Have a question about how to use the law in your story? Need a character, plot twist or setting? Ask me in the comments section and I'll be glad to answer. I welcome all comments and questions.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Better Off Ted Gets Employment Contract Right, Hilariously

Better Off Ted is consistently one of the funniest shows on TV. They skewer a fictional company, Veridian, that cares only about profits at the expense of its employees. In the latest episode The Lawyer, The Lemur, and the Little Listener they got a couple things so right it made me howl.

First, they got the way some companies treat fired employees right, then they kicked it up a notch. I’ve had hundreds of clients come to me over the years describing that they were called into the Human Resources office, presented with termination papers, and escorted out. They weren’t allowed to go back to their offices to pack. Instead, while they were whisked away to HR, their belongings were packed for them and waiting when they left. They had to do the walk of shame in front of everyone and felt like criminals while they were marched out with an escort. Better Off Ted created a company Extraction Team. Instead of packing up while the employee was out of the office, the Extraction Team packed the office, picked up the employee from their chair, and painted the empty office the moment they left. The writers took an all-too-true sad situation and made comedy.

My favorite part, though, was when an employee dreaming of escape wrote a children’s book. (I won’t go into how wrong they got the publishing industry or the children’s book market, because it was still funny). The company scientists pointed out that she had signed a contract giving the company rights to anything she created while she worked there. And that’s exactly what happens. People laugh at me when I ask them, before they sign, whether they write novels or songs, design games, paint, or do anything else creative. The horrid truth is that greedy companies will try to take your work if you’re not careful. I won’t tell you how the writers twisted the story in an unexpected way – rush to your TiVos and try to pick it up on reruns, or watch it online here: http://abc.go.com/watch/better-off-ted/187472/244404/the-lawyer-the-lemur-and-the-little-listener .

This is a great example of how writers got the law right and used it to make the story better. In the law, truth is almost always stranger than fiction.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Desperate Housewives Gets Pregnancy Discrimination Wrong

I must admit that Desperate Housewives is one of my guilty pleasures. Yes, I know it's silly. Mostly, it cracks me up. But something's been bugging me this season, and I can't sit quietly by any longer. It's this: they seem to think pregnant women should disclose their pregnancies before accepting a promotion, and if they don't, they owe an apology and deserve to be fired.

If you don't follow DH, here's what's going on. Lynette, mother of about a zillion kids already, is pregnant with twins. Insert comment here about birth control. Lynette was a high-powered advertising executive before she went out on the mommy track. When the kids grew up, she got a great job with Carlos's company. Carlos is Gabby's husband. Gabby is a good friend who lives across the street. Following so far?

When Lynette gets pregnant, she doesn't announce it right away. As most women do, she waits to make sure things are okay in the first trimester. Carlos comes into her office and announces that she's getting a big promotion. Not only that, but that she's getting it because the woman who should have gotten it is pregnant, and therefore he won't give it to her.

Right there, I hoped Lynette would go to HR and report the jerk, but she did what most of us would do. She accepted the promotion and hid her pregnancy as long as she could. She did a great job. Then Gabby found out.

Instead of the writers having Gabby swat Carlos upside the head for refusing to promote a pregnant woman in the first place, Gabby tells Carlos and tells him to fire Lynette. The writers missed a great opportunity to show a woman standing up to a sexist pig husband.

The lawyers for the company told Carlos to offer Lynette a promotion far, far away. That was genius. Real employers do this type of thing. It was way better than just having him fire her. I held out some hope that they might get things write.

Then they went completely off the deep end.

When Lynette turned down the promotion, Carlos stripped her of her duties and put her in a closet. Lynette sued. Good for her, except she'd first have to file a charge of discrimination with EEOC. Had the writers done this, they could have shown her watching Carlos squirm as he had to explain to Human Resources what he'd done.

Instead, the writers have me almost ready to stop watching. Because they have Gabby demanding that Lynette apologize. Lynette has come to the realization that she was all wrong. No! No! No! Lynette did what she should have done. Carlos should be fired. The jerk. And Gabby is no friend, demanding an apology for Lynette taking a promotion while pregnant.

DH has never been a bastion of feminist thought. But this time, they've crossed a line for me. I don't know if I can stand much more of them making pregnant working women feel like they have something to apologize for. If the writers had bothered to get the law on pregnancy discrimination right, their plot would be much more interesting.