‘Transparent’ brings gender identity issues to forefront

February 13, 2015 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 1 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

Amazon’s streaming series Transparent follows Maura Pfefferman (born Morton Pfefferman and played by Jeffrey Tambor of Arrested Development fame), a retired political science professor and parent of three adult children, as she finally reveals to her family that she has always identified as a woman. The show’s creator, Jill Soloway, was inspired by her own father, who came out as a transgender woman. Behind the scenes, Soloway has gone to significant lengths to ensure that the story of Maura’s journey is treated with sensitivity and respect.  Transgender Symbol

For example, Soloway has enacted a “transfirmative action plan,” which has included hiring at least 20 transgender cast and crew members, more than 60 transgender extras, and two full-time transgender consultants. In addition, all the bathrooms on set are gender-neutral, and Soloway has distributed copies of Julia Serano’s trans memoir “Whipping Girl” to her cast and crew. Not only has the show’s subject matter and Soloway’s hiring/workplace practices broken new ground, but Transparent also has made Amazon the first digital streaming service to win a Golden Globe for Best Television Series with Tambor also taking home the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series, Musical, or Comedy.

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Elf: one too many Christmas spirits

December 19, 2014 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 1 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

With Christmas just around the corner, my family and I have begun our yearly ritual of re-watching our favorite holiday films. At the top of the list is a relatively newer addition, Elf.  The comedy stars Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human who crawls into Santa’s sack and ends up being raised by Papa Elf at the North Pole. After learning that he is actually human rather than an elf, Buddy decides to travel to New York to find his biological father, who works at a children’s book company and happens to be on the Naughty List. Much of the film’s comedy and charm comes from Buddy’s child-like innocence and genuine holiday cheer as he tries to navigate the cynical world of New York City. shutterstock_236981068At his father’s office, this same innocence leads Buddy to mistake a mail room worker’s whiskey for delicious maple syrup. As you can imagine, a six-foot tall elf can cause quite a ruckus in the workplace after having too many spirits.

Employers are well aware that illicit drug use and alcohol abuse can be costly in the workplace. Drug-free workplace programs can be powerful tools in spreading prevention messages and intervening early with those who have already begun to use drugs. For many individuals, especially those who may deny that their use of drugs is problematic, workplace-based programs can be a critical step along the road to treatment and recovery. Every workplace is different, and drug-free workplace programs should be tailored to match a company’s individual needs. Here are some general recommendations for such programs: read more…

The Abominable Boss Man

October 31, 2014 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

In honor of Halloween, this post will address some of the many potential workplace issues in the Pixar film, Monsters, Inc.  If you’ve been living under a rock and have managed to not see this film (or its recent sequel), here’s a quick recap. A city called Monstropolis is inhabited by monsters and is powered by the screams of children in the human world. shutterstock_98138216At Monsters, Inc., employees (or “Scarers”) have the job of scaring human children and collecting their screams to power the city. The company, however, is facing a serious dilemma and potential energy crisis, as human children are become harder to frighten. Through a series of amusing misadventures, the top Scarer, Sulley, and his best friend, Mike, end up caring for a little girl they dub “Boo.”

In trying to return Boo safely to the human world, Mike and Sulley discover that one of the Scarers, Randall, plans to kidnap children (particularly Boo) and use a torture machine on company property to extract their screams. Randall tries to use the torture machine on Mike, but Sulley saves the day. Sulley reports Randall and his torture device to the company chairman, who responds by promptly exiling Mike and Sulley to the Himalayas. I won’t spoil the ending for the two or three of you who have not yet seen the movie.

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A blooper of historic proportions

September 22, 2014 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 1 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

Downton Abbey recently made headlines with what some are calling “the water bottle seen around the world.” In an uncropped version of a publicity photo, Lord Grantham and Lady Edith are seen standing in front of a stately mantel upon which a bottled water is perched looking hilariously out of place. shutterstock_58173862Turning an amusing blooper into a positive,  the show posted to its Instagram account a photograph of the cast holding water bottles on set along with a link to the website for WaterAid, an international organization dedicated to providing clean water to underserved communities.  The cast and crew decided they wanted to turn some of the attention toward a water issue that truly matters.

