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U.S. Government Funds Manufacturing Jobs Overseas Print E-mail
by Tom Pauken    Mon, Oct 31, 2011, 09:08 AM

A government-guaranteed loan to a so-called green energy company Solyndra has been in the news lately. Solyndra was supposed to employ thousands of Americans in the production of solar panels and received federal loan guarantees from the Obama administration in excess of half a billion dollars. Now, the company has filed for bankruptcy, and the American taxpayers are expected to get little or nothing back from this dubious investment.

Solyndra wasn’t the only questionable investment made by the Obama administration under its “green energy” initiative. The latest example to emerge, Fisker Automotive, also received loan guarantees of more than half a billion dollars in late 2009 ostensibly to make capital investments in order to begin domestic production of energy-efficient, economy-class cars at a former General Motors factory in Delaware. The Department of Energy approved the loan of $528 million in 2009 as part of a larger package of government venture capital investments in the relatively young clean-tech auto industry. At the time, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, “This investment will create thousands of new American jobs and is another critical step in making sure we are positioned to compete for the clean energy jobs of the future.”

If only that were true.

In October, Americans marveled at the debut of the Fisker Karma, a flashy sedan that more closely resembles a hotrod than the more conservative hybrid cars we’re accustomed to seeing on the road. As impressive as it was with all of its bells and whistles, critics have noted the absence of one important feature – the “Made in America” tag. As it turns out, Fisker had contracted the assembly of the new Karma to the Finnish-owned manufacturing firm, Valmet, located in Uusikaupunki, Finland. Co-founder Henrik Fisker told ABC News that his company was unable to find a contract manufacturer in the U.S. capable of assembling the vehicle to their standards.

“We're not in the business of failing; we’re in the business of winning. So we make the right decision for the business,” Fisker said. "That’s why we went to Finland.”


Energy Loans


Adding insult to injury, Fisker Auto recently announced that the start date for production of its economy-class model – the model that was supposed to start production in Delaware in 2012 – would be delayed until 2013 at the very earliest. While time will tell if Fisker Auto will be successful in the relatively new industry of clean-tech vehicles, I question whether this was an investment American taxpayers want our government to make, especially when the only jobs created to this point have been overseas. Investments in clean technology and alternative energy are inherently risky, and no doubt should be made in the free market where risks can be absorbed without burdening taxpayers with more public debt. This should be evident from the past mistakes of the socialist government of Spain, which heavily invested public money into green energy initiatives that failed to ever be competitive or create jobs. In fact, one study from the King Juan Carlos University in Madrid showed that each “green job” created by government-supported subsidies resulted in the loss of 2.2 jobs in other areas of the private sector, while costing an average of $774,000 per job.

Between 2000 and 2010, U.S. manufacturing employment declined by 5.8 million jobs. That’s a drop of one-third, the largest ten-year period loss on record. As a consequence, our national economy has given way to high levels of debt, trade deficits with 105 nations, and record long-term unemployment rates.  It is insulting that our tax dollars are being used by the current administration to create jobs abroad while our existing corporate tax system – the most onerous in the world – already has the effect of exporting manufacturing jobs overseas. Companies that operate in the U.S. must do so under a system that encourages debt and outsourcing, rather than savings and investment here at home. In contrast, our national competitors have border-adjusted tax systems that exempt exports, and in turn reward firms for keeping operations in their home country. Finland, for example, has a border-adjusted tax of 22 percent which must be paid on all imports coming in to their country, but is exempted on those goods going out – like new Karmas being shipped to the United States.

One idea to correct this was proposed by Austin businessman David Hartman. His plan would eliminate the corporate income tax on American businesses and replace it with a revenue-neutral, border-adjusted consumption tax. Such an approach to taxation would level the playing field with our trading competitors, and, more importantly, would ensure that future hybrid cars came with a “Made in America” tag.


