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More Examples of Why Valentine’s Day is a Bad Day for Employers

Posted in Discrimination & Harassment, Highlight, Human Resources (HR) Compliance, Litigation

Two years ago, I wrote of the perils of Valentine’s Day.  While it may be a day for lovers, it is also a day where people do crazy (read: stupid) things.

I am not talking about Crazy. Stupid. Love. (Good movie, silly name.)

I’m talking about things that can lead to a sexual harassment lawsuit. 

Not convinced? Well, since 2011, there are still more cases that have arisen where Valentine’s Day figures prominently.  Here are two prime examples. 

Take the case of Phan v. CSK Auto, Inc.There, a male supervisor was demoted for violating store’s sexual harassment policy. The male supervisor (who claimed he was the victim of harassment instead of the alleged perpetrator) gave his female supervisor a greeting card, a stuffed animal and a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day. The plaintiff’s supervisor felt the gifts contained sexually suggestive material and complained. The company investigated the matter and demoted him.  Plaintiff believed that he was set up by his store manager because she had demanded that he give her a Valentine’s Day gift.

As for the card itself? The court stated, “The outside of the card stated: ‘It’s Valentine’s Day! What do you say we put on some soft music….” When opened, the card read “… and nothing else,” and depicted a room with a bed and with undergarments strewn about the floor, and played the Rolling Stone’s song “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”

(Of course, that calls to mind the Ally McBeal episodes of the partner who used to picture Barry White to gain confidence. Good for TV; bad for employment lawsuits.) 

Or take the case of Hilton v. Shin. Two days before Valentine’s Day, a company president allegedly sent the plainitff-employee a series of emails asking her to meet with him. “Allegedly, the purpose of this email chain was to ‘draw her into the office alone on Valentine’s Day.’”, said the court. 

The company president closed one of these emails with “XOXO,” which ”the plaintiff alleged is slang for ‘Kiss–Hug–Kiss–Hug.’”  (As an aside, I think it’s universally understood what XOXO means…)

Two days later, the plaintiff emailed the president and told him she wouldn’t meet with him.  A few days later, the president wrote an email in which he stated the following:

… you treated me as a piece of trash over the weekend … I got you beautiful flowers—2 dozen long stem roses with baby breath and fern all around it, by the way it was beautifully arranged and huge—that Sunday but it didn’t reach its owner, so I threw it away and my personal feelings towards you got thrown away along with it. From now on, I’m nothing more than your employer as you’re nothing more than an employee … I guess that’s what it should have been always.

A lawsuit followed. Not a surprise. 

Will this year Valentine’s Day be any different? Unlikely.

So, for those in human resources, be on guard. If you hear of any shenanigans from today, be ready to act.  Because if history is any indication, there will be some people doing some crazy things today.