The following California employment discrimination case grew out of an ambiguous double-entendre used in an office setting. Note that the offended employees' complaints could have been easily dismissed by an employer as signs of hypersensitivity or paranoia.
A California office worker found the phrase "How about a little head?" flashed across her computer terminal from an unknown source within the company. She reported it to her supervisor, who was a woman, and the two women reported the incident to higher management. In response to their complaint the company embarked upon a campaign of downgrading their jobs and benefits until both women were forced to resign.
The court held that the injuries suffered by the two women were in retaliation for their reporting the sexual harassment incident. The legal consequences of these acts of retaliation were the same as if the injuries had resulted from the sexual harassment.
Whether the company would have been held responsible for the original solicitation by the co-worker is unclear, but the act of retaliating against the two women employees made the company clearly liable for what later happened.
Monge v. Superior Court (Crown Gibralter Graphic Center, Inc.), 176 Cal. App. 3d 503 (1986).
The following text comprises Findings of Fact 4(f) and 4(g) made by the D.C. Department of Human Rights in Freedman v. Akin, Gump, Hauer & Feld. The agency adopted the employer's (Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld) conclusion that my complaint that the following were acts of harassment was a result of a psychiatric disorder I exhibited, "ideas of reference." See Freedman v. D.C. Dept. Human Rights, D.C.C.A. no. 96-CV-961 (Sept. 1, 1998).
4(f) Some time in April 1991, when it was warm enough to eat lunch outdoors, Complainant began to eat lunch on a park bench at Dupont Circle. One afternoon upon Complainant's return to the office from lunch, at about the time he first began to eat lunch at Dupont Circle, as Complainant was seated at his desk, his supervisor, Chris Robertson, said, in a loud tone of voice to another employee, Melissa Whitney, seated near Complainant, "Are you wet?"
Complainant could not specifically recall whether he mentioned this incident to Messrs. Race and Lassman. If Complainant did mention this incident he would have explained that he interpreted the phrase "Are you wet?" as alluding to a state of sexual excitation.
(g) Upon Complainant's return to the office from lunch one afternoon during the summer of 1991, his supervisor, Chris Robertson, offered Complainant a piece of chocolate, and stated to Complainant the peculiar phrase, "Here, you look like you need some chocolate."
Complainant specifically recalls that he told Messrs. Race and Lassman that he interpreted the phrase "Here, you look like you need some chocolate" as a reference to anal intercourse. Complainant specifically recalls his using the phrase "anal intercourse."
See record on appeal at 15, Freedman v. D.C. Dept. Human Rights, no. 96-CV-961 (Sept. 1, 1998).
The above agency Findings of Fact are based verbatim on Complainant's Reply to Respondent's Response to Interrogatories and Document Request (record on appeal at 239-284) that I filed with the D.C. Department of Human Rights in early January 1993.
I brought the Monge case (see above) to the attention of the D.C. Department of Human Rights. In my submission, paragraph 4(g.) reads in full:
"Upon Complainant's return to the office from lunch one afternoon during the summer of 1991, his supervisor, Chris Robertson, offered Complainant a piece of chocolate, and stated to Complainant the peculiar phrase, "Here, you look like you need some chocolate."
Complainant specifically recalls that he told Messrs. Race and Lassman that he interpreted the phrase "Here, you look like you need some chocolate" as a reference to anal intercourse. Complainant specifically recalls his using the phrase "anal intercourse." (Cf. Monge v. Superior Court (Crown Gibralter), 176 Cal. App. 3d 503, 222 Cal. Rptr. 64 (Cal. App. 2 Dist. 1986). An employer's failure to investigate or correct an employee's complaint regarding an anonymous -- and sexually ambiguous -- phrase "How about a little head?" that was displayed on an employee's computer terminal was found to support an action for wrongful termination and harassment. The court did not inquire as to whether the employee's sexual interpretation of the ambiguous phrase was an 'idea of reference.'" (Record on appeal at 255-256.)
The following is a brief scene from the British television comedy series "The Office." My reading of the scene is that the characters Tim and Dawn are tormenting the character Gareth with homosexual double-entendres. Query: Does Gareth's failure to appreciate the fact that he is being harassed a sign that Gareth is not paranoid or is it a sign that he is dim-witted? Is my belief that I was being harassed at Akin Gump a sign that I was paranoid or is it a sign that I am not dim-witted?
Tim: I was wondering if a military man like you, um -- a soldier -- could -- could you give a man a lethal blow?
Gareth: If I was forced to. I could. If it was absolutely necessary. If he was attacking me.
Tim: If he was coming really hard.
Gareth: Yeah, if my life was in danger, yeah.
Dawn: And do you always imagine doing it face to face with a bloke or could you take a man from behind?
Gareth: Either way is easy.
Dawn: Either way. And so you could do a man from behind?
Gareth: Yeah . . .
Tim: So . . . you've dug your foxhole, and you've pitched your tent, right? They've discovered your camp, and you're lying there, and they've caught you with your trousers down, and they've all entered your hole without you knowing.
Gareth: No, 'cause I'd be ready for them.
Tim: You'd just be lying there waiting for it?
Gareth: Yeah. Well, no. What's more likely is that I wouldn't be there if I knew they knew where I was. I'd be hiding, watching the hole, using it as a trap.
Tim: So, you'd be using your hole as bait?