Mel Brooks' classic 1974 spoof of western movies, Blazing Saddles, satirized an array of racial, ethnic and social stereotypes. Last month, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an original attempt by a terminated employee to use a workplace viewing of excerpts from the movie as the basis for a racial harassment claim.
In Harris v. Warrick Co. Sheriff's Dep't., the plaintiff was an African-American Sheriff's Deputy who was terminated at the conclusion of his probationary employment period. Shortly thereafter, he filed a claim of racial harassment, claiming that he had been called a number of offensive nicknames by his white colleagues, and that he was exposed to racially offensive images and language from the movie.
The Seventh Circuit rejected this argument, characterizing it as "hard to take seriously." The court said that Blazing Saddles made racism ridiculous, not acceptable, and that no reasonable person could consider the film to rise to the level of racial harassment required under Title VII.
While some racial and sexual harassment legal opinions have recognized the contribution of outside media to creation of a hostile and offensive working environment, broad humor contained in mainstream movies, television and radio programming will not serve as convincing evidence of workplace discrimination or harassment.