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Tag Archives: Sexual Harassment

Race Discrimination Claims Against Paula Deen Dismissed

This probably will not be my last post on the Paula Deen case.  In an interesting, if not predictable, development, U.S. District Judge William T. Moore dismissed the racial discrimination portion of Lisa Jackson’s lawsuit.

In case you missed it, the Paula Deen story was a hot topic in the news and internet during June and July. In the spring of 2012, a former manager at one of Deen’s restaurants brought a lawsuit against the restaurant, Paula Deen and her brother Bubba.  Jackson alleged that she was the victim of sexual harassment by Bubba.  In addition to harassment claims, Jackson, who is white, brought claims of racial discrimination against the defendants who allegedly made racial slurs about African Americans.  Fast forward to May 2013, and Paula Deen has her deposition taken.  Paula Deen admits using the “N-word” in the past, approximately 25-30 years ago.  She also admits that jokes were told at work – black jokes, Jewish jokes, redneck jokes.  To be fair to Paula, there was no indication that she told the jokes.  See Paula’s deposition transcript here.

Sometime in June 2013, Deen’s deposition transcript hits the press.  Many labeled Paula Deen a racist and threatened to boycott the Food Network.  The Food Network decided not to renew Deen’s contract, which was due to expire June 30, 2013.  Deen’s fans are upset and have decided to boycott the Food Network.  Later, Wal Mart released Paula Deen and K-Mart, and Smithfield Foods, Home Depot, etc. etc. all released Paula Deen.    Some guess that the impact of these severed relationships is in the neighborhood of $12 million.  By the way, in the last week of June, Paula Deen was bigger news than the Supreme Court’s decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8.

When Jackson filed her lawsuit it was reported that she was seeking $1.2 million.  Understand that I am not trying to play Monday morning QB, but if Deen’s attorneys had convinced her to settle for $750-900k, she probably would not have lost her $12 million empire.  Remember this all started when Jackson quit because she alleged sexual harassment by Bubba.  Moreover, the sexual harassment claim is viable.  Paula testified that Bubba would look at porn at work.   Because the case did not settle, Deen’s deposition became public, Deen has been labeled a racist, and Corporate America has decided to distance itself from her.

Ironically, the judge dismissed the race discrimination case.  Near the end of a twenty page decision on race discrimination, Judge Moore ruled:

Plaintiff is not an aggrieved party under Title VII because her interests are not arguably sought to be protected by that statute.  At best, Plaintiff is an accidental victim of the alleged racial discrimination.  There are no allegations that Defendant Hier’s racially offensive comments were either directed toward Plaintiff or made with the intent to harass her.

See Judge Moore’s August 12, Order.

For whatever its worth, the lawyers on both sides are working very hard on this case.   There is little doubt that the next move by either side will generate further interest in the Paula Deen saga.

If you have questions about employment discrimination or labor and employment law, give Rich Bradford a call at (813) 413-2402.

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Posted by on August 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Paula Deen’s Deposition Transcript

What did Paula Deen say to Ms. Jackson’s attorneys? In case you are interested, here is a link to Paula Deen’s Deposition Transcript.  By the way, the Food Network decided that it will not renew her contract, which expires at the end of this month.

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Related Posts:  Paula Deen Sexual Harassment Update – “They’re Just Jokes;” Sexual Harassment: Managing the Mess Created By Paula Deen’s Bubba

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Paula Deen Sexual Harassment Update – “They’re Just Jokes”

“Want to hear a funny joke”

A year ago, I posted on problems at Paula Deen’s restaurants.  One of her former managers brought a lawsuit raising allegations of racial discrimination, racially insensitive language, and sexual harassment.  Immediately after the allegations came to the surface, Deen’s attorneys denied any wrongdoing.  Soon thereafter, Deen’s popularity continued.  Going through supermarkets you see her on the cover of magazines.  Personally, I do not watch cooking shows, but I suppose she has continued to make television appearances.

Now, nearly a year later recent reports suggests that there is merit to the former manager’s claims.  The manager’s attorneys have taken the deposition of Ms. Deen and in the course of the deposition, she has made shocking admissions.  She indicated that she was aware that her brother, a business partner, is into porn, her brother has problems with alcohol, and he uses cocaine.  This is not a very good combination if you are a business owner.

