A funny thing happened on my way to the blog this week. I had it all planned out and then, a hard right turn, comes out of nowhere and it becomes the new obsession. It is a curse sometimes to be an attorney. Not only are people always picking your brain for legal insight and advice, but we as attorneys view every situation as a potential law school examination question.
If you are unfamiliar, law school exams are frequently comprised of lengthy fact-patterns from which the student is to identify the potential legal issues contained therein. For example, a fact pattern concerning a character who enters into a contract and doesn’t perform, the student is expected to identify the potential claim for breach of contract, defenses that may exist, elements of the cause of action in order to state a claim, things of that nature.
Whereas everywhere a scientist looks she may find molecular activity, everywhere an attorney looks, he may find a cause of action. We are trained to take our client’s stories and experiences and identify the traps, look for the pitfalls, and (if the client comes early enough in the process) ensure against potential disaster.
So when I watch television, for example, I spot the issues; sometimes without even knowing that the legal part of my brain is at work. Thus, imagine my surprise when I identified many potential issues while watching that most wholesome of programs, a muppet movie. The Muppets Take Manhattan, to be exact.
In all fairness, I am more critical and suspicious of children’s programming because of the lessons that are being learned by our children. As the father of a 5 year old and 6 month old, I am very careful about what information is disseminated to them. So when I watched the muppet movie, I was shocked and appalled by what I saw. And it is because of that, that The Muppets Take Manhattan has been banned from my house.
What was the egregious error being taught to our children? Well, it was one of improper employment practices.
If you are unfamiliar with the movie, there is a scene at the end of the movie when the muppets are backstage getting ready to open their show on Broadway. As they are heading to the stage, Kermit is asked if all of the dogs and pigs and chickens and whatevers can watch the show from backstage. All of the friends that the characters had met up with during the movie have shown up and want to watch the show. Instead of letting the dogs and pigs and chickens and whatevers watch the show from backstage, he tells them they are to be in the show.
First things first– I am not going to criticize the movie as being unrealistic but there is no way that any of the dogs and giraffes and birds and possums could possibly know any of the songs, the staging, the dance moves, or the lines from the script. Kermit, you are opening on Broadway! Do you really want to send animals that have no acting experience at all onto the stage to effectively carry the main opening number? Umm, hello– how could any of the costumes fit?
No, the part that was ultra-distressing to me was the flippant method by which Kermit just gave all of these animals jobs. I bet the show’s insurance broker, if you will pardon the vernacular, “shit a brick.”
So let’s issue spot, shall we? My issue spotting is, actually, not only from the standpoint of the lawyer, but also from the perspective of a business owner.
A) The human resources director did not have time to interview all of the new employees to determine if they were qualified for the job. Did any of them have any experience on a stage? Summer stock, maybe some commercials, or a pilot?
B) Did the employees complete the necessary new hire packet? I assume they filled out a W-4 and an I-9, right? How much withholding did Bear #3 request? And if you will recall, the animals were introduced in various places of the country. Is it possible that one or two or more of the new hires were born in a different country? It is probably pretty easy for a frog to leap from lillipad to lillipad, crossing Lake Michigan from Canada. I bet the border control agents aren’t covering that method of immigration.
C) Were the new employees given the employee handbook? Did they understand that they were being hired for 8 shows a week, one show a day Tuesday-Friday and two on Saturday and Sunday each, with Monday off?
D) Umm, anyone care at all about the unions? The theater looked to be fairly large, so doesn’t that require that only Actors Equity members be hired? Did they make sure to comply with the union’s rules regarding hiring and compensation and benefits and contributions and all of the other guidelines regarding employment?
E) Did Kermit check with the producer ahead of time to make sure that there was room in the budget to pay everyone? He might be in breach of his contract with the producers, unauthorized hirings and firings without producer’s approval.
The list could go on and on.
But let’s fast forward the story. Fast forward to the day after opening night. Everyone is hung-over from a long night of partying and celebrating. Kermit and Miss Piggy and the gang were at Sardi’s all night, living it up. Rowlf the Dog commandeered the piano while Fozzie Bear grabbed the mic and regaled the crowd with jokes.
As the cast rolls over to the theater for the next evening’s performance, they are met with a picket line. The union is protesting the hiring of non-union workers. The crowd for the show, unwilling to cross the picket line, demands a refund of their money for the tickets. Chicken #2, who had called her agent that morning to brag about her new gig, informs Kermit that she will hold out because she wants to renegotiate her contract. It seems that she wants her own dressing room and doesn’t want to have to share the stage with the bears for fear that she may be the bears’ next dinner. She also has requested that her dressing room be stocked with M&M’s, but only the green ones. The pig has filed a lawsuit for unfair hiring practices because he feels that he should have had a chance to audition for the role of Dog #5 but was discriminated against because he is a pig.
With all of the strife now looming for the show, the producer has decided to pull the plug. It seems that since Kermit did not obtain employment practices liability insurance, there is concern that many of the new employees will bring wage and hour claims as well as unfair hiring practices. The producer does not want the liability and has decided to close the show down.
What started out with so much promise… Kermit thought he was doing a solid for his friends by giving them jobs and having them in the show, but at the end of the day, it was like trying to catch a fly caught in fly-paper. Kermit got stuck and he can’t get away.
Sorry my friends, the curse of being an attorney. But you can well understand why I The Muppets Take Manhattan is out of the house. Brooklyn and Kensi want to watch a movie, it will be on which teaches important lessons, like Scarface.
Have a great week.