Tom Pauken is the chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission and author of Bringing America Home


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A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Courthouse (Part I) Print E-mail
by John Browning    Mon, Oct 31, 2011, 09:06 AM

People often ask me if some of the more bizarre stories I’ve shared about the criminal and civil justice systems are really true.  Trust me—they are.  Besides the fact that I couldn’t ethically report on something I’ve simply made up (unlike certain New York Times and Washington Post reporters), the fact is that even in my most creative moments I couldn’t have come up with the sort of wackiness that populates our courthouses on a regular basis.  If I could, well, then I’d probably be giving lawyers-turned-writers like John Grisham and David E. Kelley a run for their money.  If you think I’m kidding, then just consider the following true incidents:


Of Course I Can Be Impartial About Myself


Derrick C. Smith of Schenectady, New York, got something surprising in the mail while awaiting trial for murder in September, 2011—a jury duty summons for his own trial!  It turns out that because Smith hadn’t responded  to a previous juror questionnaire sent out by the county, he was “automatically qualified” and issued a summons in late August; as fate would have it, the case for which the summons happened to be was the one in which Smith is the defendant.  Commissioner of Jurors Hope Splittgerber said this has never happened before in her 28 years on the job.  Even Judge Richard Giardino joked that Mr. Smith had expressed his willingness to be part of the jury pool, and that if selected he promised to be fair and impartial.  The episode provided a rare moment of levity in an otherwise sobering case, in which Smith and another man are accused of shooting Michael Deveaux, Jr. after a fight at a local bar in June 2010.


Burglary Can Be Hard Work, So Why Not Nap?


A 35 year-old Wichita, Kansas man was arrested in September after falling asleep while burglaring a home.  Police Lt. Steve Kenney said that the man broke in, gathered a number of items to steal, but then apparently couldn’t resist the temptation to shower and take a nap.  The homeowners returned, found the intruder in the bedroom, and called the police (who apprehended the suspect hiding in a closet).  Maybe this burglar’s favorite bedtime story growing up was “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”


Honest—To An Extreme


Michael Andes of Shelton, Connecticut feels very strongly about the lack of parking enforcement in his town.  So much so that in August 2011, he parked his car illegally in a handicapped space and proceeded to call police over a dozen times—to report himself!  Authorities say that Andes “yelled” at a dispatcher, and that when they finally showed up, he screamed and became so “combative” that they had to subdue him with a stun gun.  Well, Michael, the cops are on the job now.  Andes has been charged with disturbing the peace, interfering with an officer, and yes—he was also given a ticket for parking in a handicapped space.


A Wink and A Nod


Serial killer Anthony Sowell of Cuyahoga County, Ohio was convicted in July, 2011 in the murders of 11 Cleveland-area women.  One of his attorneys sought a new trial, though, based on a wink.  The motion claimed that the jury forewoman was prejudiced against Sowell from the start of the trial, and that she was quoted in a news conference telling how Sowell had winked at her once.  Prosecutors called the motion based on little more than a wink “asinine” and “foolish,” and Judge Dick Ambrose apparently agreed.  He denied the request for a new trial.  Now Sowell only has his cellmate to wink at.  Good luck with that.


This Carjacker Wanted a Ride, and He Got One


26 year-old Dionette L. Price of Kansas City, Missouri probably thought it would be a routine, run of the mill carjacking when he allegedly pointed a .357 Magnum at Rayna Garrett and tried to get in her car on Highway 71 on September 7, 2011.  But then Garrett tried to go around him, and Price jumped on the hood of the vehicle.  So Garrett decided Price would get a ride after all—straight to the Kansas City police station, more than two miles away.  Price held on for dear life as Garrett sped to the police garage, rammed into a door, and honked multiple times.  Before police came out, Price fled on foot, but was arrested shortly thereafter at a nearby bus stop.  That’s right, Mr. Price; mass transit seems to be a lot safer than trying to carjack someone.  Perhaps you should think about that for the next, say, 7–10 years.


The Smell of . . . Victory?


It was certainly one of the more bizarre moments in the legal annals of Pasco, Florida this past September.  First of all, 32 year-old convicted felon Morgan Armstrong was representing himself on charges of robbing a convenience store near New Port Richey twice in October 2009.  Armstrong had already been tried earlier in 2011 in a third convenience store holdup, and had been acquitted.  But, Armstrong didn’t feel his lawyer was “on his side” regarding the 2 robberies of the Beverages Plus store, so he elected to represent himself (big mistake: he was convicted and sentenced to 35 years.  So much for the “jailhouse lawyer”).  The trial also took a strange turn during the testimony of store clerk Falguni Patel.  While describing her ordeal of being robbed with a knife at her throat, Patel fainted on the witness stand.