Ms. Deen also admitted to using the “N Word,” by responding “yes of course.”  I suppose she was suggesting that everyone talks that way.  No Paula, we don’t.  She testified that she tells black jokes, Jewish jokes, and redneck jokes, then added that she cannot determine what offends another person.

In writing this, I am certainly not advocating ultra sensitivity, but she has to be more intelligent than this if she wants to continue to run a business.  Many corporations will devote an entire day annually training their supervisors and managers on discrimination and harassment.  Unfortunately, Ms. Deen has failed to read the memo.

Given these facts,  (and these are now facts, not mere allegations) I wonder how her attorneys were unable to persuade her to reach a settlement with the former manager.

Do you need an attorney to discuss discrimination, harassment or labor and employment law, call Rich Bradford at (813) 413-2402.

See also:  Paula Deen Admits Use of N-Word & Making Racial Jokes at Deposition;Sexual Harassment: Managing the Mess Created By Paula Deen’s “Bubba”;Paula Deen Racist Deposition Stuns the Web

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Posted by on June 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Lessons on Sexual Harassment and Retaliation After Beavis and Butthead Attend a Conference

Though I have not seen Beavis and Butthead in nearly 20 years, I am familiar with their middle school humor.  Over the last week a situation played out that illustrated what would happen if Beavis and Butthead attended a Tech Conference.

Last week a woman by the name of Adria Richards, employed by a company called SendGrid, attended a conference called PyCon.  From the photos, it looked like the conference had a few hundred (if not more than a thousand) attendees.  Beavis and Butthead (not their real names – huh huh) happened to be sitting behind Ms. Richards.  As the speaker started making technical references that I admit I know nothing about, Beavis and Butthead started cracking jokes.

Ms. Richards became annoyed and decided to alert the organizers of their conduct.  Ms. Richards snapped a photo of the two men and attached the photo to a tweet of the jokes with the #pycon hashtag.

Soon thereafter the organizers removed the men from the conference.  Upon returning to work, one of the men learned that he was losing his job.  Right decision by employer? Probably not. But see my other posts on the at-will doctrine.

Now things really started to get weird.  The Tech World did not take too kindly to the employment decision.  Instead of going after Beavis’ employer, they went after Ms. Richards.  She received death threats, rape threats, racial slurs including the N-bomb, and anti-semitic remarks.  A few even publicized her personal information. 

Ms. Richards’ employer was not oblivious to the firestorm, having received their own hate mail.  So in the middle of last week, SendGrid published a message on their blog and Twitter stream announcing the termination of Ms. Richards’ employment. (??!!).  While many in the Tech World celebrated her termination, others are left scratching their heads.

Having read this story from a number of sources, I could not help but think about its legal implications. 

Although Beavis and Butthead’s conduct falls in the realm of harassment, it is doubtful that she would prevail if she pursued a harassment claim.  Not only is an employee required to show unwelcome sexual conduct, he or she must also show that the conduct was so severe or pervasive as to create a hostile environment.   Putting up with Beavis and Buthead jokes 8 hours a day, 5 days a week may create a hostile environment.  However a few jokes here and there – huh huh – or isolated sexual remarks are not enough to get your case before a jury.  It is also worth noting that the conference organizers took prompt, remedial action upon learning of the harassment.

Retaliation law presents a more difficult question.  Retaliation occurs when someone asserts his or her rights under harassment law – i.e. complaining about harassment – and the employer takes adverse action for engaging in the protected activity.  With respect to Ms. Richards’ case reasonable minds or a room full of highly talented employment attorneys could differ.

Notwithstanding the viability of any employment claim, it looks like SendGrid created more problems than expected by firing Ms. Richards. It did not take long for this story to go viral with it getting picked up by USA Today, Forbes, Ebony, and the first page/first story of Yahoo.

For whatever it is worth, the HR and legal teams in the Tech World need to engage in a massive mobilization effort to train employees and management on harassment law.  As for Ms. Richards and Beavis, I am sure both have impressive backgrounds and it should not take them long to secure employment elsewhere.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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3 Mistakes Employees Make in Sexual Harassment Cases

I have practiced employment law for a few years and having handled a number of sexual harassment cases, there are many mistakes that are common to employees bringing suit.  Although these mistakes may not be show stoppers, individually or collectively, they can reduce an employee’s damages in a harassment case.

