Gorilla schtick, Juneteenth, and quit while you're ahead

Judge Judy.flickrCC.Jena.Fuller
"Counsel, you are NOT helping your case."

One of the marks of a good trial lawyer is knowing when to sit down and shut up.

Maybe these lawyers knew that, and were just desperate.

CorpCar Services of Houston (Texas) lost a racial harassment lawsuit filed by two employees based on a dancing gorilla (played by a white woman) who was hired to "entertain" at a mandatory safety meeting. The gorilla's schtick included referring to her "big black butt," and she asked one of the plaintiffs, who was African-American, whether he had a banana in his pants. The safety meeting in which all of this took place was the day before Juneteenth of 2009.

A jury awarded the plaintiffs more than $200,000 (mostly punitive damages) on their claims, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. This week, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

"Thanks, but no thanks, CorpCar."

According to Bloomberg BNA, the company, in asking the Supreme Court to review the decision, said that if the decision were allowed to stand, we could expect this (italics are a re-recreation of my real-time reaction):

"[I]f you employ African-American employees, you had better not - on pain of federal court litigation and all that entails - hire a 'singing telegram' performer in a gorilla suit . . ."

Yes. That definitely seems extreme. 

". . . and you had better not do it around Juneteenth . . ."

Well . . . they probably hadn't even thought about the fact that this was the day before Juneteenth and maybe didn't know what "Juneteenth" was.

". . . And, further, that performer had better not refer to black parts of her costume . . ."

-- uh - like "big black butt"?

". . . and by all means not talk about Juneteenth . . ."

Wait a minute . . . they knew it was Juneteenth?

". . . or bananas . . ."


" . . . or do a 'Tarzan' yell."

I think I hear my mother calling me. 

"As ridiculous as it sounds, [that] accurately summarizes the upshot of the Fifth Circuit decision."

*Robin has left the building*

Here's a link to the Fifth Circuit decision that the Supreme Court refused to review. As it turns out, BNA's summary of the case was quite charitable to CorpCar. It doesn't sound like it was even a close call. No wonder the Supreme Court wasn't interested.

Image Credits: Flickr, Creative Commons license. Judge Judy by Jena Fuller; photo of caricature of Supreme Court by DonkeyHotey.

Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
Continue Reading



Back to Page