Legally Speaking: Keep Those 'Privates' Private, If You Please

John G. Browning Apr. 29, 2010, 3:25am

Lately, it seems like peoples' inability to keep it in their pants has led to their winding up in the courtroom.

Recently, I shared the story of a Florida woman's questionable judgment in when (and where) to engage in some very personal grooming; there may be a time and place for that, but on the road while driving 45 mph is definitely not it.

And before you think that episodes like this only wind up as weird news items in the newspaper, consider that even the U.S. Supreme Court has to deal with fairly risque situations from time to time.

Earlier this year, in the case of Wellons v. Hall, the Court ordered a lower court to reconsider the murder conviction of Marcus Wellons because of certain "disturbing facts" that "raise serious questions concerning the conduct of the trial."

According to the Court's opinion, there had been improper contacts between the jury and the judge, and jurors and the bailiff.

Sometime during or immediately after the penalty phase, several members of the jury gave the female judge novelty chocolate in the shape of male genitalia. They gave the bailiff chocolates supposedly shaped like female breasts.

Besides the gag gifts, the jurors and the bailiff also planned a reunion. Such chumminess and erotic comedy evidently bothered the Court.

In sending the case back, the justices noted that "From beginning to end, judicial proceedings conducted for the purpose of deciding whether a defendant shall be put to death must be conducted with dignity and respect."

Everywhere one turns, litigants are turning private situations that would embarrass most of us into public courtroom spectacles. In Florida, a man unsuccessfully sued the manufacturer of men's briefs, claiming that he was injured on a vacation while wearing their "defectively designed" underwear.

The plaintiff claimed that the briefs "gaped open and acted like a sandbelt on my privates."

Judge Patricia Kinsey had to consider evidence about the relationship between male anatomy and underwear, including candid testimony from various men.

For Lithuanian-born Marium Varinauskas of Aberdeen, Scotland, his inability to keep it in his pants resulted in criminal charges.

Earlier this year, after an episode of binge drinking that prompted Varinauskas's girlfriend to call the police, he was anything but cooperative.

In fact, he actually tried to hit the female police officer in the head – with his penis. The officer took evasive action, and now Varinauskas – who professes not to remember anything about the incident – faces charges of assault and disturbing the peace.

Some lawsuits have involved, shall we say, unrealistic expectations. In Amsterdam, a union representing Dutch nurses has taken legal action and launched a national advertising campaign in response to patients claiming that sexual services should be part of their standard care.

The campaign is called "I Draw The Line Here." It follows complaints that have been filed by patients against nurses who refused to provide sexual gratification and were fired from their home healthcare assignments as a result.

Stating the (hopefully) obvious, the union maintains that such services are "not part of the job responsibilities . . . of nurses."

Meanwhile in Canada, Marcel Cote sued Canadian airline Air Transat, claiming that its flight attendants wrongfully refused to inspect his scrotum. During a Feb. 15, 2008, flight from Montreal to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Mr. Cote experienced pain that led him to make a dash for the restroom, where he discovered slight bleeding and spotting in his genital area.

He asked for a flight attendant to help examine him; she declined, and so did a male flight attendant. Both offered sanitary towels to help with the situation.

Cote asked for a doctor, and members of the flight crew said they would contact a physician if the illness was serious enough.

Three hours later, upon arriving in Puerto Vallarta, Cote contacted a friend who took him to the hospital. There, he was treated for a ruptured vein near his scrotum, which required all of three stitches.

Cote sued the airline and its employees, claiming that they'd failed to provide appropriate medical assistance and that consequently his Mexican vacation was ruined and he was now anxious about flying.

Judge Michele Pauze was not convinced, and ruled in favor of the airline.

"It was not incumbent upon a flight attendant to conduct the medical examination of a passenger, a measure reserved for the medical profession," she wrote.

Judge Pauze evidently felt that it took real cojones to file such a lawsuit, so she ordered Cote to pay the airlines' court costs.

Of course, any employment lawyer knows that in some sexual harassment cases, there's bound to be testimony about a defendant who just can't keep his privates . . . well, private. But few such lawsuits feature allegations like the outrageous behavior being asserted by Lia Vanella.

Ms. Vanella filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in December 2009 in Palm Beach County, Fla., against her former employers, Thadeus Pryor and Worldwide Child Care, a division of Children of America Inc.

Pryor, a former professional kickboxing champion, is the president and CEO of Children of America, a chain of childcare centers with 33 locations in the northeastern United States. Vanella claims she was wrongfully fired on trumped-up charges of stealing a computer, charges that were intended to cover up the 103 examples of sexual harassment alleged in her lawsuit.

Among the bad behavior alleged by Vanella was Pryor's supposed habit of not only exposing himself, but also twisting his genitalia into animal shapes, including ones described by the plaintiff as "the goat" and "the flying bat."

Pryor denies the allegations.

If the lawsuit doesn't turn out in his favor, at least he has a future in X-rated puppet shows and maybe even an off-Broadway play.

Litigation is supposed to be about a search for the truth. Sometimes, however, this search can lead to TMI – too much information.

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