The Background to the Story
(Excerpt from "Seinfeld" shown)
DAVID GREGORY reporting: (Voiceover) It's the show about nothing, but each week, millions of us find something so funny about "Seinfeld," we tune in.
But would you ever think the side-splitting jokes getting laughs on TV could get you into hot water by the water cooler? There's another Jerry, Jerry MacKenzie, who finds nothing funny about the answer.
(Excerpts from "Seinfeld"; person dispensing cup of water at water cooler; MacKenzie typing at computer)
Mr. JERRY MacKENZIE: It was horrible. It--it turned my life upside down.
Let's see how we're doing here.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) He claims just talking about a racy "Seinfeld" episode with a female colleague got him fired from his job at the Miller Brewing Company.
Mr. MacKENZIE: I couldn't sleep for over a year and a half through the night. You would wake up. You would feel horrible. You would feel dirty.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) Last month, both Jerry MacKenzie and a "Seinfeld" episode wound up in a Milwaukee courtroom, and caught up in national debate about how men and women talk to each other in the workplace, and what constitutes sexual harassment.
(MacKenzie walking dog; courthouse; shadowy figures of men and women talking to each other in office)
Mr. MacKENZIE: I was damaged goods. I had to do something to clear my name, if nothing else.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) MacKenzie was a sales manager at Miller's corporate headquarters when he watched this 1993 episode of the show.
(Miller Brewing Company building)
Mr. JASON ALEXANDER: ("Seinfeld") What's her name?
Mr. JERRY SEINFELD: ("Seinfeld") I don't know.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) A classic where Jerry can't remember his date's name and is too embarrassed to ask what it is.
(Excerpt from "Seinfeld")
Unidentified Actress: ("Seinfeld") What do you expect when your name rhymes with a part of the female anatomy?
GREGORY: (Voiceover) He tries guessing.
(Excerpt from "Seinfeld")
Mr. ALEXANDER: ("Seinfeld") Aretha!
Mr. SEINFELD: ("Seinfeld") No.
Mr. ALEXANDER: ("Seinfeld") Bovary!
Mr. SEINFELD: ("Seinfeld") All right, that's enough.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) In the end, Jerry loses the woman.
(Excerpt from "Seinfeld")
Actress: ("Seinfeld") You don't know my name, do you?
Mr. SEINFELD: ("Seinfeld") Mulva?
GREGORY: (Voiceover) But finally gets it--the female part and the name.
(Excerpt from "Seinfeld")
Mr. SEINFELD: ("Seinfeld") Oh--oh, Dolores!
GREGORY: (Voiceover) Though MacKenzie says he was surprised the episode was OK'd by NBC's censors, he thought the show was hysterical and claims it was the talk of the office the next day. He even brought it up with a lower-ranking manager in his department, Patricia Best.
(MacKenzie typing at computer; Patricia Best walking through hallway)
Mr. MacKENZIE: It's human nature. You come in the morning, you see a friend, you say, Hey, did you see "Seinfeld" last night?'
GREGORY: So in other words, this was classic water cooler stuff? No doubt about it?
Mr. MacKENZIE: Absolutely, 100 percent.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) He asked Best to guess the woman's name, and when she couldn't, MacKenzie says he Xeroxed a dictionary definition of the body part, and pointed it out to her.
(Excerpt from "Seinfeld"; dictionary page)
GREGORY: I mean, it's a little weird, isn't it, to take all those steps?
Mr. MacKENZIE: Well, I'm not going to carry a dictionary around with me. And no...(network difficulties)...a dirty word. It's not a vulgar word.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) But Best, who was getting married later that day, felt the conversation was so inappropriate that she ultimately confronted MacKenzie. She also complained to a supervisor, who reported the incident to personnel, even though Best says she asked him not to.
(Best walking through office corridor; MacKenzie working at computer; sign, "Personnel")
GREGORY: Didn't you ever think, You know, that this probably isn't a real good thing to talk about in the office?'
Mr. MacKENZIE: If you are going to take that standard and apply it to the executive suite at the Miller Brewing Company, you're going to vacate the whole place.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) The day after personnel found out, MacKenzie, a 19-year Miller veteran, was fired. Miller's official reason for firing him "unacceptable management performance." But along the office grapevine, MacKenzie says there were whispers about something more sinister--sexual harassment.
(MacKenzie getting into pickup truck; excerpts from letter regarding MacKenzie's termination; person talking into headset)
Mr. MacKENZIE: To sexually harass a person is--is horrible. And to be associated by--with that, for--for any reason, is a horrible stigma.
GREGORY: Did you think your career was over?
Mr. MacKENZIE: It was.
GREGORY: No doubt about it?
Mr. MacKENZIE: No doubt about it.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) To MacKenzie, the show about nothing had now ruined everything. So after dozens of futile job applications, he took his case to court.
