Getting Coffee for the Boss not a Gender-Specific Job

June 11, 2008 ( - The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has determined that a female receptionist who was fired for refusing to serve coffee to her male supervisors was not a victim of gender discrimination.

Tamara Klopfenstein argued that she was the subject of a hostile work environment because she was “compelled to perform servile tasks for her male supervisors,” the court opinion said. However, U.S. Judge Berle M. Schiller wrote: “The act of getting coffee is not, by itself, a gender-specific act.”

The court conceded that in the context of other indicators of sexism, getting coffee could be evidence of a discriminatory intent, but it found the record did not show any other indicators of sexism. Schiller said the other incidents that Klopfenstein pointed to in support of her claim – an e-mail from a mail coworker inviting her to lunch, a boss’s note on her employment application that she looks nice, a perceived change in managers’ behavior, and reminders on her electronic calendar to get her supervisors coffee – were.

Further, the court pointed out the record showed that getting coffee for the supervisors was one responsibility associated with Klopfenstein’s position as receptionist, previous receptionists were required to get coffee, and she did not find getting coffee for office guests demeaning.

The court also rejected Klopfenstein’s claim of quid pro quo harassment because she did not show that any of her supervisors made sexual advances toward her. Schiller wrote that Klopfenstein herself found the claim so untenable that she presented a new theory. According to the opinion, she argued that the court should abandon the legal requirement that an employer engage in a sexual advance to make out a quid pro quo claim, and argues instead for a “quasi” quid pro quo framework that the requirement that an employee conform to an outdated gender stereotype should also trigger a quid pro quo analysis.

In response, Schiller wrote: “The Court declines Plaintiff’s invitation to create new law.”

Klopfenstein’s claim of retaliation was also rejected. The court said that being asked to go ahead and leave the office, though receiving a full day’s pay, when she was already fired was not an adverse action.

Klopfenstein worked as a part-time receptionist for National Sales and Supply, LLC. During her six weeks of employment there was an ongoing dispute about her responsibility to serve coffee to her male supervisors. Klopfenstein found it demeaning and said it “reinforced outdated gender stereotypes.” On one occasion when she refused a supervisor’s request for coffee, he sent her an email saying getting coffee for her two supervisors was part of her job responsibilities and was “not open for debate.”

Klopfenstein responded with an email saying she did not expect to serve and wait on her supervisors and had she known it was one of her job duties she would not have taken the job. She was told to pack her things.

Klopfenstein asked if she could work out the remainder of that day and one supervisor told her she would be paid for the day whether she worked or not, but it was up to her if she wanted to stay. She then informed her bosses she would be filing a complaint. At that time they told her to go ahead and leave.

She filed suit claiming sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation.

The opinion in Klopfenstein v. National Sales and Supply is here .