Slap (un)Happy in the Workplace

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I wince at the thought of spanking children — though I realize that some parents may find this method of punishment effective. But spanking in the workplace? You’re probably thinking the same thing I was — could never happen. But think again ladies — it happened to one woman in California.

Most companies typically choose to motivate employees with positive reinforcement such as bonuses or special company outings, but a home security company in Anaheim took their motivational tactics to a new level … or new low.

Alarm One left all respect for women at the door and resorted to fraternity and childlike-like paddling of its employees while yelling gender slurs. In these modern times for us, with our country on the heels of possibly electing our first woman president, Spanx pantyhose should be the only type of “spanks” acceptable in the workplace.

The “spankee,” Janet Orlando — after feeling absolutely humiliated in front of other co-workers in what her employer called a “camaraderie-building exercise” — sued the company. The jury agreed with Ms. Orlando’s claim and awarded her with a $1.5 million verdict, including over $1 million in punitive damages — slapping back the company for their behavior. However, just last month, a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals overturned the 2006 verdict, ruling that the jury had been given improper instructions. In particular, the jury wasn’t instructed that one vital element of proving that sexual harassment occurred is showing the action was directed at women, specifically because of her gender.

A jury originally ruled that Orlando, 52 at the time, suffered sexual harassment and sexual battery when she was spanked three times at home security company Alarm One Inc. Spanking tactics on a 52-year-old woman? Unimaginable and unacceptable.

“It was in the workplace,” Orlando said. “If you spoke out of turn or if you came in late, they would spank you.” Court testimony indicates the spanking and lewd comments occurred during company-sponsored meetings designed to motivate sales employees. It’s almost implausible that a woman would be spanked in the workplace while men yelled the Imus word and the B word at her. But some think Orlando was just a crybaby looking to get cash from the ordeal, especially since male counterparts were also apparently spanked during the training — citing to the notion that when a “woman complains a woman gets paid.”

I personally resent this train of thought — and it’s comments like these that force us back to the 1950s, diminishing how far we’ve come in our own lives and in the workforce. Orlando isn’t whining by suing this contemptible, childish company. She’s standing up for herself and saying that this conduct is utterly crazy, and she won’t take it anymore! And I’m sure you agree, if men were also spanked in this incident, they were dopes for not speaking up about this absurd behavior.

This company sure had an odd way of motivating its employees: Employees were paddled with rival companies’ yard signs as part of a contest that pitted sales teams against one another. The winners poked fun at the losers, throwing pies at them, feeding them baby food, making them wear diapers and swatting their buttocks. Now, the company claims that the participation in motivational exercises was voluntary. But it doesn’t seem exactly voluntary when Orlando was pulled into the ‘rally room’ by her supervisor.

Following the original judgment, Alarm One issued a statement of apology noting that, “Alarm One had and still has a very aggressive employee training program to ensure employee understanding of the type of behaviors that will and will not be tolerated.”

Lawyers for Alarm One, an Anaheim-based, 300-employee company, said that the spankings were not discriminatory because they were given to both male and female workers and that Ms. Orlando and others took part.

Okay, so let me get this straight, it’s acceptable for the employers to spank their adult employees and humiliate them in the normal course of a workday as long as the assaults aren’t along gender lines? Hmm, I’m not buying it. And, to add insult to injury, these statements were gender specific, as the comments being yelled were specifically targeted to the women. I actually don’t care if it’s directed at men or women, this type of harassment shouldn’t be tolerable in the workplace.

Orlando quit the company in 2004, less than a year after she was hired in the Fresno office, saying she was humiliated during the company’s team-building practices.
Fortunately, the company came to its senses and abandoned the practice.

So, for all you slaphappy employers, think twice about harassment in the workplace. Women, speak up for what you believe in. These appeals judges got it all wrong! There are many debatable policies in the workplace — but spanking is not one of them. Keep your hands off my rear, that’s off limits!



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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.