The water bottle blooper was particularly noteworthy, given the amount of time and effort that clearly goes into making the show look and feel authentic to viewers. In fact, Sophie McShera (who plays the cook’s assistant, Daisy) revealed that, for the sake of preserving their historic look, there is a no-wash policy when it comes to the costumes, which makes for one smelly cast. According to McShera, there are patches in the costumes’ armpits that are washed separately, but “we do stink.”

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Lactation intolerance

Kristin Starnes Gray

When Karlesha Thurman got ready for her college graduation ceremony, she probably had no idea that she would be picking up international news coverage along with her accounting degree. Thurman’s three-month-old daughter became hungry during the festivities and Thurman did what countless other mothers have done–she nursed her hungry baby. A friend snapped a photograph of the moment and Thurman later posted it to Facebook in an effort to show that breastfeeding is “natural, it’s normal, there’s nothing wrong with it.” Thereafter, the photograph went viral and added further fuel to the widespread debate on public breastfeeding with supporters pointing out that it’s natural and healthy for babies and critics arguing that it should be kept behind closed doors. shutterstock_161446934

The public breastfeeding debate has even inspired a new form of civil disobedience–the nurse-in. If you’re not familiar with the term, participants band together to nurse in public in a particular location at a particular time to show their solidarity. Some nurse-ins also include participants handing out pamphlets and other educational information about breastfeeding. Despite public health organizations and others trumpeting the health benefits (for both mothers and children) of breastfeeding, public breastfeeding remains a source of controversy and disagreement.

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Chim, chimney

Kristin Starnes Gray

If you are a Mary Poppins fan, as I am, you were probably as excited as I was to check out Saving Mr. Banks, which is based on Walt Disney’s long-time efforts to bring Mary Poppins to the big screen. As chronicled in the film, that proved to be quite the challenge given that the author, P.L. Travers, (after having Disney jump through hoops for 20 years to win the film rights) was prone to such ashutterstock_78489430ntics as insisting that Disney eliminate the color red from the film and avoid any type of animation. If you are paying close attention, you may also notice some interesting details in the film, including its subtle treatment of Disney’s smoking habit.

Disney, who ultimately succumbed to lung cancer complications, was a chain smoker for much, if not all, of his adult life. However, he was careful not to smoke around children, and there is a studio-wide ban on smoking in Disney films. In Saving Mr. Banks, you will see some hints to this habit in Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the animator and producer. More specifically, Hanks stubs out a cigarette in one scene and there are also references to Disney’s incessant cough.

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Veronica Mars: Return to Neptune

April 04, 2014 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

Thanks in large part to a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, legions of “Marshmallows” and I recently got to enjoy new adventures of Veronica Mars on the big screen. Although Veronica left the small screen back in 2007, that did not stop my favorite private detective from diving right back into action (and danger) in the film version. The premise of the film is that Veronica’s ex-boyfriend, Logan Echolls, is suspected yet again of murdering a girlfriend. Lucky for Logan, Veronica is willing to leave behind her life in New York (including a stable relationship with Piz and a high-powered legal career) to help, even when it means risking her own life. What else would you expect from someone who received a private investigator’s license for her 18th birthday?   KristenBell An interesting tidbit is that Kristen Bell, the actress who plays the titular character, had recently given birth at the time of filming. You would never know it watching Veronica hunt down the killer and narrowly avoid becoming a victim herself. This got me thinking about dangerous professions and pregnancy. Where would Logan (and all the devoted fans) be if a pregnant Veronica Mars was not permitted to do her job and catch the bad guy? According to the U.S. Supreme Court, employers may not lawfully deny jobs to women because of hazards to unborn children. Such decision have to be left to women. According to the Court, denying jobs to women due to hazards is biased because fertile men, but not fertile women, are given “a choice as to whether they wish to risk their reproductive health for a particular job.” Subsequent decisions have clarified that, although employers are generally prohibited from deciding for a pregnant employee what course of action is best for her, this prohibition does not constitute a requirement that an employer make alternate work available.  In other words, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) doesn’t require an employer to provide preferential treatment for a pregnant employee. For example, a hospital isn’t required to make an exception to its policy that nurses treat all patients assigned to them when a nurse refuses to treat a patient with a contagious disease based on her pregnancy. Other decisions, however, have gone on to say that the PDA doesn’t preclude policies that take into account the reality of pregnancy in assisting women in balancing the work and family conflict and that federal law doesn’t prevent an employer from temporarily transferring a pregnant woman, at her request, for the protection of her unborn child. As for Veronica, these aren’t issues she has to address at the moment, though they could make for some interesting plot lines in a sequel. In the meantime, are you Team Piz or Team Logan?

