Common Sense Is So Far Gone That It Will Never Come Back

Common Sense Is So Far Gone That It Will Never Come Back

Tom Stilp JD, MBA/MM, LLM, MSC

Robert De Niro’s company, Canal Productions, recently lost a case involving a former employee, Graham Robinson, who successfully claimed gender discrimination.  In a Manhattan federal court, Ms. Robinson proved she was assigned “stereotypical female” job responsibilities.  From a legal standpoint, this is yet another example of a problem that could’ve been easily avoided.

Ms. Robinson had the title of vice president of production and finance, although previously she was Mr. De Niro’s personal assistant.   Ms. Robinson made arrangements for Mr. Scorsese’s birthday, and as Ms. Robinson characterized it, “personal taking care of people work.”  The problem is that the job description, of which there was none, did not reflect a meeting of the minds as to what Mr. De Niro expected nor what Ms. Robinson was required to do in her new role.

Mr. De Niro’s lack of written rules, and an implied policy of “common sense” and the “honor system” as to reimbursements and what work was required, were both impractical policies.  The lack of performance metrics will always lead to litigation.  For example, what does “common sense” mean?  (Dad used to say about common sense and politicians that “common sense is so far gone that it will never come back.”)

De Niro’s case is an example of where a simple paragraph identifying responsibilities of the position in a job description would have helped.  Following a paragraph identifying the job responsibilities, the job description should end with a catchall phrase, something to the effect: “The job description above is not an exhaustive list. From time to time, you will be asked to assist in other areas at the direction of Mr. De Niro.”

The lack of employment metrics results in losses for employers, as seen in past cases mentioned in previous In the Loop articles (e.g., Badly Drafted Employee Agreements).

Competent legal counsel will find simple, inexpensive solutions to common employment problems.