1.            Failing to Report Harassment to Management.   In many harassment cases, the employee may be uncomfortable and she will keep the offense to herself.  She never reports the harassment and eventually quits and then hires an attorney to sue her former employer.  In harassment cases, employers are able to assert as a defense that it has a policy against harassment and the employee failed to avail herself of that policy.  As soon as the harassment occurs, the employee needs to alert management and give management an opportunity to correct the problem.

2.            Failing to Document the Harassment.   When faced with harassment, an employee may be overwhelmed by the atmosphere created at work.  If she later hires an attorney, she may have a hard time remembering the specifics of her case.   Also, the employee should document her complaints to management.  While management should do a good job of keeping records, this does not happen all the time.  An employee will have a much stronger harassment case if she is able to show each complaint made to management and management’s failure to take action on her complaints.

3.            Quitting Too Soon.    In this situation, an employee may witness a co-worker looking at pornography or observe a co-worker telling off color jokes.  Without informing management, she may be disgusted by her co-worker’s behavior and abruptly quit.  She may also share her experience with a friend or neighbor, who sympathizes with her circumstances.  There may be a good chance that she will not have a case because by quitting too soon, she failed to give management an opportunity to correct the offending behavior.  She may argue that the harassment amounted to a constructive discharge, but a court would disagree if it finds that the harassment did not rise to a level to become intolerable.  The more prudent course of action for an employee in this situation is to consult with counsel prior to quitting.  The exception to this is when the co-worker is repeatedly putting his hands on the employee and management fails to correct what is happening.

Sexual harassment involves unwelcome verbal or physical conduct in the workplace.  Employees should understand that sporadic or isolated incidents generally do not rise to the level of harassment.   Employees should be familiar with their company’s anti-harassment policies to understand the actions they should take when experiencing harassment.  Before deciding to quit, an employee should consult with a labor and employment attorney to determine whether the company’s actions or inactions constitute a violation of the law.

If you have any questions regarding harassment law or employment law, feel free to call Rich Bradford at (813) 413-2402.

 

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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County Property Appraiser Settles Sexual Harassment Case for $135,000

Last spring, the office of the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser was rocked by the sexual harassment claims of Carolyn Filippone.  Although the case had been pending for nearly two years, it did not make front page news until Property Appraiser, Rob Turner, fired his paramour, Carolyn Filippone.

Turner made a huge mistake by firing her as her attorneys were contemplating whether to move forward with a lawsuit.  Prior to the termination decision, Filippone’s claims were limited to sexual harassment.  Thus, the question was whether she could advance a meritorious sexual harassment case against her boss although she had an affair with him.  At this stage, this case had strengths and weaknesses for both parties.   After the EEOC dismissed her case, Filippone had 3 months to decide whether to file a lawsuit.  The decision became a lot easier when Turner fired Filippone before the expiration of the 90 days.  Now Filippone was able to add a retaliation claim to her sexual harassment case.  See Tampa Woman Considers Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Claims Against County Official; Retaliation Lawsuit Filed in Federal Court in Property Appraiser Case; Filippone complaint.

After a few short months, the Property Appraiser’s office decided that settlement was the prudent course of action.  According to the Tampa Bay Times, the parties attended a mediation conference and settled for $135,000.

Sexual harassment occurs when one employee makes continued, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, to another employee, against his or her wishes.  Retaliation occurs when an employer takes some form of adverse action against an employee for asserting his rights under harassment or discrimination law.

If you have questions about sexual harassment or retaliation, you may call Rich Bradford at (813) 413-2402.

Bradford & Bradford’s practice areas include, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Estate Planning, Civil Litigation, Employment Law, and Family Law.

 

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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IHOP Settles Sexual Harassment Action With EEOC

 And yet another, sexual harassment case for the International House of Pancakes (IHOP).

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Albuquerque, New Mexico recently settled a sexual harassment case for $1,000,000 that was brought on behalf of a group of women, including teenagers, working for IHOP restaurants.  The harassment included sexual comments, sexual innuendo, and unwanted touching. The lawsuit alleged that the harassment caused some of the women to quit their jobs. 

As a result of the settlement, IHOP is required to implement policies and procedures that will provide its employees a work environment free of harassment and retaliation.   As a side note, I would be shocked to find out that IHOP did not already have such policies in place.  The real question is whether they were enforcing those policies.

Sexual harassment occurs when one employee subjects another to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.  

Not all offensive conduct rises to the level of actionable sexual harassment.  If you have questions regarding sexual harassment, you may call Rich Bradford at (813) 413-2402. 

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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