyfarth Shaw.