Slideshow: 7 Unhappy Holiday Lawsuits

No peace on Earth or goodwill toward men: click through to read about seven holiday court battles.

The holiday season can be stressful, but no one expects to be served with a subpoena under the mistletoe. Click through the slideshow to read about seven lawsuits related to Rudolph, Christmas trees, menorahs and more.

Malicious Melodies

Six inmates in the Maricopa County, Ariz. penitentiary system accused the sheriff’s office of spreading too much holiday cheer. Each inmate alleged that being forced to listen to the music constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment and is a violation of their rights.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio believes that playing songs such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Feliz Navidad” for 12 hours every day can help lift the spirits of more than 8,000 inmates and jail staff members in the third-largest jail system in the U.S. Arpaio noted that his musical selections are multiethnic, culturally diverse and represent many religions. A press release issued by Arpaio announcing the court’s decision to allow the music to be played compared those six inmates to the Grinch.

Another Christmas Story

Zack Ward played bully Scut Farkus in the 1983 film A Christmas Story. National Entertainment Collectibles Assn. contacted him in 2006 to license his likeness for the production of an action figure based on the Farkus character. Ward alleged the company also created a board game without his permission and is suing to recoup royalty-related damages.

He took National Entertainment to federal court in July 2012 to resolve the initial issue and then amended his complaint in August 2012 to include a claim of fraudulent concealment of evidence when he learned a 2009 calendar that also included his image. Ward alleges National Entertainment withheld evidence to disrupt litigation and damaged him by forcing him to rely on an incomplete record. The firm maintains that his allegations are baseless and intends to fight them. The case is thus far unresolved.

A similar suit, Ward v. Warner Bros Entertainment Inc. et al., was filed in August 2011. Lawsuits regarding likenesses in film and television merchandising are becoming increasingly rare, as newer contracts include stipulations that limit actors’ rights to their names, voices or likenesses in connection with merchandise sales.

Needs More Menorah

The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport created a holiday display in December 2006, which included 14 Christmas trees. Chabad-Lubavitch, a Jewish Orthodox group, asked for a menorah to be included in the display, but the request quickly gave way to threats of a lawsuit. Airport officials decided it was easier to remove the display altogether, rather than try to appease every religious group.

A Chabad-Lubavitch spokesperson said it never requested removal of the trees, but rather asked the airport to make room for other groups to be represented in accordance with the law. The display, which consisted of “holiday trees,” lights and snowflakes, was previously revised to be what the director of the airport deemed “secular.” The lawsuit, which was never filed, cited a 1989 decision by the U. S. Supreme Court to uphold the dual display of menorahs and Christmas trees in public spaces as protected under the First Amendment.

Travelers Fuming Over Tree Fire

A Christmas tree fire in 2009 in Dauphin County, Pa.,  caused $3.4 million in damages to the Founder’s Hall rotunda of Milton Hershey School, a private k-12 boarding school. Travelers and Hershey Trust Co. filed a suit against Designs Unlimited Interior Landscapes Inc., alleging shoddy workmanship that caused a 25-foot-tall artificial evergreen to burst into flames. No one was injured.

Milton Hershey claims that it sustained $105,000 in uninsured losses in addition to millions Travelers spent on cleanup. The tree had 5,000 lights installed and connected to a three-outlet electrical adapter, which was overloaded and set the velvet skirt and packages underneath the tree on fire.

Designs Unlimited contests the suit is unfounded because the overloaded adapter was supplied by school officials. It added the Taiwanese light manufacturer, the companies that service the building’s fire alarm, sprinkler, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and Home Depot, who sold the lights, to the suit as defendants. 

Clerk Decries Kwanzaa Celebration

Christ Thomas, a probate court clerk in Shelby, Tenn. filed a complaint in December of 2007 regarding a Kwanzaa celebration to be hosted by County Commissioner Henri Brooks. “The reason I filed the lawsuit is because of the discrimination against Christians, Jews and other faiths by allowing the Kwanzaa celebration to happen,” Thomas said. He claimed the proposed celebration is a spiritual alternative to Christmas and is therefore in violation of First Amendment rights and county property regulations.

Brooks has hosted the first night of Kwanzaa for 12 years prior to the suit and maintains that the celebration is not religious. According to www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org, “Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday. It is not an alternative to people's religion or faith but a common ground of African culture.” County Atty. Brian Kuhn said he did not believe Kwanzaa was religious, and Mayor Wharton did not plan to stop the event. In the future, requests for events will have to be submitted to the mayor’s office for review.

Christmas Spirits

An Ontario woman got drunk at an office Christmas party in 1994 and proceeded to drive home in a snowstorm, crashing her car. She sued her employer, Sutton Group Reality, for allowing her to drive, despite offers of a company cab ride or accommodations if she handed over her keys.

In a decision that will no doubt put future party plans on the rocks, the judge awarded her more than $300,000 in damages and interest, a quarter of the accident damages, which were assessed at $1.2 million. The reduction in awarded amount was due to what the judge called the plaintiff’s “own fault in the matter,” but reminded Sutton Group that it is the duty of employers to monitor the alcohol consumption of employees and company functions.

Here are some tips for avoiding office party disasters from a survey by The Creative Group:

  1. Consider your 'plus one' carefully. When a celebration is for employees only, it's a definite faux pas to bring a date. Also, if your significant other is a wild card at parties, it's probably best to go solo.
  2. Ditch the Santa suit. It's OK to be festive, but don't wear anything too outrageous or revealing. Find out what the dress code is and keep to it.
  3. Stick to your limit. If alcohol is served, drink in moderation and don't pressure others who choose to abstain.
  4. Avoid sharing TMI. It's natural to let your guard down during casual get-togethers, but there's no reason to start divulging secrets. Keep the conversation upbeat and avoid cringe-worthy topics.
  5. Don't play paparazzi. It's fun to take photos at group events, but refrain from posting embarrassing pictures of your coworkers on social media. If you want to share photos, be sure to get permission from your work team first.

Season of Giving (and Taking)

Country group Alabama’s popular 1982 holiday song, “Christmas in Dixie,” is the subject of a lawsuit within the Sony Music label.  Allan Caswell wrote the song “On the Inside” recorded by Lynne Hamilton, which became a chart-topper in Australia in 1979, and claims that “Christmas in Dixie” contains a similar, if not identical, melody.

Caswell sued Sony ATV in 2009, alleging that he did not collect the proper royalty payments from Alabama for usage of parts of his song. Complicating matters, Caswell and Alabama are both signed to Sony labels. He isn’t claiming plagiarism—he simply wants to be compensated for his publisher reusing his work.  Litigation is still pending.

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