Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The workplace-porn habit of Kia exec Randy Jackson gets unmasked in e-discovery process for retaliation lawsuit brought by former HR manager Andrea Gogel, who apparently was canned for doing her job


Kia Motors Manufacturing of Georgia

A Kia Motors executive's workplace-porn habit apparently has been unmasked because of an employment retaliation lawsuit that a former female human-resources employee filed after the company fired her. Ouch! Memo to big-shot corporate types: If you are going to swap pornography with your buddies in the workplace, don't fire an employee under dubious circumstances that might lead to a lawsuit and discovery process that could unveil your little secret for the whole world to see.

In fact, the dispute provides a real-world tutorial on how e-discovery works in the modern legal world, with plenty of peril for execs who fire others while engaging in their own workplace misdeeds.

(Note: I might have grounds to reinstate my employment/First Amendment lawsuit against UAB -- the University of Alabama Board of Trustees -- with discovery I was denied the last time by the late crooked federal judge William M. Acker Jr. Such e-discovery could expose unsavory workplace habits from those who unlawfully fired me -- and more importantly, it would show Acker, who is now dead, engaged in horrifically corrupt behavior on the bench. More on that in upcoming posts. Did I mention Acker is dead?)

Andrea Gogel
The case of Andrea Gogel v. Kia Motors Manufacturing of Georgia raises significant workplace issues, enough that the entire U.S. 11th Circuit  Court of Appeals is set to hear it, with en banc arguments set for Oct. 22. Gogel is represented by Atlanta-area lawyers Meredith Carter and Lisa Lambert. As for the primary legal issues in Gogel, they are outlined at Daily Report and law,com:

Along with millions of Tellurides, Sorrentos and Optimas, the Kia plant in west Georgia has produced an intricate legal dispute that tests the competing rights of human resources officials and the companies they represent.

The case, set to be argued en banc at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on Oct. 22, has sparked a debate within the court and drawn the interest of employment lawyers and business groups around the country.

At issue is Andrea Gogel, a human resources director at the company who heard complaints that the company’s Korean executives discriminated against women and Americans. When she came to believe she was a victim herself, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—which soon afterward received two more complaints from Kia employees.

After company executives noticed the same Atlanta law firm represented Gogel and two co-workers who filed claims within a month of her, they fired Gogel for violating her job duties. According to the Eleventh Circuit panel decision, one executive said, she was ”paid to prevent lawsuits,” not encourage them.

What was Gogel's job description? This is from the Outten and Golden law blog:

[Gogel] worked as a Team Relations Manager at Kia's West Point, Georgia plant. The "overall purpose" of the Team Relations department was to "support an environment of positive team relations." Among her duties were "conducted investigations into policy violations, including attendance issues and allegations of harassment or discrimination." Between the lines, part of Gogel's job was to smooth over differences between the American employees and Korean-national management.

Did Gogel essentially get fired for doing her job? That appears to be part of her argument, and it seems to be a strong one. From the EEOC statement on the case:

The record evidence in this case demonstrates that Gogel engaged in protected activity and creates a triable issue as to Gogel’s retaliation claim, particularly in light of testimony from decision-maker Randy Jackson that he fired Gogel for encouraging and assisting another employee in filing an EEOC charge. That Gogel’s job responsibilities involved managerial and/or equal employment functions does not alter this conclusion. Indeed, the district court’s narrow focus on this aspect of the record led it to err in analyzing the central issue in this (and any) Title VII case—whether the plaintiff was discriminated against in violation of the statute. See U.S. Postal Service Bd. of Governors v. Aikens, 460 U.S. 711, 714 (1983) (“The ‘factual inquiry’ in a Title VII case is ‘whether the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff.’”).

Here is a summary of Gogel's procedural path:

Gogel appealed, and last year an Eleventh Circuit panel agreed with Batten on tossing the gender and national origin claims, but it split 2-1 in favor of reinstating Gogel’s retaliation claim. The full court then agreed to rehear the case.

The fault lines are delineated between the majority decision by Judge Beverly Martin, who was joined by Senior Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain of the Ninth Circuit, and the dissent by Senior Judge Julie Carnes of the Eleventh Circuit.

Martin wrote that a 1989 precedent instructed the court to balance the purpose of Title VII and its protection of claimants “against an employer’s legitimate demands for loyalty, cooperation and a generally productive work environment.”

