Harassment accuser's raps can be used against her, court rules

The Plaintiff rapped. Will her case get zapped?

Ford Motor Company is being sued for sexual harassment, and the case will go to trial week after next in Detroit.

With the trial date getting so close, the judge has been issuing a lot of evidentiary rulings.

Including one that was issued day before yesterday.

One of the issues in that order had to do with the evidence that Ford could use to dispute the Plaintiff's claim that she was subjected to a hostile work environment.

The Plaintiff, DeAnna Johnson (stage name Sindy Syringe -- no kidding), was or is reportedly a friend of Eminem -- no kidding -- and was married to the rapper Rufus Johnson (stage name Bizarre). Bizarre and Eminem have worked together, so I assume the Plaintiff got to know Eminem through her husband, Bizarre.

Bizarre in 2007.

By the way, Eminem's real name is Marshall Bruce Mathers, III. No kidding.

Told ya!

You kiss your mother with that rap?

Anyway, the Plaintiff and Bizarre collaborated on one or two raps, including one that was X-rated (and I'm not talking about the social media platform formerly known as Twitter) and also included use of what is now generally recognized as the most offensive, racially inflammatory word in the English language.

Not surprisingly, the attorneys for Ford want the jury to hear the lyrics to those raps. To show that none of what the alleged harasser did could have offended the Plaintiff that much.

Federal judge Gershwin Drain, an Obama appointee, agreed with the attorneys for Ford on this point and said they could present to the jury the raps as long as the Plaintiff had actually participated in them. (In other words, Ford couldn't just dig up any old Bizarre rap and use it against Ms. Syringe -- I mean, Ms. Johnson.)

I think Judge Drain is correct. But his decision raises an interesting issue. Assuming the Plaintiff once did some nasty rapping with her then-husband, Bizarre, does that prove that the alleged harasser's behavior toward her was not unwelcome?

Not necessarily. Just because one wants to be obscene with one's spouse (or recording label), it doesn't automatically follow that one wants to be obscene with any old body. This is America. We all have the right to decide with whom we want to be obscene.

But even so -- as shown by the fact that her lawyers tried to keep it out of the case -- the rap evidence is not going to help her, either.

In harassment cases, rap takes the rap 

Rap music is playing a much bigger role in harassment law than I ever would have expected. Not long ago, my law partner Frank Shuster wrote about an employer who will face a hostile work environment lawsuit because it blasted rap music throughout the facility, and that music was obscene and offensive at least to some. Also, it was allegedly so loud, there was no way for the offended employees to tune it out, much less escape it. 

And some of the music being played was by Eminem! Small world!

(I know this video has nothing to do with my post, apart from the fact that Barney Rubble is trying to rap. But I couldn't resist. I'm sorry.)

Ford had a couple of other preliminary victories this week. Judge Drain will let the company introduce into evidence some text messages that the Plaintiff sent. Those messages indicate that an off-color spelling used by the alleged harasser in a text, which the Plaintiff said she found sexually offensive, was used by the Plaintiff in a text as well. The company will also be allowed to attack the Plaintiff's credibility by showing that she lied about her work history before she was hired by Ford.

Too bad the federal courts don't allow televised trials. I would consider this one a must-see.

Image Credits: Photo of Bizarre from Wikipedia. Photo of Eminem from flickr, Creative Commons license, by Nicole Doherty.

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). 
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