Downton Abbey: Handling an employee resignation with class

February 21, 2014 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 2 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

Although Downton Abbey focuses on the upstairs/downstairs dynamics of the fictional aristocratic Crawley familshutterstock_170276813y and their staff, there are still some lessons that contemporary employers may take from the show. For instance, in a recent episode, the staff dealt with the sudden resignation of second footman Alfred, as he was accepted into the Ritz cooking course and decided to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. Just as butler Carson was faced with the prospect of an unexpected, voluntary staff departure, so are many employers in modern society. There are certain steps employers can take to help make such transitions smoother.

1. Two-week notice. Consider whether to include a section addressing employee notices in the handbook. You should beware of making it mandatory for employees to provide advance notice, given that some courts have found this to alter their at-will status and have even interpreted such notice requirements as reciprocal for the employers.

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Parks and relationships

October 18, 2013 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

As an avid Parks and Recreation fan, I cannot help but love the chemistry between newlyweds Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt. Long before they were joining their dysfunctional families via a wedding with a punch heard round the world and a unity quilt (complete with a patch dedicated to waffles, of course), these two were navigating the complicated minefield of an office romance. Like a number of employers, the fictional City of Pawnee had enacted a policy against workplace dating, which posed a serious obstacle for Leslie and Ben’s budding romance.  Clearly this story had a happy ending for the two lovebirds, but unfortunately that is not always the case in the real world where workplace romances all too often lead to messy litigation.

While there are countless cases of one party to a soured office romance later accusing a coworker of sexual harassment and denying that the relationship was ever consensual (particularly where the accused had supervisory authority over the accuser), there are also cases of non-parties to the romance attempting to file suit under a variety of creative theories. For example, in a case out of Texas, two employees entered into an extramarital affair. Their spouses decided to sue the company for negligently interfering in their familial relationships by failing to take action to prevent the affair. The case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found in favor of the employer and helped establish that employers generally aren’t liable for failing to prevent office liaisons.

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Equal opportunity offender

September 20, 2013 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

No discussion of the film Horrible Bosses is complete without covering Kevin Spacey’s character, David Harken. Although he is arguably the most intimidating and even frightening of the three horrible bosses (two of which I covered in earlier posts, #1 and #2), his workplace conduct gives rise to the lowest litigation value from an employment law perspective. Unfortunately for Harken, his jealousy combined with his unhealthy marriage ultimately lead him to a life of violent crime outside the office and his final downfall. For the purposes of this blog entry, we will focus on Harken’s workplace conduct and leave his more colorful personal life for your enjoyment at home with a tub of popcorn.

In the film, Nick Hendricks (played by Jason Bateman) has good reason to detest Harken. After dangling a possible promotion in front of Hendricks and watching Hendricks work tirelessly to meet Harken’s extremely high (and often inconsistent) expectations , Harken proceeds to award the promotion to . . . himself.  He then commences construction on an even larger office for himself.  Hendricks is understandably upset about this strange turn of events. Sadly for Hendricks, “unfair” and even “bizarre” do not equate to “unlawful.” In addition, case law has clearly established that federal employment laws aren’t general civility codes for the American workplace.

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