Like many of my fellow well-seasoned peers in the human resource profession, I’ve learned not only to never say, “now I’ve seen it all,” I won’t even think it. Many of us have resigned ourselves to simply thinking – often out loud – “you can’t fix stupid.” To allow for a little variety in my thoughts and grumblings on the topic of human behavior, I’ve added the simple yet effective, “SERIOUSLY?” The futuristic, “in which parallel universe would that ever be acceptable?” And, the good old fashioned, “I’m glad I wasn’t around when their mother found out they did that!”
My wife claims that I’ve been muttering my favorite new phrases a lot recently, and she’s probably right. Here are a few of the reasons why:
Employee fired for LEGO-based harassment
This is the story of Shawn Roy, a former food service worker at a nursing home. One of Mr. Roy’s pastimes outside of work was allegedly creating and posting violent and sexually explicit videos, using LEGO characters which resembled the nursing home’s executive director, the head of the food service department, and two female coworkers. Although Mr. Roy claimed that the LEGO characters portrayed celebrities and fictional characters in his movies, not his coworkers, his employer terminated his employment for misconduct, and successfully contested his New York State unemployment insurance benefits. It’s hard to pick just one phrase here but, LEGO porn? I’m glad I wasn’t around when his mother found out he did that!
Employee fired for being “too cute”
Dating back to 2013, this case recently received new life from a New York appellate court, and demonstrates the apparent broadening interpretation of discrimination laws. Dilek Edwards worked as a yoga instructor and massage therapist for Manhattan-based Wall Street Chiropractic and Wellness, which is owned and operated by a married couple, Dr. Charles Nicolai and Stephanie Adams, the center’s COO.
Edwards alleged that, despite Nicolai’s positive feedback on her work, and their “purely professional” relationship, Nicolai told Edwards that his wife, a former Playboy Playmate, was “jealous” of her because she was “too cute.” A few months later, Edwards was abruptly fired after receiving a late-night text rant from Adams, stating: “You are NOT welcome any longer at Wall Street Chiropractic, DO NOT ever step foot in there again, and stay the F**k away from my husband and family!!!!!!! And remember I warned you.” Edwards then received an email from Nicolai the next day telling her she was fired.
Edwards sued under New York City’s Human Rights Law, claiming her termination was based on her protected “gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression,” and therefore gender discrimination. The Manhattan Supreme Court decision stated that spousal jealousy alone does not constitute unlawful gender discrimination and noted that other jurisdictions had similarly found that simply being an attractive female was not a protected class. (Lest we forget the 2013 Iowa Supreme Court decision that held a dentist could legally fire his dental assistant at his wife’s instance because the assistant was an “irresistible attraction” to him. According to the court, the termination was not based on gender itself, but instead based on “individual feelings and emotions regarding a specific person.”)
On August 22, a New York appellate court overturned the lower court’s decision, and revived Edward’s gender discrimination claim. In its decision, the panel stated that although Edwards, “does not allege that she was ever subjected to sexual harassment,” she alleges that “Nicolai was motivated to discharge her by his desire to appease his wife’s unjustified jealousy, and that Adams was motivated…by that same jealousy.” Therefore, the motivation for both Nicolai and Adams to terminate Edward’s employment “was sexual in nature.” The panel also noted that, “adverse employment actions motivated by sexual attraction are gender based and, therefore, constitute unlawful gender discrimination.” To Dr. Nicolai and Ms. Adams, I say, “SERIOUSLY?” and, “in which parallel universe would that ever be acceptable?”
Employee fired after refusing to cook dinner naked
As if Wells Fargo hasn’t had enough on their plate dealing with their consumer fraud problem, this case is another hot mess. Under the heading of You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up, we’re introduced to Jessica Nibert and Robert Courtwright. Nibert, a former mortgage loan processor for the company in North Carolina, claims in her federal lawsuit that her manager, Courtwright, began sexually harassing her almost immediately after she was hired in 2012. Courtwright said he wanted her cubicle next to his so he could “see her ass and legs all day,” commented as she walked up stairs that she had a “nice butt,” and asked if she’d like to make some extra money outside of work by cooking him dinner in the nude.
According to court documents, Nibert complained to the senior loan administration manager, Courtwright’s supervisor, about the harassing behavior and was told, “oh, that’s just Bob,” and that HR was already aware of similar complaints so she should ignore the comments.
Courtwright also used the company’s instant messaging system and his cell phone to harass Nibert, texting her at odd hours, asking if she was in the shower, “because he said he loved thinking of her naked in the shower.” Nibert also claims that Courtwright sexually harassed her at the funeral for her infant daughter, telling her she looked “hot” and that he “couldn’t tell she just had a baby.” Soon after, Courtwright tried to hug Nibert as she left work, and asked her to wear skirts or dresses to the office so he could “sneak her into a storage room” for sex.
In April 2016, Nibert went out on disability leave, and when she returned in mid-May Courtwright sent her a text telling her to start looking for another job. After returning from another approved short-term disability leave in mid-July, Nibert was fired on August 22, 2016.
Where to even begin? To the senior managers, and specifically to the employees in the company’s HR department (please don’t ever refer to yourselves as HR professionals), I say, SERIOUSLY? and, “in which parallel universe would that ever be acceptable?” To Mr. Courtwright, I simply say, disgusting.
Please feel free to contact Frank at email@example.com, or 585-672-4142 with questions or for more information.
Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute a legal opinion, and is not legal advice. The facts of each situation should be considered and analyzed individually. Therefore, you should always consult with competent employment counsel regarding any issues discussed here.
Click HERE to learn more about Frank Cania, author of Employers’ HR Advisor.