(TV screens showing "Seinfeld" program)
GREGORY: He sued Miller for deceiving him about his job status when he worked there, and in an unusual twist, he also sued Patricia Best, claiming she pretended to be offended by the "Seinfeld" conversation because she wanted to get him fired.
Mr. MacKENZIE: (In court) I do.
Unidentified Woman: (In court) Please be seated.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) In court, MacKenzie's lawyer portrayed him as a rising star at Miller whose career had been destroyed by a rush to judgment over a harmless joke.
(MacKenzie taking stand in court; sign for Miller Brewing Company on building wall)
Mr. MacKENZIE: (In court) He said, Jerry,' he said, I'm down here to tell you the results of the meeting,' as that, you are no longer an active employee of the Miller Brewing Company.'
GREGORY: (Voiceover) But when the defendant Patricia Best took the stand, a different portrait of the "Seinfeld" incident and Jerry MacKenzie emerged.
(Best taking stand in court)
Ms. PATRICIA BEST: It was what he did, how he did it, how he looked at me. He knew it was my wedding day. It was about a female sex organ, and I felt there was some kind of weird connection for him, and he was getting pleasure out of that.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) Though MacKenzie says he merely pointed to the definition, Best claims he insisted she read it aloud. And that, she says, is where he crossed the line.
Ms. BEST: (In court) And then he shoved the page at me and asked me to read the definition. I said, I don't want to read this.' And he said, Read it! Read it!' And I--I said, I know what it means.'
Unidentified Attorney: (In court) How did you feel about this conversation that Mr. MacKenzie had with you in his office?
(Best on stand)
Ms. BEST: When he was doing that, I had--I was sinking, sick, disgusting feeling. I couldn't believe he was doing that to me.
Ms. ELLEN BRAVO: These are very personal, intimate parts of the body--have nothing but sexual connotation. Why would you insist that someone focus on that?
GREGORY: (Voiceover) Ellen Bravo is the director of 9 to 5, a national association of working women, and a spokesperson for Patricia Best, who declined to speak with us on camera. She says Best never intended to get MacKenzie fired.
(Bravo speaking to receptionist in 9 to 5 office; Best in court)
Ms. BRAVO: She didn't sue. She got sued. This is a woman who did exactly what we tell people to do: If you're bothered by something someone says, go to them and say, "You've crossed the line. I don't like it. Please don't do it again."'
GREGORY: A lot of people watching this are saying, Would you all please lighten up? Can't you take a joke?'
Ms. BRAVO: You know, if it were a joke, I think it would have been a really different issue. In fact, it wasn't a joke. It wasn't one incident. It was a whole history of abusive behavior.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) Best testified that MacKenzie did other things to make her uneasy, like shadowing her at an office cocktail party, and leaving what she thought was a "creepy" late-night phone message, telling her how "special" their work relationship was to him.
(Best in court; cocktail drink; telephone number pad and phone cord)
Ms. BRAVO: Both of those were things that just made her feel uncomfortable and wondering, Where is this going?'
GREGORY: (Voiceover) And Best wasn't the first woman at Miller to wonder about MacKenzie's conduct--a prior allegation of sexual harassment against him raised a red flag with his bosses.
(Miller Brewing Company building; paperwork from past sexual harassment allegation; excerpts from allegation)
I was sexually harassed by Jerry MacKenzie.
Mr. MICHAEL BROPHY: Mr. MacKenzie was warned on more than one occasion about this kind of behavior.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) Miller executive Michael Brophy says it wasn't just the "Seinfeld" conversation that got MacKenzie fired, it was a string of poor judgment calls.
(Brophy in interview)
Mr. BROPHY: We're not talking about whether you can discuss a television show in the workplace. That's been overblown. What we're talking here is common sense behavior. And we're talking about a standard--a high standard that a senior manager in a corporation should be held to.
GREGORY: MacKenzie denies doing anything inappropriate with either woman at Miller, claiming that his actions have been distorted and misunderstood. When it comes to "Seinfeld" conversation, he says he's the victim of a double standard that allows a woman to say things around the office that would get a man in trouble.
Mr. MacKENZIE: Patty regularly peppers her language with expletives. The "F" word was very frequently used by her. This is a person whose language would lead you to think that that type of a discussion would not be offensive to them.
GREGORY: In other words, Who are you to talk?'
Mr. MacKENZIE: Exactly.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) Jerold MacKenzie says that Patty Best wasn't offended by this conversation, that she used foul language, that she's simply lying.
Ms. BRAVO: Patty Best may have used profanity in the workplace. Is it appropriate? No. Does it give license to someone to talk about crude, sexual things? No.
GREGORY: (Voiceover) So did the defendant Patricia Best do the right thing when she said that MacKenzie had crossed the line? Or was Jerry MacKenzie a misunderstood manager who became a victim of political correctness gone too far? Those were questions for the jury to decide.
The Jury Decision
LOAD-DATE: August 6, 1997