What’s in a name? Bias in the workplace

March 13, 2017 - by: Katie O'Shea 1 COMMENTS
Katie O'Shea

As Shakespeare wrote, “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But there is in fact much to a namea name can convey a sense of identity, culture, and family history. Recently, a series of viral tweets illustrated how much something as simple as a name could affect an individual’s employment.  Business woman versus man corporate ladder career concept vector illustration

A man and his female coworker conducted an experiment whereby they switched their e-mail signatures for two weeks. The series of tweets describes the man’s struggle to gain clients’ respect when using his female coworker’s name.

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Peter Dinklage takes on Elf

December 05, 2016 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

It’s December, which means that those of us holiday fanatics can decorate and watch Christmas movies to our hearts’ content without shame.  Of course, I won’t tell anyone if you already had your tree up in November (like me) or if you never took it down from last year.  One of my favorite Christmas movies is Elf, starring Will Ferrell.  It is surprisingly packed with various employment law issues, such as employee substance abuse at work, sexual harassment, and workplace violence.  In one of the more memorable scenes, Peter Dinklage’s character, Miles Finch, demonstrates how good intentions can still lead to a harassment complaint.  Facepalm, retro disappointed man slapping forehead, d'oh!

As background, Will Ferrell’s character, Buddy, has been raised as one of Santa’s elves and only recently learned that he is actually human. He has tracked down his biological father, who works for a children’s book publisher in New York City. Unaccustomed to the human world and innocent to its realities, Buddy has difficulty adjusting to life in the Big Apple and working in his father’s office.

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Mila Kunis’ open letter on gender bias at work

November 29, 2016 - by: Katie O'Shea 0 COMMENTS
Katie O'Shea

Many people know actor Mila Kunis for her role in the TV series “That ’70s Show” and her film roles in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the drama Black Swan. Kunis has recently been in the headlines for her open letter on sexism in Hollywood and the workplace entitled, “You’ll Never Work in This Town Again…” originally posted here.Accusation. Sad woman looking down fingers pointing at her

In the letter, Kunis discusses some of her personal experiences, including being told by a producer that she would never work in Hollywood again after she refused to pose semi-naked on the cover of a men’s magazine to promote a film. Kunis explained that she felt objectified and that the threat that her career would suffer because of her refusal embodied the fear that many women face with gender bias in the workplace. She explained her view about how many women feel–that if they speak up against gender bias, their livelihoods will be threatened. Because of her career success and financial ability, Kunis explained she is fortunate to be in a position where she can stand up against gender bias and bring it to light when she experiences it, but recognized that many women may not be able to do so.

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U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team alleges gender wage discrimination

April 01, 2016 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

Five star players of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn and Hope Solo) made headlines this week by filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging gender wage discrimination against the U.S. Soccer Federation.  In their charge, the players allege that they should be paid at least as much as (if not more than) the players for the Men’s National Team.  The players filed the charge amid contentious negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement, which have already resulted in a separate lawsuit and serious questions about whether the team will be participating in the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. Soccer Stars

In their charge, the players allege that they are paid as little as 38 percent of what the Men’s National Team Players earn.  More specifically, the charge alleges that top-tier Women’s National Team Players earn $72,000 per year to play a minimum of 20 exhibition games (“Friendlies,” with no additional pay for games beyond the 20unlike the men’s team which is paid for each game played) and that they earn $99,000 if they win all 20 Friendlies.  Meanwhile, the men earn $100,000 if they lose all their Friendlies and can earn up to approximately $260,000 if they win.  As for the World Cup, the women’s team earned a total of $2 million last year for their championship performance in Canada while the men’s team was paid a total $9 million despite their failure to advance past the top 16 in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

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Bloodline: We did a bad thing

December 11, 2015 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

“We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing.” This is the tagline for the Netflix original thriller-drama Bloodline. If you haven’t seen it, run to add it to your watch list immediately. The show takes us into the lives of the Rayburn family, owners of a picturesque beachside hotel in the Florida Keys. Despite the gorgeous backdrop, this family is plagued by its dark and violent past. Pay attention to the opening sequence because a storm is certainly coming.  Woman Mugshot

When the oldest son, Danny, returns home after years away, the family reunion is anything but happy. Need proof? We know from the very start that Danny will end up dead by the hands of one (or more) of his siblings, but it will take the rest of the first season to unravel who kills him, how, and why.

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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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Clip[pers] his tongue!

April 28, 2014 - by: Josh Sudbury 0 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

This past week the biggest story in the NBA was not the excitement of the first round of the playoffs, but the comments L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling allegedly made to his girlfriend. In an audiotape released Friday by TMZ, a man (allegedly Sterling) is heard chastising his girlfriend for associating with black people and bringing them to his team’s games.  ThatsRacist Several authors and bloggers have already written about the deplorable worldview espoused by the man in the tape alleged to be Sterling so I won’t rehash the obvious. Indeed, the audio reveals personal views one might expect to be held by resisters of the civil rights movement, but not by that of the owner of an NBA franchise 50 years after the passage of Title VII. But a different lesson about our times can be learned from the incident, which concerns the prevalence of audio and video records in today’s world. In our technology-laden society, every smart phone doubles as a camera, tape recorder, video camera, word processor, etc. You name it, and your phone—and your employees’ phones—can probably do it, including secretly recording conversations between themselves and supervisors. On top of that, it takes almost zero technical savvy for someone to make a recording and post it to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, or any number of social media sites instantaneously. The majority of states permit the secret recording of conversations so long as at least one party to the conversation consents to the recording. In those states, such an audio recording could wind up as evidence against the company in court or before a government agency. In the Clippers’ case, it’s the owner himself who is alleged to have made the statements. So, it’s obvious that his statements reflect directly on the organization. But would the result be any better if one of your mid-level supervisors was caught on tape making an off-color joke or sexually charged comment about another employee? The answer is simply no. In addition to the potential liability that may arise from such statements in a discrimination or harassment lawsuit, the company almost certainly would lose the verdict in the court of public opinion. All hope is not lost, however. Employers can minimize the potential for such occurrences by committing to provide anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training for their managers on at least an annual basis. You should also remain in contact with your workforce and get to know your managers. Many times, when a manager is caught on tape making these kinds of statements, it isn’t the first time. Being present in the workplace will help you identify potential bad apples as well as remind your employees to be on guard because their words and actions are being noticed. Finally, employers can adopt and enforce policies prohibiting employees from making secret records in the workplace. Such policies help foster open communications in the workplace and protect confidential or trade secret information. Employers, however, would be wise to consult with outside counsel before implementing or enforcing such a policy to ensure it doesn’t encroach on employee rights. In the hopefully unlikely event you have an employee who sympathizes with Mr. Sterling’s alleged views, nothing short of a muzzle may be appropriate.

Robertson a sitting duck after controversial quotes released

December 19, 2013 - by: Josh Sudbury 0 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson and his family are most likely not enjoying a Happy Happy Happy Holiday after his recent GQ interview hit newsstands. In the interview, Robertson is quoted as saying:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

When asked what he considered sinful, Robertson elaborated:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men . . . .”

[For greater context and to get Robertson's full quotes on the subject, I encourage you to read the entire GQ article, which you can find here.]

In response, A&E Networks put the eldest Robertson on “indefinite hiatus” from filming, issuing a statement saying the network is “extremely disappointed” to read Robertson’s comments, which A&E notes “are based on his own personal beliefs and not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty.”

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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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