Monday, November 28, 2011

Woman Gets Fired For Complaining About Porn In The Workplace

Michelle Luebbert worked for a man who enjoyed copious amounts of pornography on his work computer, so she decided to do something about it. Determined that she no longer should be subjected to the sights and sounds emanating from her boss' office, Luebbert complained to higher ups. And they took immediate action . . . by firing her.

Now Luebbert is suing to get her job back, plus damages. If a jury sides with her, Luebbert's bank account should take a nice bump. And her former employer--the Webster Electric Cooperative in southwest Missouri--will have a spot in the Workplace Dunderheads Hall of Fame.

As someone who was fired for writing a progressive blog about matters of public interest--on my own time, with my own resources--I'm not easily shocked by workplace stupidity. But even I was left with my mouth agape as I read about Luebbert's experience at the rural utility company in Webster County, near Marshfield, Missouri. Here is how the Springfield News-Leader reported on Luebbert's lawsuit against General Manager Thomas E. Houston, the cooperative, and its board members:

Luebbert, who worked at the cooperative since 2002, said in her suit that the board of directors fired her on Sept. 21, after she complained to them about Houston watching pornography in his office. Workers could see his screen through an open door. She was manager of accounting and finance at the time of the firing.

"His viewing progressively became more frequent and active, the extent of which was pervasive, continuous and offensive," her attorney Jay Kirksey wrote in the suit. The day before she was fired, the suit says, Luebbert "was offered a settlement if she would remain quiet as to Defendant Houston's conduct."

They offered to pay her off if she stayed quiet? I'd say things aren't looking real great for the utility folks at the moment. And get this?

Kirksey wrote that it got so difficult in the office that women would purposefully step on a metal grate near Houston's door in hopes the sound of someone approaching would get him to switch the screen. Kirksey also said the women used weather terms to refer to their chances of catching Houston watching pornography.

If "humidity was 90 percent" and the "barometric pressure was rising," that must have meant the boss was having a jolly good time in PornLand.

A law firm representing Webster Electric Cooperative issued a public statement about the controversy. My guess is that the utility will try to portray Luebbert as an employee who had "performance deficiencies," even though she had worked there for almost 10 years.

I know all about that lowdown sort of strategy. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where I worked for 19 years until being fired in May 2008, filed documents in my ongoing federal lawsuit claiming I was fired because of performance issues.

How ugly can it get when employers try to cover their tracks after cheating an employee out of his or her job? Well, I can show that multiple current and former UAB managers perjured themselves in sworn statements about the reasons for my termination. In UAB's response to my lawsuit, my former supervisor made all sorts of claims about my alleged declining performance. But when Pam Powell was asked at my university grievance hearing to provide evidence supporting such claims, she could not produce a single piece of paper from my file, or anywhere else. She also could not explain why she had given me a positive performance review just a few months before firing me.

Powell went so far as to claim that one of my clients, Alumni Affairs director Becky Watson, had complained about my performance. When I produced an e-mail in which Watson wrote glowingly about my work for her office . . . well, Powell didn't have an answer for that one.

I recite these facts from my own case to illustrate the kind of stunts that probably will be pulled against Luebbert. Based on what we know at the moment, the Webster Electric Cooperative would be smart to settle the lawsuit as quickly and quietly as possible.

If the utility's managers were smart, of course, they would not be in this position in the first place.

Here is a copy of the complaint in Michelle Luebbert's lawsuit:

Michelle Luebbert Lawsuit


Anonymous said...

Personally I believe I would insist some agency take his computer and prove that he was watching porno at work. This is about as disguisting as anything. I guess you saw where the guy was on a flight in first class looking at child porno and someone alerted the staff and the police were waiting for him when the flight landed. 47 year old man from Utah I believe.

Seriously I truly wonder what is going on with our society. There are so many sick minded people. Like IF the coaches are guilty of the molestation charges and I say IF because in our justice system we are innocent until proven guilty are suppose to be.I personally believe they are guilty but they are entitled to their day in court.
I believe whether the lady was a bad employee or so called ... no one should be subjected to having to be around pornography and it is very easy to see what your employees are doing. There are tracking programs that can be installed on computers so that everything your child or spouse does comes to your computer without their knowledge. You can bet that if my children were still at home we'd have one on their computers and I'd track every key stroke they made. What was the outcome of the porno that was going on at the Birmingham Public library? Is there not a way that workplaces or libraries can not block it where you can not pull up these sites? I am sorry to ramble on but this type of thing really just pisses me off.. I would not even want to touch the keyboard of someone that is a porno lover much less see it pop up on a screen. They should fire that man and not the woman.

Anonymous said...

Nobody is saying, but I bet you (the commenter) and the author are both women. This is why women do not make it to the very top in large corporations because they magnify "issues" that are only issues for them and nobody else. Porn exists. Men watch porn. Sometimes, in their offices or on their private devices. Men scratch their private area because there is an itch. Men look at women. None of this has anything to do with anyone else except those who make it their business to "do something about it". Yeah, right. This is why the largely male dominated offices remain male. BTW, I am a male.

I chose to respond to this because recently a woman was let go from my workplace, and they say it was performance but the real reason was because she complained about the Sports Illustrated calendar and "soft porn" pinups in some of the male workers' cubicles. She also complained about seeing men "scratch their balls", and she even complained that one guy's jeans were too tight and she could see his genitals. HUH???

Word to women like this: Keep it to yourself until you know (or have a general idea) of how your complaint will be dealt with. If you are new on the job, wait a week or two then complain. Better yet, find a confidant in the company and discuss it with him/her. Trust me, some guy with 10 years senority vs a new hire with complaints is not going to end well for the newbie.

Perhaps the relaxed workplace is a bit too unstructured for your taste and you dont belong there?