The Year In Workplace Discrimination, Harassment, And General Fuckery


In a year marked by record-high unemployment figures, an international debt crisis, and a Kardashian family that’s draining money from taxpaying television viewers, many economists have struggled to find a suitable scapegoat for America’s economic malaise. Theusual suspects include nefarious hedge fund managers, two Middle Eastern wars, socialized medicine, lazy Europeans, and a hex placed on American manufacturing by Chinese wizards, but there is perhaps a bigger obstacle facing the American workforce: Employers are too damn finicky, often insisting that prospective employees not only demonstrate relevant work skills but also not be too markedly unique lest a set of different chromosomes, surgically altered genitals, or breasts upset the precarious stupor the other office drones have been lulled into.

The Sexcretary

It’s not just prospective employees that are having a hard time in this economy — employers have found it difficult to hire qualified workers to fill vacant positions, especially if those positions require a certain set of education and skills. Like metallurgy experience or electrical engineering proficiency. Or having group sex. Illinois lawyer Samir Zia Chowhan found it so difficult to hire a secretary with the latter skill set that he resorted to the adult gigs section of craigslist, calling for a female “sexcretary,” who, in addition to the standard legal work at his immigration firm, would be required to have “sexual interaction” with Chowhan and his partner, “sometimes together, sometimes separate.” Chowhan stressed that the successful candidate would also be willing to wear revealing clothes to work and to “perform” as part of the interview process, a screening method he’d apparently developed after some incredulous past applicants asked, “You want me to do what?” Chowhan had his license suspended for a year after a woman who called about the job complained to the Illinois bar, proving at the same time that Illinois doesn’t tolerate even attempted sexual harassment and that there’s a responder out there for every craigslist ad. Even the creepy ones.

The Transgender Urine Affair

El’Jai (pronounced with mundane deceptiveness “L.J.”) Devoureau, a man according to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, the Social Security office, and his amended Georgia birth certificate, filed a discrimination suit after he was fired on his second day as a part-time urine monitor. Devoureau, who was born physically female, said his boss asked him if he was transgender and if he’d had any surgeries to become man and when he told her that was private, he was fired. Though New Jersey added “gender identity or expression” to its litany of banned forms of job discrimination, Devoureau’s employer, Urban Treatment Associates, claimed that his firing wasn’t discriminatory; rather, El’Jai’s gender interfered with his duties, which included watching men pee into a cup. Such a claim implies that Devoureau isn’t really male, and that men being drug tested are at all worried about the gender of their urine monitor instead of wondering whether the seven gallons of cranberry juice they drank in an anxious fit the night before are really going to flush all traces of marijuana out of their bodies. According to Devoureau’s attorney Michael D. Silverman, Devoureau’s case, though not the first of its kind, might be the first to reach a verdict.

Conservative Judge Calls Bullshit On Georgia Transgender Firing

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in Atlanta determined that transgender workers are protected under the Constitution when it ruled in favor of Vandiver Elizabeth Glenn — formerly Glenn Morrison — who filed suit against her employer when she was fired after a gender reassignment surgery in 2005 that Glenn’s employer claimed made other workers uncomfortable. Glenn also alleged that her employer informed her that she was let go because state lawmakers would view her gender reassignment as “immoral.” William Pryor, a notoriously conservative federal appeals judge appointed by George W. Bush, was among Glenn’s supporters, proving that there are no political boundaries when it comes to firing someone for a stupid reason.

Women of Wal-Mart

After failing in a June lawsuit to prove to the Supreme Court that the cases of 1.5 million women nationwide had enough in common to prove that Wal-Mart systematically discriminated against female employees, plaintiffs re-filed a suit in October, targeting only the California megaliths of the retail chain. The new suit narrowed its focus to recoup back-pay for 90,000 women either currently or formerly employed by California Wal-Marts or Sam’s Clubs, which the plaintiffs argue are run with a “good old boy philosophy,” whereby job promotions aren’t posted but instead passed along by word of mouth, usually to male employees. Wal-Mart has dismissed the new lawsuit as “more of the same” and intends to employ a strategy of misdirection during the court proceedings, directing judges to its incredibly low-priced goods.

No Crying Over Spilled Breast Milk

In case you needed any more proof that public breastfeeding ratchets up the social anxiety of modest Americans to dangerously high levels, a Colorado teacher alleged this summer that, despite consistently glowing performance reviews, her contract with a charter school was not renewed due to conflict over her breast pumping schedule. Teacher Heather Burgbacher was required to miss class for about twenty minutes three times a week to pump breast milk, during which time her students performed “supervised desk work,” according to statement released by Burbacher’s ACLU attorneys. Burgbacher’s attorneys cited Colorado’s 2008 Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act, which insists that employers must provide a place other than a bathroom stall and allot sufficient time for nursing mothers to pump milk. Though it’s frustrating that breasts still manage to exert a strange, lunar-like influence over even purportedly mature adults, the victims of this are the impressionable children: Fifteen years ago, “supervised desk work” would almost definitely have been an awesome filmstrip.

The “Too Aggressive” Woman

In March, Boston Cigna HealthCare employee Bretta Karp filed a $100 million lawsuit against the insurance giant, alleging that the company’s promotional and hiring practices discriminate against women. Karp, a manager of Cigna provider networks in New England, claims that despite receiving high marks on her performance evaluations, her pay and title were suddenly reduced without explanation and two of her markets were reassigned to a male employee with less experience. When she was denied a promotion in the summer of 2010, Karp was told that she didn’t get the new job because she came across as “too aggressive” in interviews. Beyond monetary damages, her lawsuit seeks to force structural changes at Cigna that will curb gender discrimination.

Promotions Aren’t For Feminists

A former Booz Allen partner — who first joined the company in 1986 as a starry-eyed 22-year-old filled with naive notions of gender equality in the workplace, and had since advanced to the “level 3” lead partner position — filed a suit against the McLean-based contractor alleging that women are purposely excluded from positions of high-level leadership. After being assessed for a level 4 promotion that we imagine includes access to Booz Allen’s secret clubhouse and handshake, Molly Finn was denied further advancement and, she claims, told by her reviewers to stop saying “pro-women, feminist things.” You know: Crazy, outrageous things like, “Women deserve equal pay for equal work.” In 2008, she was denied level 4 promotion a second time and then, in 2010, asked to leave the company. Finn also claimed that the top-tier leadership at Booz Allen was particularly unwelcoming to women, hosting events such as golf trips to Scotland that female employees were never invited to attend.

No Fatties At Google

Earlier this summer, we ran a story about an anonymous Google applicant, “Ms. G,” who noticed during her interview at Google that the company seemed to discriminate against overweight applicants when she and six other heavier applicants were escorted out, leaving behind the svelter candidates. Long known for its quirky hiring process, Google insisted, “We don’t discriminate in our hiring process,” which is fine except that all hiring processes everywhere hinge on some form of discrimination, so what Google really meant was that it doesn’t discriminate against people who don’t discriminate against dessert.

Honorable Mentions

Some notable instances of workplace harassment that didn’t make this discrimination list include American Apparel chief Dov Charney’s generally skeevy demeanor, the allegations of sexual harassment that derailed Herman Cain’s enterprising book tour, and the Utah boss who harassed a female employee for years by allegedly writing up an alliterative office dress code including “mini-skirt Mondays” and “tube-top Tuesdays.”

Here’s hoping that if an asteroid doesn’t slam into the earth or the Yellowstone caldera doesn’t explode at midnight this Saturday, the employers on this list will make some 2012 resolutions to stop being so narrow-minded and creepy.

Images via Lisa S., Filatov Alexey, Draw/Shutterstock.

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