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French man wins right to not be ‘fun’ at work

Consultant was fired after refusing to take part in activities he called ‘humiliating and intrusive,’ according to court filing

Corporate drinking culture has been criticized in court cases in multiple countries. (iStock)
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France’s highest court has ruled that a man fired by a Paris-based consulting firm for allegedly failing to be “fun” enough at work was wrongfully dismissed.

The man, referred to in court documents as Mr. T, was fired from Cubik Partners in 2015 after refusing to take part in seminars and weekend social events that his lawyers argued, according to court documents, included “excessive alcoholism” and “promiscuity.”

Mr. T had argued that the “fun” culture in the company involved “humiliating and intrusive practices” including mock sexual acts, crude nicknames and obliging him to share his bed with another employee during work functions.

In its judgment this month, the Court of Cassation ruled that the man was entitled to “freedom of expression” and that refusing to participate in social activities was a “fundamental freedom” under labor and human rights laws, and not grounds for his dismissal.

According to the court documents, the man was hired by Cubik Partners as a senior consultant in February 2011 and promoted to director in February 2014. He was fired for “professional incompetence” in March 2015 for allegedly failing to adhere to the firm’s convivial values.

The company also criticized his sometimes “brittle and demotivating tone” toward subordinates, and alleged inability to accept feedback and differing points of view.

Cubik Partners did not immediately respond to a request from The Washington Post for comment.

PwC’s boozy U.K. event ends with coma and lawsuit

It is not the first time a company’s drinking culture has come under the microscope in court proceedings. A number of recent incidents have highlighted the entrenchment of alcohol in white-collar professional culture, even after the #MeToo movement shone a spotlight on workplace misconduct globally. Some firms have introduced “booze chaperones” at company events in hopes of avoiding such issues.

An auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers in England sued the company over severe injuries he sustained at a work event that “made a competitive virtue” of “excessive” drinking, in a lawsuit filed in London’s High Court this year. Michael Brockie fell down in the street, went into a coma and later had part of his skull removed after participating in the company event, The Post reported.

In March, insurance marketplace Lloyd’s of London fined member firm Atrium Underwriters a record 1 million pounds (about $1.2 million) for “serious failures,” including a “boys’ night out” where employees, among them two senior executives, “took part in inappropriate initiation games and heavy drinking, and made sexual comments about female colleagues,” the Guardian reported at the time.

France is among the world’s most liberal countries in terms of alcohol consumption. The legal minimum age for consuming alcohol in public is 18, but there is no regulation of alcohol consumption in private.

Taylor Telford contributed to this report.