The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, November 14, 2004

Friends sexual harassment case - a stunt, surely?

- Is your client unaware of the rule volenti non fit injuria?

- My Lord, in Peckham they speak of very little else.

In catching up, I find the delectable case of Ms Amaani Lyle
a former writers' assistant on the show [who] accused the creative team of sexual harassment, though none of the remarks she complains about had been directed at her.

She joins a show whose stock-in-trade is the sex joke - and then complains about the writers making sex jokes in her presence!

(Naturally, in the writers' room, FCC rules don't apply. But the jokes that are broadcast are no less sex jokes for avoiding the taboo words.)

You might have thought this the province of the more desperate ambulance-chaser. But wimmin are piling in on the complainant's behalf (emphasis mine):
"We are dealing with (the entertainment) industry, where I am sure there has been longtime sex discrimination," said Elizabeth Kristen, project director for the Legal Aid Society's Employment Law Center. "Do they think they should get a pass from age discrimination as well by saying they are making TV shows for a youthful audience?"

I am sure - she's guessing. No evidence, apparently. And the analogy is faulty: the true analogy would be an old guy complaining about jokes about old age being told in his presence by writers on a sitcom about old guys.

There's talk of the First Amendment in these pieces - but that notoriously only applies to government actions (or actions by private persons that can be attributed to government action). Workplace speech is, as I recall, generally unprotected.

Perhaps this case is a useful wedge against harassment law excesses - more research needed. (The case is currently at the depositions stage.)

Lyle was apparently fired for typing too slowly, by the way...


The case has, it seems, been going on for ever! Useful links at Overlawyered.

Included is a California Court of Appeal opinion overruling a trial judge's decision to dismiss parts of the case on summary judgement.

I've yet to read the opinion - but right there on page 2 we get a nugget that the media of America chose to keep from us (in what I've read, at any rate): Lyle is black.

Now, apart from the general rule that race is always relevant, Friends is (was, at least, when Lyle worked on it) a white show with an audience notoriously heavily skewed to whites. I suspect that most, if not all, of the writers would have been white.

It's an angle I'd say was worth exploring.


The New York Times piece of October 17 mentions Lyle's race; it says that
her original complaint included charges of racial discrimination.

The complaint is dated January 2 2002: the racial discrimination claims are one item at the end of the document. [Later: On actually reading the thing, the online material turns out to be only an extract of the complaint - the part dealing with the sexual harrassment element.]

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