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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

stupid lawsuits: fired for refusing to get boss coffee

Jezebel reports today on the case of receptionist/data entry clerk Tamara Klopfenstein:
After working for a few weeks, her (male) bosses asked her to get their coffee for them. She declined, and her manager e-mailed her, saying: "This is not open for debate. Please don’t make an easy task a big deal." Klopfenstein felt that getting coffee "reinforced outdated gender stereotypes," so the next day, when she was asked to get coffee again, she sent an e-mail that read: "I don't expect to serve and wait on you by making and serving you coffee every day." Nine minutes later, she was fired. Klopfenstein promptly sued the company for sexual discrimination and sexual harassment. The judge ruled: "The act of getting coffee is not, by itself, a gender-specific act," and dismissed the case. But Klopfenstein's attorneys argue that "Some tasks are inherently more offensive to women."
Seriously? So are her lawyers arguing that asking a male receptionist to get coffee would be okay, but it's not okay if she's a woman?

I don't want anyone fetching me coffee. And in fact, I sometimes bring my staff coffee. But if I asked someone to do a task that could reasonably fall in their purview (and like it or not, getting coffee isn't crazy for a receptionist), after having already had to talk to them about it once, and they replied with Klopfenstein's snippy email, I'd think about firing them too. And who says something that attitude-laden three weeks on the job?

(Although to be more precise, I wouldn't fire the person on the spot. I'd warn them and explain my expectations and what sorts of responses are and aren't acceptable, and I'd find out if the person was interested in working under those conditions. Still, I can understand why they fired her immediately -- she demonstrated an attitude problem that was unlikely to go away.)

And I am a woman, if that matters, which it doesn't.


HR Wench said...

I read about this as well. I don't know if the report is accurate, but I heard that being "the coffee go getter / maker" was discussed during the interview as one of the expected job duties. I also read that she initially was cool with it but then after a few days decided she wasn't.

Personally? I can't imagine asking someone to get coffee for me. That is just weird. But, whatevs.

class factotum said...

What is so offensive about getting coffee? Honestly. You're being paid by the damn hour. Get the coffee. It's not that hard.

Reva said...

I feel like normally I would be on the side of this woman but her attitude about it is kind of out of line. No matter how low on the totem pole I was, no one has ever asked me to get them coffee. Sure, they've made other unreasonable requests, but if you're entry level you kind of just have to suck it up and smile. Her really poor attitude is just annoying.

Sandy said...

Yes, it's easy to assume it's gender biased. It does sound like the bosses have a bit of a alpha male going on. However, I'm assuming HR Wench is right, so she was aware of it. The woman also sounds pretty young. Yeah, it stinks because it reinforces that she has no authority yet. However some of the best bosses I've ever had were the ones who weren't too proud to do small, servant-like tasks.

Jessica said...

Stupid lawsuits indeed! I would never feel comfortable asking a employee (male or female, entry-level or not) to get me a coffee (except I don't drink coffee, so it would be a hot chocolate).

By the same token, I would never take a job that requires me to make coffee for anyone. My previous boss once asked me to do it and I made him instant, not plunger, with eight teaspoons of coffee and three of sugar.

I never got asked again.

But that was right out of my job description and was his way of trying to make me into his personal assistant rather than what my job actually was.

Donna W said...

You hit the proverbial nail on the head, Jessica! Beat them at their own smart. A LONG time ago, I was "expected" to make coffee (once) for the warehouse crew. Well, even at the tender age of 20-something, I was able to figure a PC way out of that one. I made the coffee (once!) - I made it SO STRONG no one could drink it. I told them that's how I drank it in Germany. No one ever expected me to make coffee again. (I was with that particular company for 5 years after that!)

Dataceptionist said...

Hmm, I find my own feelings so conflicted on this I had to write my own post on it!

Essentially I don't think there's anything wrong with her telling them no. I think her email manner would need work, but essentially, if she's not getting paid as an assistant TO them, she shouldn't be running at their beck and call for such a menial task.
Would I do it in her position though? Yeah, I probably would have made the damn coffee. Gah. I just don't know!

Evil HR Lady said...

I honestly don't understand why everyone is upset over coffee. If the boss asked you to "run down to the supply closet and get more pens" would that elicit the same bitterness? It's a drink, for goodness sakes.

At my office, every department has a coffee pot. When people have guests in their offices, they might ask an admin to run get coffee. It's polite and it allows the meeting to continue. Generally, though, I've seen people offer to get coffee.

For the record, I don't drink coffee and have never asked anyone to get me any, ever. I have, however, asked for paper, pens and various other menial assistance.

And if I knew my boss would be crabby without it, I'd bring her some every morning.

Jackie Cameron said...

I love this. I once had a co-worker (we were both senior managers) from another office who asked me to make him coffee when he came to my office. He always had his coffee made for him at his own office ( he was the only male on staff there - hmmm).It said so much more about him than he realised! Did I make him coffee - what do you think?
I am not taking the gender line here though. I am wondering what kind of boss would write it specifically into a job description?

Rebecca said...

Regardless of how the bosses treated her and how she feels about fetching coffee, the lawsuit alleging that it's inherently gender biased is stupid, and the judge was absolutely right to throw it out.

Tea drinker said...

This whole coffee problem is the reason I decided, over 30 years ago, not to even start drinking coffee. If I didn't know how to drink it I didn't know how to make it, right? -- tho I didn't foresee the Starbucks explosion, which means assistants have to go get coffee, not make coffee.

But even about getting the coffee, I work in the public sector and if I got caught sending an assistant out for coffee on taxpayer-paid time, I'd be in trouble. It is, essentially, a personal favor along the lines of picking up someone's dry cleaning.

Historically there is a gender related expectation about women making coffee for men. Is there now? Don't ask me.

Now I shall go make myself another cup of tea.

Anonymous said...

There are people in this world (and I see many of them in this board) that see nothing wrong with, "get me those pens," or "could you make me some coffee?" or "put some scotch tape on this for me" etc. These types of people love giving orders and always strive to put co-workers in servant role types of positions. They usually possess very small minds, zero creativity, no self-confidence, and believe that making themselves appear more "powerful" will boost their status in the company. I have worked for and with many of these types in various businesses and they are complete dweebs. Hold your ground against them, stay away from them, and by all means, avoid working for anyone like this.

Anonymous said...

Mimi said
I am a coffee go getter. My Office is on the ground floor, my boss has his office on the second floor.I lose count every day how many times I go up and down those stairs running errands for him. He calls me on my extension could I come to his office then when I get there he asks me for coffee, why can't he ask me when he calls my extension, that infuriates me. The best one is he is in a meeting he calls me into the meeting and asks for coffee' no problem ' I deliver the coffee, he then turns around and says oh I wanted mine in a mug. I can not express how hard it is for me to say nothing.