This is a new entry in our occasional series on extremely bad behavior by employees. I am constantly amazed by the lack of awareness and judgment exhibited by employees in the workplace. I was baffled when I read Hennessey v. Dollar Bank, FSB, a case in which a Caucasian employee at Dollar Bank was terminated when, over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, he hung a brown monkey from the ceiling of a workspace utilized by African American employees.
On January 9, 2018, the employee purchased a stuffed brown monkey at Walmart. The employee’s next day of work after purchasing the monkey was Friday, January 12, 2018, however, he did not bring the monkey to work until the following day, the Saturday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. There was only one other employee present that day (another Caucasian), and the plaintiff hung the monkey by attaching the Velcro on its hands around a wire rack hanging from the ceiling. When other employees returned to work on Tuesday following Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, African American employees discovered the monkey, perceived it as a racist gesture, and reported the incident to a supervisor, indicating that they found it inappropriate, in part, because of the timing in connection with Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. After an investigation, the Bank terminated the employee for violating its Code of Conduct and harassment policy.
Shockingly, the employee filed a race discrimination claim! He argued, among other things, that he found the brown monkey in a Valentine’s Day display, and that he hung the monkey as a Valentine’s Day decoration. Really?? When I picture Valentine’s Day decorations, I picture red and pink balloons, streamers, heart shaped objects, red, pink, and white teddy bears or other stuffed animals . . . you get the picture. What I do not picture is a brown monkey that contains no colors synonymous with Valentine’s Day or any other indicia of Valentine’s Day. The employee really expected a trier of fact to believe that he intended to decorate for Valentine’s Day, and he just happened to hang the monkey over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, which is an entire month before Valentine’s Day? Also, the employee did not benignly place the monkey in the workspace. Rather, he hung the monkey, suspending it from the ceiling by its hands. And we are seriously to believe that this was not racially motivated?
But wait, it gets better! The employee also tried to feign ignorance, claiming that he was unaware that monkeys could be a derogatory image for African Americans. While this is certainly not believable in this day and age, if it is indeed true, it is awash with ignorance!
In an attempt to prove that the termination decision was based on his race, the employee also set forth a hypothetical conjecture regarding what would have happened if an African American employee had engaged in the same conduct. He, unsurprisingly, was not able to cite any evidence that similarly situated employees of a different race had been treated more favorably, because what other employee (regardless of his or her race) would be misguided enough to engage in the same conduct?
His arguments do not pass the sniff test, and the court did believe so either, as it granted Dollar Bank’s request to throw out the case. The absurd conduct employees think they can get away with in the workplace never ceases to amaze me. The frivolous arguments they will make in court in an attempt to rationalize that inappropriate conduct is equally as incredible. In the words of tennis legend John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious.”