'Seinfeld' Gag Leads to Firing

August 24, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A man who repeated a gag from the "Seinfeld" show while at work has been fired for sexual harassment, according to the DesMoines Register.

The news report said John Preston and several of his co-workers at the Brain Injury Association of Iowa attended an outdoor retreat in July 2008, during which one of the female workers told her colleagues that whenever she or her husband sneezed, the other would respond by saying, “You are so good looking.” For the rest of the retreat, Preston and other workers adopted the routine derived from an episode of “Seinfeld” in which the characters used the phrase “You are so good looking” in place of “God bless you.”

A week after the retreat, Preston allegedly sent the female worker who initiated the joke a series of e-mails in which he reiterated that she was good looking. The woman complained to her superiors, and Preston was cautioned about such comments, according to the newspaper.

A few weeks later, Preston allegedly stopped the woman in a hallway at work and massaged her shoulders while speaking to her. She again complained, and early this year Preston confronted the woman at a work-related event.

Preston was fired for sexual harassment, and at a hearing last week on Preston’s claim for unemployment benefits, he testified that he meant no harm by repeating the phrase, and that it was just a continuation of that joke. He was denied unemployment benefits.

According to the Register, the firing of Preston for sexual harassment after repeating a joke from the "Seifeld" show is similar to the 2004 firing of Ronald Knight, who worked as a manager at the Fareway grocery store in Shenandoah. Knight allegedly told a female subordinate that he had heard she was drunk and running naked through the streets the previous night. He also implied that her forgetfulness was due to lack of sex, and he telephoned her at home and asked what she was wearing.

The news report said Knight claimed he was repeating comments heard on a "Seinfeld" episode and the remarks were made in jest. He was denied unemployment benefits.

In a 1992 Wisconsin case, Miller Brewing Co. fired one of its executives, Jerold Mackenzie, also for an incident that stemmed from a "Seinfeld" episode, according to the Register.

Mackenzie had told his secretary about a show in which a woman was described by the series' characters as having a name that rhymed with part of the female anatomy. The woman was named Delores, and because Mackenzie was too embarrassed to tell his secretary what that rhymed with, he showed her the word in a dictionary.

After he was fired for sexual harassment, Mackenzie sued Miller Brewing Co. and his former secretary. The jury didn't believe the secretary felt harassed and awarded Mackenzie $1.5 million in damages, plus $25 million for unrelated claims. However, the verdict was appealed and the jury award was set aside.