Viewing the facts of the case in light most favorable to Gogel, as required at this stage of a case, Martin held that all Gogel did was provide to a colleague the name of an attorney she was considering hiring for herself. That activity would be protected activity for anyone who wasn’t in human resources, Martin added, and under these circumstances Gogel was protected, too.

Carnes responded in her dissent that a 1980 precedent held that an employee’s opposition to an employer’s actions—in this case, alleged discrimination—isn’t protected when the means by which she expresses that opposition makes her ineffective at her job.

“It is hard to argue that a high-ranking manager whose job duties include working to resolve employee disputes without litigation can be effective in that position if she instead solicits subordinates to sue the company,” Carnes wrote.

J. Randy Jackson
 Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the case comes courtesy of a Kia executive named J. Randy Jackson. According to court documents, Jackson was Gogel's supervisor and the primary decision-maker in Gogel's firing. Also, Jackson allegedly made it a habit to swap pornography via his workplace computer, and after being fired, Gogel decided that should be an issue in her lawsuit. Her efforts to unmask Jackson as a work-place porno guy produced its own separate case, styled Jackson v. Gogel in the Eastern District of Kentucky. Here were the issues considered, from the Jackson opinion (citations omitted):

During discovery, Gogel suggested that Kia include several explicit search terms in their e-discovery process. She explained that she had reason to believe such explicit terms would appear in e-mails: "For example, we are aware that Randy Jackson circulated offensive pornographic materials on his computer" while employed with Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America, Inc. Kia adamantly denied the allegations against Jackson, which ""appear[] to have been included solely to harass [him] and compromise his standing with his current employer." Gogel then subpoenaed Toyota's corporate designee to testify at a deposition in Covington, Kentucky.

As you probably can imagine, Jackson squealed like a character in Deliverance upon learning that Gogel was seeking to document his workplace-porn habit. (Note: Jackson died in May 2016, roughly one year after he lost the workplace-porn discovery issue in court.) Here is how the process played out:


The subpoena further required the corporate designee to produce the following documents:
1. J. Randy Jackson's complete personnel file and/or other files or compilations of documents, including but not limited to all applications for employment, offer letters, performance appraisals, credentials, resumes, commendations, reprimands, warning letters, correspondence relating to employment, resignation letters, and all other documents contained therein for the time period of 1996 through 2003.

2. Any e-mail sent or forwarded by J. Randy Jackson during his employment with Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America, Inc. (TEMA), for the period of 1999 through 2003 that was considered offensive, pornographic in nature or sexual in nature, and/or derogatory towards women.

3. The Separation Notice TEMA filed with the Department of Labor regarding the end of J. Randy Jackson's employment.

4. Any separation agreement or severance agreement between J. Randy Jackson and TEMA.

Here is an example of the kicking and screaming that commenced from Jackson's side, as part of his effort to quash the subpoena:

In his Objections, Jackson maintains that all of the subpoenaed documents are non-discoverable because they have no relevance to Gogel's gender discrimination claims. He notes that the requested emails are over a decade old and pertain to his past employment with Toyota. Although Jackson insists that the emails do not contain sexually explicit material, in the event that they do contain questionable material, he argues that they are still irrelevant because they were sent to a non-employee attorney. Thus, the emails reveal nothing about his attitude towards female employees. Jackson also contends that "[w]hether or not sexual material was sent to a non-employee is not probative of [Gogel's] claims" because her claims involve an entirely different type of conduct. Specifically, Gogel bases her gender discrimination claims on Jackson's alleged failure to promote her and wrongful termination of her employment; there are no allegations of sexual harassment.

Were Jackson's arguments on target? Not exactly, writes U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning (citations omitted):

Jackson's argument blurs the line between discoverability and admissibility. . . . While material must be discoverable in order to be admissible at trial, it is not necessarily admissible simply because it is discoverable. Discovery must only be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Through these emails, Gogel seeks to discover whether Jackson engaged in inappropriate behavior during his former employment. She reasons that this information is relevant and discoverable because it illustrates Jackson's attitude about females in the workplace, which allegedly influenced his decision to terminate her employment. With this explanation in mind, the Court cannot conclude that the requested documents are not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Jackson's concerns about the age, origin and context of these emails may very well affect their admissibility in later stages of the litigation, but they are not grounds to bar discovery of these documents altogether.

