Mere Presence of Pornography in the Workplace: I never tell war stories, except one.

November 30, 2007

There is only one war story I ever tell because I don’t talk about my client’s problems with anyone no matter how humorous they might be.   The Connecticut Employment Law Blog and  Ohio Employer’s Law Blog have postings on an employer’s liability for the “mere presence” of pornography in the workplace. All I can say is sometimes the most obvious things are overlooked.

About ten years ago, I  was asked by corporate counsel to conduct sexual harassment training at a series of distribution centers. At one remote location space was tight so the plant manager had set up rows of chairs in the receiving department. What had escaped his notice was on the wall of the receiving department behind the podium from which I was to make my presentation was a collage of every Playboy Centerfold for the preceding 20 years. The pin up shrine went from floor to ceiling and encompassed an area about 40’ X 40’.  I thought I was on candid camera.

My first reaction (well maybe my second) was to cancel the training, but it was obvious that this company was in dire need of it.  In any event, I also realized that I had hit the mother lode of future business in defending  this company from discrimination claims.  I decided to orient the chairs in the other direction and go on with the training. Admittedly, I downplayed some training materials on the problems with sexually explicit materials in the workplace.

The training went surprisingly well, with no mention of the “wall”.  Perhaps it had been there so long, no one even notice it anymore, but you can bet it would have been the centerpiece of any sexual harassment claim.  After the training was over, I read the plant manager the riot act.

The next time I was in that plant, no mention was made of the shrine but it was gone.  In its place was one of those signs detailing the number of days since the last lost time accident.   I wasn’t sure I had gotten my point across to this company until I drove out of the parking lot.  It was then that I saw the three guys from the  receiving department  standing in an open garage bay giving me the finger. I thought again about the mother lode of future business.