Now, that’s not even the weird part, as dramatic as it is.  What happened next is perhaps best described by the St. Petersburg Times in its coverage of the trial: “Family member and business partner Meena Patel removed her sneaker and held it to Falguni Patel’s nose, attempting to revive her with the odor.”  Seriously?  Someone faints, and you try to revive her with a smelly sneaker?  Maybe this will open up commercial sponsorship opportunities for our courts in an era of dwindling budgets—“This trial brought to you by Dr. Scholl’s Odor-Eaters.”


Is That A Snake in Your Shorts, Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?


Finally, there are people who like pets, and then there are people who like pets a little too much.  Put Eric Fiegel in the latter category.  The 22 year-old Phoenix man was caught on surveillance videotape on July 30, 2011 stealing several baby albino boa constrictors from Predator’s Reptile Center in Mesa, Arizona.  The footage shows Fiegel removing several snakes from their cage and stuffing them down his shorts before exiting the store without paying.  Police apprehended Fiegel after he went to another pet store and traded some of the stolen snakes for $175 and a large reptile tank.  Apparently, this is not the only time someone’s stolen a snake this way.  In July, 2007 the Fox station in St. Louis reported the case of a man arrested for theft after getting caught by a pet store’s surveillance camera stuffing a black pine snake (valued at $250) down his pants.

So, the next time someone comments about the “baby albino boa constrictor” in his pants, it might not be a euphemism.

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TOO FAT POLKA (She’s Too Fat for Me) Print E-mail
by James Reza    Wed, Oct 26, 2011, 11:44 AM

When I was a youngster, my school chums always tormented me.   They’d sing me these lyrics of a then popular song (Too Fat Polka), “I don’t want her you can have her she’s too fat for me, she’s too fat for me.”  Though I was a boy, the kids made fun of me because I was, well, a fat kid, as were several other kids who attended my school.  Two fat boys, Ralph Salinas, was tagged El Tripon (Big Gut) and Billy Anguiano was called La Vaca (The Cow).  As I grew into a teen I eventually lost my supposed baby fat. However, Ralph and Billy remained fat well into their adult lives and sadly both died rather young of diabetes due to their obesity.

Just recently I read an article by Jeannie Kever of the Houston Chronicle titled, Hispanic kids impoverished more than others.  In her piece she quotes Luis Salinas, a sociologist at the University of Houston, who states that a report released recently by The Pew Hispanic Center that if 6 million Hispanic kids are being brought up in poverty, that doesn’t give them much hope for the future.  They are likely to end up in poverty for the rest of their lives, and many do not have adequate nutrition.  Folks, that has to be the biggest piece of horse manure I’ve read in a long time.

Follow me on this folks, what have we constantly been told by the news media and the Obama Administration about the harmful effects of obesity.  Haven’t they been telling parents not to take their kids to fast food restaurants because they contribute to the children’s obesity?  In Los Angeles City Council members are going to ban fast-food restaurants in South Los Angeles, a minority community whose residents are mostly African-American and Hispanic.  Blacks and Hispanics are responding that they feel they aren’t the only fat people in our country by a long shot.  Blacks and Hispanics in South LA now want to know if white people in white neighborhoods are going to be told no more Big Macs, no more chicken nuggets.  Or, is the situation in Los Angeles simply stating that white neighborhoods have Big Macs and chicken nuggets in moderation and therefore their fast-food joints can stay.  Evidently there is an opposite problem in Atlanta.  Minority young men there are so skinny their pants are falling off, so the city is going to ban sagging pants in all the schools.  Maybe the skinny people in Atlanta with the sagging pants should move to L.A., and the fat people in L.A can move to Atlanta and get skinny.

In my opening paragraph I talked about my obesity and that of my school chums.  I might add here that most of my Hispanic school chums came from poor households similar to mine.  I recall that most of the homes in my neighborhood of El Norte (The North Side) didn’t have hot running water, refrigerators, ac/heating units, washers/dryers, a telephone, and some didn’t have inside bathrooms.  I remember mom and other ladies of El Norte washed clothes outside in huge black pots heated with firewood.  After mom soaked the clothes in hot soapy water she would get a scrub board and scrub the clothes in a No. 8 washtub.  Then, she’d hang them in several clotheslines in the backyard.

