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Gorilla My Dreams

California- Two former employees of the Gorilla Foundation have settled the bizarre sexual harassment case in which they accused their boss of pressuring them to indulge Koko the gorilla’s “nipple fetish” .

An attorney for the plaintiffs, Michael W. Blacksburg, confirmed the settlement and dismissal papers were filed today in San Mateo County (Calif.) Superior Court.

Terms, of course, are confidential, but it’s probably a safe bet that the foundation did not agree to anything that would suggest its president, Francine “Penny” Patterson, actually did instruct Nancy Alperin and Kendra Keller to expose their breasts to Koko, as they alleged in their suit.

Defense counsel Todd A. Roberts has argued that even assuming the allegations were true, “There is no authority for the proposition … that requests by a gorilla, as a part of a research project, constitute discrimination by gender.”

Responding to the plaintiffs’ claims that Patterson interpreted certain of Koko’s hand movements “as a ‘demand’ to see exposed human nipples,” Roberts said in a demurrer:

Nothing in the complaint suggests that the communications by Patterson related to her desire to view plaintiffs’ nipples.

Judge Robert D. Foiles partially sustained the demurrer in July, dismissing the harassment claim, but gave the plaintiffs leave to amend the complaint. They had not done so before the case was settled.

Alperin and Keller, who were seeking more than $1 million in damages, also sued for wrongful termination, Labor Code violations and negligence.

Back story February, 2005: In a bizarre twist on “Beauty and the Beast,” two former employees of the Gorilla Foundation allege their boss pressured them to form a “personal bond” with Koko the gorilla by indulging the world-famous animal’s “nipple fetish.”

Foundation president Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson “instructed Plaintiffs to engage in the sexual act of removing their clothing to expose their breasts to Koko, in particular their nipples,” says the complaint of Nancy Alperin and Kendra Keller.

On one occasion, Patterson allegedly said to the 33-year-old female gorilla, Koko, you see my nipples all the time. You are probably bored with my nipples. You need to see new nipples. I will turn my back so Kendra can show you her nipples.

The plaintiffs, who filed suit last week in San Mateo County (Calif.) Superior Court, are seeking more than $1 million in damages for sexual discrimination, wrongful termination and Labor Code violations.

The foundation describes Patterson as Koko’s “dedicated teacher and surrogate mother.” As a baby, Koko learned to speak American Sign Language, communicating with hand movements.

According to the complaint, there is no evidence that Koko can actually communicate a “desire to see exposed human female nipples.” The gorilla’s “supposed demands” were interpretations of Koko’s hand movements by Patterson.

Female-on-female sexual harassment cases are rare enough. An alleged harasser communicating by proxy through an animal? “Obviously, it’s a case of first impression,” says the plaintiffs’ attorney, Stephen A. Sommers of San Francisco.

Alperin and Keller never exposed themselves, but claim their boss made it known to them that if they “did not indulge Koko’s nipple fetish, their employment with the Gorilla Foundation would suffer.”

In a statement, the foundation “unequivocally” denied the allegations and accused Sommers of “a transparent attempt to call attention to himself and the suit in hopes of gaining an advantage in the litigation.”


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