Thursday, April 27, 2006
All in good fun
Lawyers for a woman who was spanked in front of her co-workers as part of what her employer said was a camaraderie-building exercise asked a jury Wednesday for at least $1.2 million for the humiliation she claimed to have suffered.
Janet Orlando, 53, quit her job at the home security company Alarm One Inc. in Fresno and sued, alleging discrimination, assault, battery and infliction of emotional distress.
Employees were paddled with rival companies' yard signs as part of a contest that pitted sales teams against each other, according to court documents. The winners poked fun at the losers, throwing pies at them, feeding them baby food, making them wear diapers and swatting their buttocks.
For god's sake, these people are in sales. They need all the motivation they can get. A situation like that would certainly motivate me—to find another line of work.
This case is being brought in California where a recent state Supreme Court ruling may be relevant, at least if you believe that sales is somehow related to the creative process.
After having been fired as a stenographer because she couldn't stenog, Amaani Lyle sued the producer of "Friends," Warner Brothers Television Productions, for sexual harassment. It turns out that comedy writers are really quite raunchy at work, and Ms. Lyle had expected something a little more sedate than "constant talk about anal sex, blow jobs, 'schlongs' and 'cunts.'"
The California Supremes settled the matter last week. According to Mike McKee,
Script writers for both television sitcoms and dramas were given the license Thursday to be as raunchy as they like during the creative process -- as long as their raw talk doesn’t single out specific people as the butt of the jokes.
.... [T]he California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that sexually coarse and vulgar language is often a necessary part of the creative process when producing a hit TV show.
.... [T]he decision ... held that crass brainstorming — complete with foul words and lewd sexual simulations — crosses the line only if it targets a person because of his or her sex or is severe enough to create a hostile work environment.
"The record here reflects a workplace where comedy writers were paid to create scripts highlighting adult-themed sexual humor and jokes, and where members of both sexes contributed and were exposed to the creative process," [Justice Baxter] wrote.
"Moreover," he continued, "there was nothing to suggest the defendants engaged in this particular behavior to make plaintiff uncomfortable or self-conscious, or to intimidate, ridicule or insult her."
In a separate concurring opinion, ... Justice Ming Chin argued the court should have gone further and ruled that the writers’ words and actions were also protected as free speech.
"Creativity is, by its nature, creative. It is unpredictable," he wrote. "Much that is not obvious can be necessary to the creative process. Accordingly, courts may not constitutionally ask whether challenged speech was necessary for its intended purpose."
Suits, such as that resolved Thursday, he continued, "present a clear and present danger to fundamental free speech rights."
When it comes to comedy, Ms. Lyle would probably have felt more comfortable as a court reporter at the U.S. Supreme Court, where the banter can be quite entertaining.
The justices took up his case with a lively and sometimes contentious discussion about the way states carry out capital punishment. The court's ruling will determine whether inmates can file last-minute civil rights challenges claiming their deaths would be cruel and unusual punishment.
"Your procedure would be prohibited if applied to dogs and cats," Justice John Paul Stevens told Florida's assistant deputy attorney general, Carolyn Snurkowski.
On the other side, Justice Antonin Scalia said the Constitution does not require painless deaths. "Hanging was not a quick and easy way to go," he told Hill's lawyer, referring to one of the country's oldest execution methods.
States gradually have stopped using hanging, firing squads, gas chambers and electric chairs. Now the federal government and every capital punishment state but one uses lethal injection because it is considered more humane. Nebraska still has the electric chair, but its use is being challenged in court.
Florida argues that it is too late for Hill to contest the plans for his death. Snurkowski said the only way Hill could file a challenge to lethal injection is if Hill were to come up with an alternative proposal. That argument angered several court members.
Justice David H. Souter asked: "Why does he have an obligation ... to tell the state how to execute people?"
"Doesn't the state have a minimal obligation on its own" to investigate whether its executions cause gratuitous pain, asked Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
Later, Kennedy reprimanded his colleagues for laughing as several justices joked about the mischief that defense lawyers could cause if forced to propose ways to execute their clients.
"This is a death case," snapped Kennedy....
Some people have no sense of humor. After all, when you're sitting around trying to decide what is the appropriate means for the government to kill people, a little laugh can ease the tension.
1The case has put Jeb Bush, Florida's Governor and brother of the National Embarrassment, in a huff. In February Bush declared he wouldn't be signing any more death warrants until Hill's case is resolved. Alex Leary and Chris Tisch wrote that
At a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, Bush paused when asked if the death penalty was on hold until the summer.
"Yeah, probably. We don't know why the Supreme Court's done what it's done, so the uncertainty probably does create a need to wait," Bush said.
Bush also said he didn't expect to sign any more death warrants until the court issues a decision.
"I don't think any are ripe anyway," he said. "Given our twisted system, it takes forever to get to the point where people exhaust their appeals. They slow 'em down. They wait."