Though most Hispanics in my neighborhood were poor, I can’t recall ever hearing of anyone dying of hunger.  Most of us have seen those poor black kids in Africa with their bloated bellies and flies all over their faces.  Folks, I never saw any of that in my poor Hispanic barrio.  I take that back, Hispanic kids did have bloated bellies, but that was due to their bellies being full of beans and tortillas!  I recall my dad telling mom when we went to the store, Anna, nomas papas y frijoles!” (Anna, just potatoes and beans!).  Mom ignored dad and though she did buy rice, potatoes and beans, she also bought cheap meat products: boloney, wieners, chicken and cheap beef cuts.  Out of those inexpensive food products mom cooked delicious tacos, tostadas, enchiladas, refried beans and potato with wiener burritos.  I remember telling mom, “Mom, I don’t want to take burritos to school, please pack me a ham sandwich like the white kids.” Today I entertain at several Mexican restaurants and guess who usually is eating those poor food dishes mom used to cook?  You guessed it, the white folks!

If Luis Salinas, the sociologist at the University of Houston, states that Hispanic kids who are being brought up in poverty, don’t have much hope for the future, how does he account that we poor Hispanics in the 30s, 40s and 50s who had less than these poor Hispanic kids of today and who are not discriminated like we were, have done just fine?  My poor chubby friend Ralph Salinas grew up to be a chef at a hotel, my other fat friend, Billy Anguiano, owned and operated his own business, a flower shop, for many years. Other poor Hispanic friends who came from large families did exceptionally well.  One school chum was Stanley Flores, who came from a family of 8 kids.  Stanley, worked his way through college at Texas A&M and earned a degree in Aeronautical Engineering.  Art Lazo, another school friend who also came from a family of 8 kids went to Texas University and became a Mechanical Engineer.  I could write a book about all the achievements of my poor Hispanic friends but I think I’ve given enough examples of how we did well despite our poor upbringing.

Why did we do so well despite being poor and being discriminated some might ask?  Speaking for myself and my school chums, I can only attribute it to the great education in English I might add, the nuns gave us at our poor Catholic school of San Jose and the fine education we got in high school which is totally lagging today.  Aside from that, most of my poor Hispanic friends like myself came from strong close-knit families.  Coming from a broken home when I was a kid was almost unheard of in my poor Hispanic neighborhood.  Today, divorce runs rampant and many Hispanic kids don’t get the guidance they need from loving parents or any encouragement to stay in school.  Thus, many join gangs and end up on the wrong side of the track and eventually poor as Professor Salinas so states.


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Are Texas Turkish Charter Schools Really Public Schools? Print E-mail
by MerryLynn Gerstenschlager    Mon, Oct 24, 2011, 08:07 AM

Had anyone told me that I would end up spending the bulk of my time during the most recent Texas Legislative Session and Special Session lobbying on Turkish charter schools, technically known as Harmony charter schools, I would have laughed at them.

However, this turned out to be no laughing matter and by the end of the Special Session, the legislature had called for an investigation of all charter schools by the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee.

The forthcoming investigation was precipitated by Texas Eagle Forum’s and Peyton Wolcott’s (Publisher – Public Ed Commentary) unsuccessful efforts to amend legislation that will now allow certain charter schools to use the $25 billion dollar Permanent School Fund (PSF) to guarantee new construction bonds. Public schools already enjoy this privilege. The PSF is also known as the Children’s Textbook Fund.

Peyton Wolcott’s research provided outstanding information throughout session. Upon learning that there are 36 Harmony charter campuses in Texas and that their operators are mostly Turkish men who have been educated and previously employed in Turkey, we dubbed the Harmony charter schools “Turkish charter schools.” We began to scrutinize them in the context of this legislation. Harmony is overseen by the Cosmos Foundation, a non-profit organization that has received a quarter of a billion dollars in Texas taxpayer dollars in the past three years. Note that there are 156 Harmony-related charter schools in the U.S.

