Rudolph vs Santa Claus

A holiday fact pattern for you to use in ADR Notable.

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Defendant Santa Claus (Santa) owns and operates a toy manufacturing and distribution company located at the North Pole, on the Arctic ice island. Santa is represented by counsel, A.B. (Abe) Snowman.  Santa’s distribution company claims to use a combination of employees and independent contractors, (the latter sometimes known as “gig economy workers”) for the year-round manufacture, and one-time annual distribution of toys, primarily to children. 

Plaintiff, a reindeer who goes by the single name, Rudolph is represented by attorney Jane Doe. Rudolph was engaged by Santa as a Transportation and Distribution Specialist, to provide transportation and distribution services for the annual distribution. Rudolph receives housing and leafy greens during the period of annual work, and continues to serve in this capacity. Whether Rudolph is an employee or a gig economy worker is disputed.

Rudolph was born with a rare facial condition; specifically, a very shiny nose. It was so shiny in fact, that some would even say it glows. This unusual condition became the focus of abuse and harassment by Rudolph’s co-workers. Such harassment includes the use of an insensitive nickname, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and various forms of intentional and hostile exclusion from the company’s reindeer games.

Rudolph believes he has been the victim of discrimination based on a rare physical characteristic or genetic condition, and that Santa has either condoned or, at a minimum, callously ignored the discriminatory conduct, and fostered a hostile work environment. Rudolph claims to have suffered depression and stress as a consequence of these working conditions. Because Santa deems Rudolph and the other reindeer to be independent contractors, Rudolph lacked health insurance and was compelled to pay out-of-pocket for professional counseling in addition to the legal fees related to this legal action. Rudolph seeks compensation for the cost of counseling and legal fees, actual and punitive damages for the suffering of depression and stress, and affirmative injunctive relief to compel Santa to take steps to prevent further harassment and abuse by Rudolph’s co-workers and company management. Rudolph also believes Santa should provide health insurance, overtime pay and a retirement plan for all of the reindeer.

Santa believes that that Rudolph is an independent contractor, retained only temporarily each year to provide the simple labor of pulling a sleigh. While acknowledging that Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen; Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen have worked with Santa each year for many years, Santa denies maintaining a year-round work environment of any kind for Rudolph or the other reindeer. He contrasts their employment relationship with those of the other company work group, elves, who make the toys and are employed all year long.

In denying the existence of a hostile work environment, or discrimination against Rudolph, Santa cites a particular year during which Rudolph was selected to lead the transportation and distribution team, taking advantage of Rudolph’s shiny nose as a kind of useful beacon in inclement weather. Rudolph claims this was mere tokenism and that the distinction was opportunistic and short-lived. He was bitterly disappointed when the role was not extended in subsequent years.

While sympathetic to Rudolph’s situation, Santa does not agree that his company bears any liability or responsibility toward Rudolph.

Download the fact pattern here.

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