Is putting a toilet training book, such as one allegedly called "The Book of Poop", on a disabled co-worker’s desk sufficient to create a Hostile Work Environment?
Not according to a decision this week by Judge Dominic Squatrito in federal court in Connecticut (download here).
Thus begins another fine chapter in American Jurisprudence.
I thought about a serious review of the case because, obvious humor aside, this case is probably very important to the parties involved. And indeed, reading the decision, you will see that there are serious issues addressed.
But my thoughts turned to the following instead: can you imagine if confirmation hearings for federal court judges, instead of asking questions about stare decisis or the First Amendment, asked judges this: Would you be comfortable deciding a case where human excrement is a focus?
How many judges would really sign up for that?
But I digress. The court, in Murphy v. Beavex, Inc. (download here) had to decide whether an employee, who had several "bowel incidents" (allegedly arising from MS – though it is unclear whether he ever informed the employer of that), had raised a claim that he had experienced a hostile work environment when his co-workers left "The Book of Poop" at his desk and where his co-workers then called him: “Mr. Sh___y,” “The Sh___meister,” and “Poopy.” The court found that this was not enough to create a hostile work environment:
In considering the remaining alleged incidents in a light most favorable to [the Plaintiff], the court concludes that a reasonable jury could not find such conduct so severe and pervasive as to have altered his working conditions. While it was insensitive for [the Plaintiff]’s coworkers to call him names and leave a scatological children’s book near his workspace, such teasing does not rise to the level of severity and pervasiveness required to defeat a motion for summary judgment.
But aside from the legal analysis, and as a father of three, one thing about the decision has troubled me the most about the case: I have never heard of "The Book of Poop" before. Indeed, while there are such classics as "The Truth About Poop" and "Everybody Poops" (not to be confused with "The Gas We Pass"), a quick search of Amazon reveals no such book. A similar search on Google revealed the same.
So, on this Friday afternoon before many schools take vacation, feel free to add your recommendations on toilet-training books and if you know about "The Book of Poop", please let me know. While toilet puns are encouraged, I only ask that the comments be as clean as possible before sending them. Purell if necessary.
UPDATE: The Wall St. Journal Law Blog was kind enough to pick up this post. If you haven’t checked out Dan Slater and Company’s take on the legal world, you’re truly missing out.