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Pumping Iron, Busting Stereotypes, Growing From Ignorance


Pumping iron, busting stereotypes, growing from ignorance

Want to smash a stereotype. Hit it with a dumbbell.

Most of The Amlong Firm's lawyers and staff turned out in West Palm Beach Saturday night to watch Stephen L. Freeman, our 49 year old Case Manager, compete in his first body building contest. Stephen finished fourth in the Men's Open Heavyweight competitions - a category in which he was the smallest contestant by 10 pounds and the oldest by 14 years. Stephen and his husband David are the wedding-picture "poster boys" for the LGBT rights page of web page. He is pictured here as he posed at the contest. Stereotype: Gay = puny, limp-wristed sissy. Reality: Not!

At the contest, the 26th Annual Sunshine Classic Bodybuilding Championships , we from The Amlong Firm naturally whooped, hollered, cheered and whistled. Stephen was Our Guy.

Most of the lawyers and staff at The Amlong Firm are no strangers to the gym. The kind of discipline and focus it takes to win a lawsuit goes hand-in-hand with the kind of rigor and dedication it takes to build a good body. Working out and legal researching/strategizing both take time, effort and discipline. [If you do not think that trial work is an athletic experience, try standing on your feet for six hours (for some of us, in high heels) and maintaining perfect posture before a jury.]

But the rest of us are pikers compared to Stephen. [At least currently. One of The Amlong Firm lawyers, used to compete in power lifting bodybuilding and figure categories.] Stephen's dedication, his discipline resulted in phenomenal growth. The guy got huge. His poise, his precision - even in this, his first show - was incredible.

Stephen was not the only stereotype-buster at the show. Two retirees, Dennis Sender of Ormond Beach and Judy Swanson of Jupiter, 63 and 65 respectively and by far the oldest in the show, demonstrated the fitness version of the old car-sales advertisement, "This ain't your father's Oldsmobile." He is a guy who wears glasses and has a runner's body that is incredibly ripped. She is a retired college professor who is lithe and lovely. My wife/law partner and I are 62 and 60. My wife/law partner and I are in not-bad shape - actually pretty good shape. But seeing these two makes two things clear: One, we've each got a long way to go; Two, if we want to, we can get there. Stephen, Dennis Sanders and Judy Swanson all are living, breathing, walking-around proof that people live beyond the stereotypes that so many use to define others.

And even as much as Stephen- a big(ger) and huge(r) Stephen - has grown, and even as much as he brought whoops and hollers to our throats, what really brought tears to our eyes (the kind you experience when you see a re-enactment of raising the flag at Iwo Jima) were competitors in wheelchairs.

As cutting-edge as even those of us in The Amlong Firm consider ourselves to be, there was not one of us amongst the spectators who expected to be as blown away as he or she was by the wheelchair athletes - ten men and one woman - and by what they had accomplished. We, not them, came into that auditorium crippled - by our ignorance. What most of us thought was going to be some sort of politically correct sideshow to a "real" body building contest was . . . just "Wow!"

First, there was the courage, ambition and an I-will-not-stop quality about two young men, Patrick Laugerude and Jesse McKinney, with cerebral palsy who were flexing muscles that anybody who works out knows cost them so much more time and effort to build than it does others. Their bodies weren't as perfect or as big as those of some of the other wheelchair athletes, but they had separation in their pectorals and definition in their triceps that only can come from endless hours of training when every muscle fibre is burning and screaming for rest. When you think about what these men have done to get to where they were Saturday night, it takes your breath away.

Then there were the other wheelchair weight lifters whose upper bodies actually seemed better developed than those of the able-bodied contestants. I mean, everybody has biceps and triceps: these guys' biceps and triceps have biceps and triceps that have planes and aspects I have not figured out how to even access. (Need to learn.) A pal, Jay Murray (Shelley's husband), a former Toronto Argonauts running back with whom I very occasionally train, noted that our workouts are nothing compared to these guys' routines.

And then there was a wheel-chair pas de deux between bare-chested, washboard-abs Nick (The Beast) Scott, a bachelor's-degree personal trainer from Ottawa, and the incredibly lovely Kelsey Eisenhour , whose demurely dismissive yawn with her ever-so-sculpted arm to Scott's flexing posture was delightfully comedic; their routine called to mind the dance of the two lovers in Swan Lake.Each wheelchair sported neon lights on its undercarriage and license plates reading, respectively, "Beast" and "Beauty." We're talking well earned 'tude here.

Question: So what does this have to do with employment law?

Answer: A lot.

Getting beyond stereotypes - and decisions based on stereotypes - is a lot of what employment law is all about. The body building contest we attended illustrates how disconnected stereotypes can be from reality and emphasizes why making decisions based on stereotypes should be - and is - illegal.

First, employers cannot discriminate against people based on their gender. That means that they also cannot discriminate against employees - or allow co-employees to harass them - because they do not conform to the stereotypes of what "real man" (or a "nice girl") should be like. There is a ton of social psychological research supporting that - research with which The Amlong Firm's lawyers are conversant that is admissible into court through experts with whom The Amlong Firm's lawyers are well acquainted.

Second, age defines nothing but age. Some people are not fit and muscular at 21. Some people in their sixties (and beyond) continue to develop their bodies and their minds. Considering what "old" people can do as exemplified by Dennis Sender and Judy Swanson, does the intelligent employer really want to toss people of a "certain age" onto the human junk pile because of their "speedometer" numbers? Probably not. Can they get away with it. The Amlong Firm's lawyers work hard to stop them from doing so.

Third, persons who are "disabled" (or, under the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992, "handicap[ed]") cannot be denied employment (or promotion or other opportunities) if they can perform the essential functions of the job either with or without a reasonable accommodation. The United States Congress says so. So does the Florida Legislature. What the wheelchair athletes whom we saw Saturday night demonstrated so strikingly is that it's not what you can't do but what you can do with what you have that matters.

Bottom lines:

  • Don't let people's opportunities be limited by your or others' limitations on expectations of what they can accomplish;
  • Don't accept "he/she can't do that because he/she's [whatever]";
  • Don't write people off because of a trait they can't (or don't want to) change.

At The Amlong Firm, we help clients overcome those people whose stereotypical thinking limits their opportunities. Think of us as employment- law personal trainers who know more now than they did before Saturday's contest.

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