Harmony refers to their schools as “charter” as well as “public” schools. On February 1, 2011, “Harmony Public Schools” organized the “Bond Financing for Charter Schools” luncheon at the Austin Omni Hotel. Among the speakers was former Counselor to President George W. Bush, Karen Hughes, who welcomed guests “on behalf of Harmony Public Schools” to talk “about innovative ways to finance school facilities.” Harmony had hired Hughes through Burson-Marsteller, the prestigious marketing firm, to kick off Harmony’s efforts to pass this legislation.

Harmony was scheduled to open a new School of Political Science in Austin in August of 2011. Because Harmony schools emphasize Turkish culture and also take Texas elected officials on free trips to Turkey, we contemplated how American government and the U.S. Constitution might be taught in this school. And with so many Texas teachers looking for work, we wondered why Cosmos has brought 1,300 teachers here from Turkey on H1-B visas?

We were concerned that five members of the Senate Education Committee had accepted a collective total of $15,000, and that seven members of the House Public Education Committee had accepted a collective total of $11,500 in campaign funds from the Texas Charter School Association (TCSA). The TCSA had hired 11 lobbyists to push for this legislation. Among these lobbyists were former State Representative Diane Delisi and former State Senator Kyle Janek. One of the PSF charter school guarantee bills had to pass out of these committees to take on a life in the House and Senate.

The focus on Turkish influence in Texas schools was emphasized when the Senate passed Senate Resolution 85 honoring the Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen. Gulen was given asylum in Pennsylvania in 1997 when he was driven out of Turkey by his own government for trying to reinstate a caliphate in this secular nation. Since then, Gulen lives here in self-imposed exile, even though he has been exonerated in Turkey.

In order to protect the $25 billion Children’s Textbook Fund, Texas Eagle Forum and Peyton Wolcott began to lobby that the following fiduciary duty-of-care amendments be placed in the legislation:

1. Proof of U.S. citizenship for all charter school operator board members and top five highest paid administrators (public ISD trustees must be U.S. citizens). 2. Names, titles, and biographies posted online for all charter operator board members and top five highest paid administrators. 3. Check registers posted online (over 70% of local ISD dollars are online).

We advocated for these safeguards because the bills lacked a requirement for accountability and transparency. We had learned that at least two members of the Cosmos Foundation’s current leadership had not paid their franchise taxes, determining them “Not in Good Standing” with the State Comptroller’s Office. As Peyton Wolcott asked: If leadership does not show fiscal responsibility in their personal business, what guarantee did we have that they will show fiscal responsibility while handing public monies?

Another push for the legislation came from Representative Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) who authorized a flyer from the Harmony schools to be placed in all House members’ mailboxes. The Harmony flyer asked House members to vote against our three fiduciary duty-of-care amendments.

The bills to tap into the PSF died during the Regular Session, but were resurrected during the Special Session in June. During that time the New York Times published an article about how the Texas Turkish charter schools spend public monies and highlighted how their construction contracts have been awarded to Turkish owned contractors, even though they had been underbid by other companies. The Times also connected Harmony schools to the followers of Fethullah Gulen.

By the next to the last day of the Special Session, the charter school PSF school bond guarantee legislation had been amended into a critical budget bill that had to pass to meet constitutional requirements. Ultimately, the budget bill passed, but without our three fiduciary duty-of-care amendments.

Yes, the bill passed, but apparently, some legislators were catching on to the idea that the Turkish charter schools should come under more scrutiny than they had in the past. Some House members concerned about rural schools and charter schools would not give the critical budget bill their approval until it had been established that charter schools will be investigated during the Interim by the General Investigating and Ethics Committee, chaired by Rep. Chuck Hopson (R-Jacksonville).

Once the investigation begins, I hope that Chairman Hopson will also look into the contrast portrayed in the accompanying photo of two schools in Ft Worth, Texas. The first photo was taken from the campus of Westcreek Elementary School, looking directly across the street to the campus of the Harmony Science Academy. Note how there is no fence around the Westcreek Elementary campus, but an iron fence surrounds the Harmony Science Academy campus.

In the second picture, note Harmony’s signs that say “NO TRESPASSING, NO LOITERING, [and] NO SOLICITING.” Since Harmony charter schools are paid for by taxpayer dollars and are called “Harmony Public Schools,” why do they have a “No Trespassing” sign at the entrance to their schools? And why do they not want to require that their board members seeking the PSF school construction bond guarantee be American citizens just like local school board trustees? Are they genuinely “public” schools?

