Labor Law Movie Review: 9 to 5

It’s been a while since I have posted a Labor Law Movie Review and watching 9 to 5 is not something that will make me jump at the chance to do these more regularly.  A little too over the top campy for my tastes, but it does provide some interesting historical perspective.  The film was released in 1980 and depicts a workplace that gives hostile environments of today a good name.  The plot is actually pretty detailed but here are the basics (Warning – Spoilers):

The film is centered on three women who work in the offices of Consolidated, a company in Chicago.  Judy (Jane Fonda) is a new employee whose husband recently left her.  Violet (Lily Tomlin) is the supervisor of her department and a longtime employee of Consolidated; she has been passed over repeatedly for promotions.  The boss, Franklin Hart (Dabney Coleman), is a sexist monster.  The third woman is Doralee (Dolly Parton), Hart's personal secretary. Although Doralee is married, Hart continually makes lewd advances.  Hart also tells co-workers that he's been having an affair with Doralee, making her the topic of office gossip. When Violet complains to Hart that he passed her over for a promotion because she is a woman, Hart tells her that the company would rather have a man in the position.  Doralee learns that everyone thinks she is having an affair with Hart and Judy witnesses a co-worker lose her job over a minor issue.  As a result, all three women are angry at Hart.  Through a series of improbable events, the trio kidnap Hart and hold him in his own house while they run the department their way with positive results.  Of course, everything works out in the end and Hart gets his comeuppance. 

The workplace depicted in 9 to 5 is so over the top that it does not really lend itself to an analysis under today’s employment laws.  In fact, the most interesting aspect of the movie is the absence of employment law as factor in the workplace.  Recall that Title VII was passed in 1964 and prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender.  However, it was not until 1986 that the Supreme Court decided Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, recognizing sexual harassment as a violation of Title VII and establishing the severe or pervasive test that is so familiar today.  Thus, when 9 to 5 was filmed, sexual harassment litigation was uncommon if not unheard of by most people.  If nothing else, the current obsession with resolving workplace disputes in the courts avoids the need to self help remedies, such as the one contemplated by Doralee early in the movie:

Look, I've got a gun out there in my purse.  Up until now I've been forgivin' and forgettin' because of the way I was brought up, but I'll tell you one thing. If you ever say another word about me or make another indecent proposal, I'm gonna get that gun of mine, and I'm gonna change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot!  And don't think I can't do it.

Also of interest are the changes made by the women while they are holding the boss hostage.  Many of their improvements are things that actually came to pass, e.g. job sharing and flex time.  I give this movie high marks for labor law content since it is all about the workplace but there is no legal accuracy to evaluate since the law is simply not part of the story. 

Finally, the theme song is catchy but the lyrics read like a socialist tract:

It's a rich mans game

No matter what they call it

And you spend your life

Puttin’ money in his wallet

Great – now it’s stuck in my head. 

Labor Law Content **** (out of five)

Labor Law Accuracy N/A  (out of five)

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