Jackson also insists that this subpoena is intended to harass and annoy him because it was issued just after the parties' e-discovery dispute. The Court [finds] that the timing of the subpoena is not inherently suspicious. As for Jackson's assertion that releasing these documents will harm his reputation with Kia, the Court finds these concerns to be overstated as well. As Jackson's current employer, Kia "already knows — or reasonably should already know — [his] employment record with Toyota.". Thus, the potential harm to Jackson does not outweigh Gogel's need for these documents and their relevance to her claims. Having conducted its in camera review, and after balancing the required factors of relevance, need, confidentiality and harm, the Court concludes that 32 of the 117 pages of email correspondence are discoverable under the applicable standard.

Bottom line: Jackson failed to keep his on-the-job porn habit under wraps. Will Gogel prevail on her  retaliation claim, at least having it revived at the 11th Circuit? We should learn more when oral arguments are heard next week.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

The modern workplace is a minefield for a lot of employees. Glad you helped bring attention to this case because a lot of workers will experience this kind of retaliation.

Anonymous said...

How ironic that Kia management would turn on a woman who was tasked with smoothing over problems the big wigs had caused with other employees.

Gracie said...

This is one of those "then they came for me" stories.

Anonymous said...

This appears to be the most detailed and clear description of Gogel's job duties:

"Among her duties were "conducted investigations into policy violations, including attendance issues and allegations of harassment or discrimination." Between the lines, part of Gogel's job was to smooth over differences between the American employees and Korean-national management."

From that, I'd say she got fired for doing her job. That should be a major no-no in the workplace.

Anonymous said...

No wonder people bounce from job to job these days. Workplace loyalty no longer is rewarded.

legalschnauzer said...

@8:38 --

Boy, you said it. I know about that firsthand from working at UAB for 20 years. My reward was a pink slip when political-legal figures trumped up bogus "he's writing his blog at work" charges, and university managers caved in to that garbage. UAB's own IT expert reviewed my computer usage for month -- only mine, not any co-workers -- and admitted I wasn't writing my blog at work. But falsehoods carried the day . . . so far. That might change before too long.

Anonymous said...

So the "big boss" who fired this HR woman died not long after the workplace-porn discovery issue was litigated? I wonder if the stress of that did him in.

legalschnauzer said...

@9:20 --

I'm sure the process was stressful, and that probably didn't help his health. On the other hand, maybe he shouldn't have fired this woman under dubious circumstances. I'm sure that created a lot of stress for her.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that there was discovery in this employment case, but there wasn't in your case against UAB. Something doesn't smell right.

legalschnauzer said...

@10:42 --

It sure doesn't smell right. In fact, it stinks. The law was not properly applied in my UAB case, and that is obvious. The Kia case makes clear you can't have summary judgment without discovery. Judge Acker rigged my case, and the 11th Circuit let him get away with it. Administrators at UAB -- the president's office, office of counsel, UA System Board of Trustees -- they all know the case was not decided lawfully, but they keep their mouths shut when judicial corruption acts to their benefit. Sickening to see a taxpayer-funded institution act with such a total lack of integrity.

Acker was an abominable crook, and the world is better off with him six feet under, hopefully burning in hell.

Anonymous said...

Color me shocked -- SHOCKED, I tell you -- to learn high-powered Korean men would clash with American women in the workplace, especially in Georgia. Sure didn't see THAT one coming.

Anonymous said...

@1:56 --

I'm with you. If Ms. Gogel was assigned to keep the piece between these groups, I'd say she had pretty much an impossible task. Amazing she lasted as long as she did.

Anonymous said...

This is such a dumb-ass comment . . .

One executive said, she was ”paid to prevent lawsuits,” not encourage them.


(a) Is that actually in her job description? Somehow, I doubt it. Sounds like something the exec pulled out of his ass to deflect blame to someone else.

(b) Memo to exec: Maybe the best way to prevent lawsuits is for executives not to act boorishly and abusively toward subordinates. Once that already has happened, I'd say it's damned near impossible for HR to stop the lawsuit process. It needs to stop on the front end, with higher ups displaying a little class and respect in the office. Once it hits HR, I'm guessing the horse is already out of the barn.

e.a.f. said...

It is amazing to me that in this day and age a woman gets fired because a male executive has an at work porn habit. He is supposed to be working at the place of employment not engaging in viewing porn. He ought to have been the one fired. omg no wonder business is in trouble.

thank you for giving this the exposure it deserves. Porn has no place in the work place unless the work place business is making porn. Last time I checked a car manufacturing plant was not in the porn business.