Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I can't make this stuff up


Ollis v. HearthStone Homes presents a textbook example of how not to make personnel decisions, and is also just plain funny.

The owner and president of HearthStone, John Smith, practices a fringe religion that focuses on Mind Body Energy (MBE) sessions to cleanse one's negative energy. He required his employees attendance at such MBE sessions to enhance their work performance. The case recounts Smith's interesting MBE practices:

According to Smith, an employee’s negative energy could be discovered either through a machine that tests a person’s electromagnetic energy field or through a manual process called “muscle testing.” Muscle testing may require a person to extend his or her arms while answering “yes” or “no” questions. If the person’s extended arms remain strong while questioned as someone pushes down on the arms, the answer is “yes,” whereas, weak arms indicate an answer of “no.” Another example of muscle testing is to place two fingers together and to answer “yes” or “no” questions. If the fingers remain together, the answer is “yes”; whereas, if they separate, the answer is “no.” Smith used muscle testing to make business decisions. Smith equates muscle testing “to someone who may pray before they make decisions.”

On one occasion, Smith determined by muscle testing an employee that drainage problems in a HearthStone subdivision were caused by that employee's ancestors perishing on the land during the Ice Age. Smith determined that the employee was unknowingly defending the land on behalf of her ancestors, and required her to attend MBE sessions to cleanse her negative energy.

Smith also used muscle testing in conducting a sexual harassment investigation against the plaintiff, Doyle Ollis, a devout Christian. After the investigation, Smith terminated him for “poor leadership and lack of judgment," which the jury found to be pretext for Ollis's opposition to Smith's MBE practices and religious discrimination. For the termination, the jury awarded Ollis a whole whopping dollar in damages (plus attorneys fees). Perhaps the jury's low award was influenced by Ollis's admission that he had asked the complaining female subordinate several inappropriate questions, including asking her about her “freakiest” sexual encounter, how long she had known her spouse before she had sex with him, how many sexual partners she had, and if she wore thong underwear. As an aside, HearthStone later terminated the complaining employee for reportedly “removed her clothing at a golf outing and ... doing cart-wheels naked on a golf course.”

Like I said, I can't make this stuff up.

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