In September, 2001, a 240-pound woman filed a discrimination complaint with the city of San Francisco Human Rights Commission against Jazzercize, Inc. for refusing to hire her as an aerobics instructor. Jennifer Portnick, who is 5 feet 8 inches tall and wears a size 16, has been doing high-impact aerobics for 15 years. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Portnick’s own Jazzercise teacher was so impressed by her skills that she encouraged Portnick to apply to become a Jazzercise certified instructor. Portnick applied, but Jazzercize rejected her arguing that the company “sells fitness,” and that “a Jazzercise applicant must have a higher muscle-to-fat ratio and look leaner than the public.” Upon being rejected, Portnick filed suit under a two year old San Francisco ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the basis of weight and height. The first case to be brought under the ordinance was filed in 2000 on behalf of an 8-year-old girl who was denied admission to the San Francisco Ballet School. Both cases are in mediation.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (2/26/02)
Forty-four former Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders have filed suit in federal court for damages against owners and members of 29 NFL teams. The plaintiffs charge that from 1983 until 2001, players of visiting teams spied on them through holes in a door that separates the visitors’ locker room from the cheerleaders’ shower. The suit claims that the “ability to peer into the cheerleaders’ locker room, and to view them in [various] states of undress, was considered one of the special ‘perks’ of being a visiting team of the Eagles.” According to the lawyer for the cheerleaders, the Eagles organization is not listed as a defendant in part because its players presumably did not use the visitors’ locker room. The cheerleaders’ lawyer said that the Eagles and perhaps the city, which owns the stadium, were careless, but he did not want to ask Philadelphia jurors to find fault with them. Neither the NFL nor the players have given any response to the lawsuit.
Source: The New York Times (January 10, 2002); Newsday (January 10, 2002)
Twenty-one Percent of Women Sexually Harassed?
According to a national survey by the Employment Law Alliance, a network of employment and labor lawyers, 21% of women polled say they’ve been sexually harassed at work. The survey did not define the term sexual harassment or question respondents about particular behaviors, but rather, allowed each respondent to apply his or her own understanding of the term “sexual harassment.” Stephen J. Hirschfeld, CEO of the ELA, said that given the amount of litigation and the volume of claims filed with federal and state government agencies, many observers will be surprised that the percentage of those saying they’ve been sexually harassed isn’t higher. According to Hirschfeld, “it’s very significant that 85% of the 1,000 American adults polled said they’ve not been sexually harassed at work.” He noted that while 21% of women polled said they have encountered sexual harassment, that contrasts with 7% of the men surveyed.
The survey stands in sharp contrast to claims by the National Organization of Women that 50-75% of employed women are sexually harassed at work.
Source: U.S. Newswire (February 5, 2002); National Organization for Women, Issue Report:Sexual Harassment (March 1997), available at www.now.org/issues/harass/issuerep.html.
Constitutional Right to Sex Change?
A convicted murderer, serving a life sentence in Massachusetts for killing his wife, has brought a federal lawsuit demanding that the state department of corrections pay for him to receive treatment for gender identity disorder up to and including gender reassignment surgery. The former Robert Kosilek, who currently goes by the name of Michelle Lynn Kosilek and dresses in women’s clothing, has asked to see a specialist who could determine whether he is a candidate for the sex change operation. The process can cost more than $20,000, and if deemed medically necessary the government would be required to pay for it. Kosilek claims the state is violating his 8th Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment by denying him treatment for gender identity disorder.
Source: The Boston Globe (February 5, 2002)
Woman, Feds Fight Over Smuggled Sperm
A woman who smuggled her husband’s sperm out of a federal prison, where he is serving 14 years for racketeering and conspiracy, has filed a motion in federal court seeking to force the government to release the substance to her so that she may attempt to conceive a child. Maria Parlavecchio, 38, of Garfield, N.J. and her husband, Antonia Parlavecchio, have pleaded guilty to bribing a prison guard to smuggle the fluid. As part of a 1998 investigation, the government has learned that as many as five New York mobsters have fathered children by bribing guards to smuggle their sperm out of prison. Upon learning that the Parlavecchios had smuggled sperm, the government impounded the substance at the office of Mrs. Parlavecchio’s gynecologist in New York City and has refused to release it. “It’s fruits of the crime,” federal prosecutor Wayne P. Samuelson said Monday. “It’s contraband.”
Source: The New York Post (February 13, 2002)