So many ways to say it, so many meanings.
The “Dude” salutation started with surfers, skaters and stoners, according to urban lore.
Bud Light beer’s “Dude” commercials, starting in 2007, highlighted the many subtle shadings of the word.
But you know “Dude” has become a universal form of address when a law firm associate uses it to alert his supervising partner that he’s uncomfortable with a legal secretary’s social overtures.
Judith Basinger, a 50-year-old legal secretary in the Fairfax office of Hancock, Daniel, Johnson & Nagle P.C., began inviting a 31-year-old associate, Paul Walkinshaw, to meetings after work hours. She sent an e-mail asking to visit his office for a hug. Walkinshaw reportedly became alarmed at an e-mail in which Basinger said she hoped “there will be a right time and place that we can get together….,” according to the Dec. 23 decision in Basinger v. Hancock, Daniel, Johnson & Nagle P.C.
Walkinshaw forwarded Basinger’s e-mail to his supervising attorney, Anisa Kelley, “with the explicative: “Dude…,” according to the court’s opinion.
The associate complained to the law firm’s HR director, who investigated his complaint and Basinger’s assertion that she had evidence that Walkinshaw showed an interest in her. However, she could not substantiate that claim and expressly stated she did not want to allege he sexually harassed her.
The firm counseled Basinger and offered to transfer her to its Richmond office, but she said no. The firm terminated her employment and Basinger sued, alleging retaliation in violation of Title VII. The firm removed the case from Fairfax Circuit Court to Alexandria U.S. District Court, and U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema granted summary judgment to HDJN.
Basinger not only lost her Title VII suit, she got socked with $25,650 in attorney’s fees and $2,586.84 in costs. Brinkema said the evidence clearly established that Basinger’s lawsuit was the type of “frivolous, groundless, and unreasonable” lawsuit that Title VII Section 706(k) was meant to discourage.
By Deborah Elkins