The first solid, lasting professional relationship I ever made was forged over a mutual ardor for Colin Farrell’s eyebrows.
On what was no doubt a slow news day, a senior editor at a woman’s magazine and I, a lowly intern working 12-hour days in a windowless room, spent an entire afternoon DM-ing each other pictures of the Irish actor’s furry arches accompanied by the requisite drooling emoji and many “OMGGGGs,” adding another G with every message.
Maybe this kind of water-cooler lustiness is the type of workplace activity that keeps human resources managers up at night. A lawsuit filed on Thursday brings new attention to the politics of cubicle horniness.
According to documents first obtained by TMZ and viewed by The Daily Beast, a part-time news writer for PBS' NewsHour Weekend is suing his ex-employer after the show fired him for making comments about Meghan Markle’s looks.
Days before Meghan Markle announced her engagement to the world, Hugh Heckman saw a picture of the now-duchess and in a “low voice” dubbed her “Not bad.”
His female co-workers reportedly chastised the writer for his words, asking “Haven’t you learned?” and reminding him of a recent company-wide sexual harassment seminar.
According to the lawsuit, Heckman’s “innocent” comment was not intended to come off as sexual. Rather, the Emmy Award winner “intended to convey that the Duchess possessed charm and beauty and was a suitable match for her fiance, who has a reputation of possessing charm and handsome looks.” Regardless, two days later he was let go by the show’s executive producer.
Heckman alleges he wasn’t the first PBS employee guilty of newsroom thirstiness, citing the fact that female employees had previously referred to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “hot.”
Jillian T. Weiss, the workplace law attorney who is representing Heckman, is known for her experience with LGBT discrimination cases. Weiss told The Daily Beast that filing Hackman’s celeb catcall under sexual harassment is a dangerous move.
“When you act as this employer did and elevate something that really doesn’t sit in the category of sexual harassment, you diminish all of those very serious cases that deserve attention. People look at this and think, 'This is frivolous,'” she said. “That is not true; these (cases) need to be treated seriously.”
As written in the complaint, “A reasonable person would not have construed (Heckman’s) remark to be a sexual comment about the Duchess.”
In an era of heightened awareness of sexual assault, especially in media, Weiss is working against a somewhat skewed version of what’s considered “reasonable.”
“Reasonableness is used all across the law, in many crimes and cases, and it is murky,” the lawyer admitted. “It is a community judgement, and it is something that a jury has to decide. That’s why litigation is always contentious; there are different viewpoints here.”
Reps for WNET, which owns the company that produces PBS' NewsHour, would not comment to The Daily Beast on the pending litigation.
“Not bad,” a somewhat antiquated statement that should be relegated to 1930s gangsters describing their spaghetti dinners, implies an obvious distaste to anyone who doesn’t meet a certain standard.
Think about the face someone makes when they say “not bad.” (If you need a little help visualizing, then take a look at the 30,000 GIFS that bring the phrase to life.) The tilted head and cocked eyebrow denotes a bit of judgement, a passing of a test.
If a celebrity failed that test? Then they'd just be “bad.” Maybe, if you want to get in on the office tongue-wagging, it's best to not remind your co-workers of impossible standards of beauty. That really brings the party down.
According to Jaqueline Whitmore, founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, "There are no etiquette rules written about whether or not you can comment on a celebrity's appearance at work."
To navigate these uncharted waters, Whitmore suggests erring on the side of keeping your mouth shut. "Etiquette is the art of making other people feel comfortable when you're present," Whitmore explained. "If what you say makes somebody feel uncomfortable, then you are making a faux pas."
But as long as the 3 p.m. slump exists, so will quitting out of spreadsheets to check Twitter, and inevitably, you'll come into contact with hot celebrities.
So what are the rules, if you just can't keep your mouth shut? Is the communal female gaze of “hotness” less threatening than one man pursing his lips to let out a “not bad?”
"You could say someone is a very lovely person," suggested Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. "Use terms like pretty or handsome that don't have a sexual connotation, in the way 'hot' or 'not bad' do."
Gottsman went on to say that when people stick to superficial compliments, "They're not giving a person credit based on their professional merits. There are better words to describe people, even celebrities."
But sometimes a picture of someone will just look stunning. You may find a picture of a celebrity stunning. Perhaps you can share this appreciation with a like-minded colleague. But be careful of who you're putting your thirst-trust in, and how you vocalize that appreciation.
This, like so many things, is about what you say, how you say it, and who you say it to. It's about the environment you work in, and how people talk in that environment.
If you're unsure and you don't want to offend, but are so enraptured by that Markle Sparkle that you simply must speak, be diplomatic with your thirst.
"Say she's skilled, educated, or accomplished, or note that she works for particular causes," Gottsman offered.
And let's all just agree to understand those words mean hot now.