Monday, May 18, 2009

Flashing Brassieres and Other Hazards in the Workplace

Why do we have so many employment lawsuits in the United States? I'm starting to think it's simply a reflection of who we are: We have quite a few knuckleheads in the population, which means we have knuckleheads in the workplace. And knuckleheads lead to workplace problems.

Just ask Melissa Blessing, a Perryville, Missouri, woman who worked at a chain of hardware and building-supply stores in southern Missouri and Illinois. Her brassiere, and a number of knuckleheads, helped land her in the middle of a court case.

Blessing, the only woman in a lumberyard, was the target of regular pranks from her male coworkers. One day, the fellas put up a sign that read "Show me your boobies, please."

When they made a special point to show Blessing the sign, she tried to walk away. But the taunting continued, and she finally flashed a glimpse of her bra in an effort to make it stop.

That got her fired, while the men involved were not disciplined. For good measure, a man replaced her.

After a lengthy court battle, Blessing prevailed on discrimination and sexual harassment claims. But you can only shake your head at how such a situation ever was allowed to develop--and that the company defended its handling of the matter, probably spending tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Makes me think it was a miracle that I worked at UAB for 19 years before coming across a subset of knuckleheads who were corrupt enough to cheat me out of my job.

Here is a summary of the court's finding in the Blessing case:

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County. Buchheit, Inc., Appellant, v. Missouri Commission on Human Rights, Respondent, No. 65985 (Mo. App. W.D., February 20, 2007, Breckenridge, J.

Buchheit terminated Melissa Blessing after an incident in which she briefly showed her brassiere to male co-workers after they encouraged her to do so. Blessing filed a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (“MCHR”) claiming she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender. MCHR agreed with her, finding she had established a prima facie case of gender discrimination and that the reasons Buchheit put forth for terminating her were pretextual. Having found in her favor, MCHR awarded her $1,644.00 in lost wages and $4,000.00 in non-economic damages.

Held: Affirmed. After establishing that Buchheit had appealed from a final judgment, the court of appeals went about affirming MCHR's findings and conclusions. The facts of the underlying case are rather involved, but ultimately, the court of appeals, in a long opinion, emphasized Buchheit had not been entirely consistent in its testimony about handling and disciplining Blessing. Basically, a spirited incident occurred, in which Blessing was the only female employee. She was the only one who exposed herself, as Buchheit maintained, in that she briefly showed a part of her brassiere. Buchheit claimed the other male employees were not similarly situated to her because they had not exposed themselves. The court of appeals agreed with MCHR that all the employees who participated in this incident were similarly situated, so MCHR was justified in finding Blessing had been treated differently because of her gender. None of the male employees were terminated over this incident.

Was justice served in this case? Not from this Schnauzer's perspective. I'm amazed that Blessing didn't receive far more than roughly $5,600 in damages. Makes me think the company got off way too easily. Also makes me think the Missouri Commission on Human Rights is a worthless bureaucracy that is high-minded in name only.


Anonymous said...

Was she reinstated to her job?

Anonymous said...

I doubt it. She was terminated in October 2000 and the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District issued its opinion in February 2007.

They also mentioned that she had since remarried and her name is now Melissa Sandler.