This brings up another point…the Harmony schools are Texas Education Agency schools, run with taxpayer dollars, that are not controlled by local parents in the form of elected school board trustees. Put another way, these are schools of the state education agency, rather than schools that are accountable to local taxpayers and parents. The accountability is to the state, rather than to local parents. Local control is non-existent, as contrasted to the Westcreek Elementary School across the street that is in the Fort Worth ISD where there is an elected, local school board that is accountable to parents and taxpayers.

I look forward to the upcoming investigation of charter schools. While they have every legal right to experiment with alternative ways of educating students, there can never be a compromise on accountability and transparency in education.


Originally appeared in the Texas Eagle Forum, October/November 2011 – Vol. 24, No. 7.


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And You Thought You Had It Rough At Work Print E-mail
by John Browning    Mon, Oct 17, 2011, 09:07 AM

Most of us spend a significant portion of our daily lives at work.  And whether you’re on a busy assembly line or passing hours in a cubicle, you generally try to make the day go as quickly as possible, putting up with certain workplace trials and tribulations in exchange for a paycheck, health insurance, and a certain measure of self-worth and accomplishment.  For some workers, though, it’s become a case of one too many indignities, until they reached the point of humming right along with Johnny Paycheck’s working man’s anthem “You Can Take This Job and Shove It.”


Take Roy Lester, for example.  The 61 year-old from Long Island worked part time as a lifeguard at New York’s Jones Beach State Park for four decades until 2007.  He claims he was forced out of that job because of a state park regulation requiring lifeguards to take the annual 100 yard swim qualification test wearing either brief Speedos or loose-fitting boxer or board shorts.  Lester, who prefers tight-fitting swim “jammers” that reach to the knee, refused to wear the board shorts (he says they slow him down) or the Speedos.  “I wore a Speedo when I was in my 20s,” he says.  “But come on.  There should be a law prohibiting anyone over the age of 50 from wearing a Speedo.”


Lester believes the Speedo regulation is a thinly-veiled way of weeding out older lifeguards (he estimates that over 80% of the Jones Beach lifeguards are over 40) and, in 2009, the part-time lifeguard and full-time bankruptcy lawyer filed an age discrimination lawsuit.  An appeals court recently rejected New York’s attempt to dispose of the claim, and trial is expected to go forward late this year or early in 2012.


Speaking of trials, most employers recognize the importance of civic duty like jury service.  A number of states, including Texas, provide an added layer of protection for employees by requiring that employers give time off for workers summoned for jury service.  And of all the employers you would expect to be sensitive to the importance of jury duty, law firms would be at the top of the list—right?  Apparently, not at a certain Detroit-area law firm.  When Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Mary Chrzanowski was preparing to swear in a jury in a September 2011 murder trial, one of the jurors surprised her by asking to be excused.  The female juror submitted a letter from her law firm employer indicating that if she didn’t return to work the firm would replace her.  Judge Chrzanowski considered it “unbelievable” that the firm would have “the audacity to do this.”  The judge wouldn’t name the firm or detail how she handled it, but the juror was kept on the jury.


From the hot air of lawyers to, well, another form of hot air, how would you like your employer to discipline you over passing gas?  Clarksville, Tennessee paramedic Rita Cain filed a lawsuit claiming that her employer, Montgomery County Emergency Medical Services, illegally punished her for flatulence.  Cain has worked there since 1992 and rose to the rank of lieutenant.  But on a March 2011 call, Cain was on the phone with a 911 operator when she passed gas.  The operator heard the flatulent noise and made an internal complaint.  Within days, Cain says she was demoted and received a written warning (1 step short of termination) for the flatulence episode.  Cain’s lawsuit maintains that she’s being discriminated against because of her gender, saying that male employees haven’t been disciplined the same for identical “or worse conduct.”


While it remains to be seen (or heard) how a federal judge feels about Rita Cain’s lawsuit, at least one other court has held that flatulence itself doesn’t constitute harassment.  In the 1999 case of Klein v. McGowan, a Minnesota judge held that the “expelling of flatulence, while offensive, rude, and vulgar to people of either sex, is not tantamount to actionable harassment.”  Cain is seeking at least $300,000 in damages in her lawsuit.  That could buy a lot of Beano, or perhaps jackets for all of her fellow paramedics—I hear windbreakers are making a comeback.


