Sunday, November 14, 2004

The law of sexual harrassment and free speech 

One of the assistants to the writers of the situation comedy Friends, a show featuring sexual innuendo in every episode if not every segment, is suing because the writers of the show talked a little dirty when they were scripting it up. That this case was not tossed out on First Amendment grounds is asinine, and reveals the threat that "hostile environment" (i.e., no battery, no quid pro quo) sexual harrassment claims pose to freedom of expression. We now allow allegedly offended employees to shut down speech that we otherwise would consider beyond the reach of the law under any circumstance. Why? Is the interest in protecting the sensibilities of these thin-skinned people more important than a freedom that we have fought, labored and litigated to protect? I don't get it.

Eugene Volokh has an extensive round-up of the tension between employment discrimination law and freedom of expression. Bookmark it, in case you ever say the wrong thing at the office.

UPDATE: Walter Olson posted on this case last month, and included various useful links.


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