I found a recent case to be a peculiar example of how Title VII is not a “general civility code” in the workplace. In Butto v. CJKant Resource Group, LLC, a male executive was terminated after complaining about being required to arrange female escorts for his married supervisor and perform other activities to facilitate his supervisor’s infidelity. It seems like a reasonable complaint, right? But does that mean it was protected under Title VII?
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As you may know, I am a die-hard management-side lawyer. I usually cheer judicial opinions that uphold the rights of employers, which I feel are too often constrained by well-meaning but easily-abused employment laws. But every now and then, even my management-side soul can be a little surprised by a judge’s pro-employer ruling. This was the situation in the recent case of Dawson v. Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

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As a minority female, I have had my share of being harassed, and I have felt rage at the unfairness. I completely understand the desire to lash out at the harasser. But actually burning them with a cigarette? Well, that crosses the line (unless, of course, the harasser is threatening physical harm. Then, all bets – and gloves – are off!) But that’s what one employee did, and yet she was surprised when the employer fired her for it.
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I am a luddite (meaning that I fear technological change) and am wholly inept when it comes to my smartphone. I know it can do many marvelous things of which I am unaware – but apparently it has a darker side as well, as illustrated by a recent case, Lee v. Trees, Inc. In that case, the court threw out an employee’s Title VII lawsuit because she had submitted fabricated texts, supposedly from her supervisor, to support her claims of sexual harassment and retaliation.
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no-camera-allowed-mdThis is one of those pro-employer cases that just doesn’t make sense to me, even though I’m a die-hard management-side lawyer. It frankly strikes me as a case of punishing the victim. To explain:

In Furcron v. Mail Centers Plus, LLC, the employer provided facilities and administrative support to other businesses, including the Coca-Cola Company. A male employee with Asperger’s syndrome (which can cause awkward social mannerisms) was transferred to a mailroom (following some awkward social interactions with a female employee in his prior assignment). According to a female mailroom employee, after his transfer, the male employee frequently entered her work area and invaded her personal space. He stared at her and, as witnessed by another employee, attempted to look down the female employee’s shirt and at her underwear when she bent over. But even worse, as witnessed by yet another employee, he frequently exhibited an erect penis while staring at the female employee and would deliberately bump and rub his erection against her!!!
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So, someone who posed as a nude lumberjack for Playgirl is now upset about the (foreseeable!) consequences of his decision – teasing by his coworkers. And a federal court judge has found that the employee’s sexual harassment claim against his employer, based on his coworkers’ teasing, may have merit. To me, this case, Sawka v. ADP, Inc., is crazy on several levels!Axe

Let’s start with the employee. I find the lack of personal accountability in our society to be appalling. Many people are unwilling to take responsibility for their choices and actions – and, in my opinion, this employee falls into this group. It seems to me that if you choose to put it ALL out there in a sexually-focused publication that is intended for widespread public distribution, you should realize that people (including those you know!) will look at the pictures, comment on them, and, yes, tease you about them. Really, isn’t the whole point of posing for a magazine like Playgirl to invite such attention? Now, I understand that the pictures date from 1991, and perhaps the employee regrets having posed for them at this point in his life. But the passage of time does not and should not absolve him of his responsibility for his (in retrospect) possibly ill-considered decision.

Moreover, his expectations of what his employer should have done were, again in my opinion, unrealistic. The employee initially failed to complain because, in part, he found it “embarrassing.” (Really?) When he finally complained about his coworkers, the employer conducted an investigation, which included interviewing the list of witnesses he provided as well as others. The employee now contends that the employer should have searched the computers of his coworkers to verify that they had looked for his pictures on the Internet. But at the time, I am sure the employer believed it had addressed the issue by speaking with the worst offender about his comments and instructing the Vice President in charge of the office to report any further comments or Internet searches for the employee’s pictures. Given that the employee admittedly did not make any further complaints (although he now alleges that the comments didn’t stop), the employer undoubtedly thought it had resolved the problem.


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