Most employers would prefer not to have employees with drinking problems.  That concern becomes even more understandable for employers like the interstate trucking company Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., which doesn’t want drivers with a history of alcoholism behind the wheel.  While this might make sense to you and me, the federal government—in the form of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—considers it to be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), since that statute recognizes alcoholism as a disability.  So the EEOC has sued Old Dominion for a policy that makes perfect sense and has probably avoided any number of catastrophic highway accidents.  Psst—EEOC—I hear that they won’t let blind people drive either.  Good luck with that lawsuit!


How about insensitive employers?  Cecelia Ingraham, a longtime employee of Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical Company in New Jersey, lost her teenage daughter Tatiana in 2005 to leukemia.  Ingraham’s grief was deep, and in her cubicle at work she displayed reminders of her daughter like photos and Tatiana’s ballet slippers.  After over a year, Ingraham says her boss ordered her to take the mementos down and to stop talking about Tatiana’s death because it made co-workers “uncomfortable.”  Ingraham resigned shortly thereafter and sued her employer for discrimination and for intentional infliction of emotional distress.  A trial court rejected her claims, and a New Jersey appeals court recently upheld the dismissal.  It said that while Ingraham’s boss might have been “insensitive” to the plaintiff’s “continuing bereavement,” the employer’s conduct wasn’t so “atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community” as to justify a recovery.


Whether he’s just another insensitive employer or “the boss from hell” as some of his employees have described him, William Ernst of Bettendorf, Iowa has earned a spot in this rogue’s gallery of employers.  Ernst, the owner of a chain of convenience stores called QC Mart, sent all of his workers a memo in March, 2011.  The memo announced a new contest—“Guess the Next Cashier to be Fired!!!”  Employees were encouraged to write down the name of the next cashier to be fired (for a variety of sundry offenses, such as wearing a hat or talking on a cell phone), seal it in an envelope, and give it to a manager.  The winner would get “$10 CASH”—only one winner per firing.  The memo went on to jovially admonish “[N]o fair picking Mike Miller (from the Rockingham Road store).  He was fired at around 11:30 a.m. today for wearing a hat and talking on is cell phone.  Good luck!!!!”


At least two QC Mart employees sent letters to company managers complaining about the contest, with one stating that it had “created an atmosphere or distrust, intimidation and paranoia.”  Cashier Misty Shelsky, her store manager, and several other employees quit over the contest, saying Ernst had cultivated a hostile work environment.  When Shelsky filed a claim for unemployment benefits, Ernst contested the claim.  Administrative Law Judge Susan Ackerman sided with the cashier and her fellow workers, calling the QC Mart work environment “intolerable and detrimental,” and castigating Ernst for suggesting that employees “turn on each other for a minimal monetary prize.”


Finally, if you’ve ever waited tables in a greasy spoon, a fast food place, or even the finest restaurants, you know that there can be a seamy underbelly to the food business.  But how would you like it if the restaurant where you worked was listed in the phone book under “Animal Carcass Removal?”  That’s the case for the Bar3 Bar-B-Q restaurants in Bozeman and Belgrade, Montana, and the telephone book’s printing mistake was immortalized in a Jay Leno monologue on the Tonight Show.  But for restaurant owner Hunter Lacey, it’s no laughing matter.  He’s filed a lawsuit against Dex Media, Inc., claiming that his brand and business reputation have suffered because of the restaurants’ listing in the “Animal Carcass Removal” section.  The mistake was in both online and printed directories, and has lived on via the Internet, forwarded emails, and even customer reviews on the restaurant’s Facebook page.  Lacey’s lawsuit accuses Dex Media of not only negligence and defamation, but also of deliberately publishing the harmful listing because Lacey refused to purchase an advertisement.  Dex Media “regrets” the publication and says that an employee who altered the restaurant listing to appear under “Animal Carcass Removal” was acting outside his duties.  That’s not enough for Hunter Lacey, who says his hard-won branding efforts have been “wiped out.”


From being fired for not wearing Speedos or being a grieving mother to working in environments known for flatulence or “Animal Carcass Removal,” the workplace can be stranger than any “Dilbert” cartoon.  Our legal system proves it.

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