HR Strange But True!
February 25, 2005

We all know that HR is never dull, but sometimes it can get downright strange...

One Gorilla of a Lawsuit

Two women who helped care for a famous gorilla have sued the California foundation that employed them, saying they were fired for refusing to show the animal their breasts.

The lawsuit accuses Francine Patterson, president of the Gorilla Foundation, of demanding that the women bond with Koko the gorilla by performing "bizarre sexual acts" with the animal.

"Through sign language, as interpreted by Patterson, Koko 'demanded' plaintiffs remove their clothing and show Koko their breasts," according to the lawsuit, which adds: "Patterson pressured plaintiffs to perform such acts, regularly and consistently, and on at least one occasion, outdoors where others could see."

Patterson's lawyer, Todd Roberts, issued a statement of denial on his client's behalf. "For the attorney for plaintiffs to manipulate a purported employment issue and miscast it purely for publicity purposes is particularly hurtful to the noble efforts of such a reputable organization," he said.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the plaintiffs, Nancy Alperin and Kendra Keller, are demanding more than $1 million total in damages. Their suit alleges sexual discrimination, wrongful termination in retaliation for reporting health and safety violations, and failure to pay overtime or provide rest breaks.

"On at least two incidents in mid-to-late June 2004," the suit says, "Patterson intensely pressured Keller to expose herself to Koko while they were working outside where other employees could potentially view Keller's naked body. ... On one such occasion, Patterson said, 'Koko, you see my nipples all the time. You are probably bored with my nipples. You need to see new nipples. I will turn my back so Kendra can show you her nipples.' "

The suit goes on to allege that the two women, who never did undress, also worked unpaid overtime and faced unsanitary conditions, including gorilla urine stored in the refrigerator where they kept their lunches, rodents in the food preparation area, and exposed wires.

They notified the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which conducted an inspection last Aug. 5 and issued $300 in fines for various violations that have since been corrected, according to Cal/OSHA spokesman Dean Fryer.

The two women were fired Aug. 6, according to the Chronicle.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

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