Ruling protects employee property – even old yogurt

All that crap in your cubicle? And that Chinese take-out in the company fridge from 1983? It's safe - for now. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today employees must be notified before their belongings are tossed.

The ruling stemmed from a University of Texas professor who had all his stuff thrown out by his employer without his consent. More precisely, University of Texas at San Antonio professor Philip Stotter wasn't given adequate notice before his lab was closed and its contents thrown in the trash.

According to court papers, this case involved the termination of an employment contract of a tenured professor, Philip Stotter, Ph.D, at the University of Texas at San Antonio (USTA) and the alleged destruction of his personal property. UTSA terminated its contract with Stotter because of his alleged repeated refusal to improve the conditions of his lab and office, both of which allegedly posed serious health and safety hazards. Stotter was told many times that his lab needed to be cleaned but he didn't receive the warnings nor a letter setting a deadline for removing his personal belongings until two days after the cleaning was completed, the papers said. In the end the court sided with the professor.

In the Houston Chronicle, employment lawyer Michael Muskat, said the thorny case involving a university and a former chemistry professor raises several possible constitutional questions for public employers vigilant about protecting their employees from the hazards of old food.

"For example, is the receptionist's week-old tuna sandwich considered personal 'property' under the due process clause of the Constitution?" asked Muskat of Muskat, Martinez & Mahony, which wasn't involved in the case. "Does the answer change if the sandwich was shared among employees? What if there is evidence that the receptionist didn't really like the tuna in the first place?"

Clear as yogurt you say? Indeed. Reminds me of George Carlin's classic take on Your Stuff and Everyone Else's S#*%.

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