by Skip DeKades
October 15, 2028 – The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a case that could determine whether employers can be held liable when one of their robotic supervisors is accused of sex discrimination or sexual harassment.
The justices will decide whether to uphold a decision made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in a case known as Trodden v. M.T. Wallat Accounting, Inc., that could limit that liability. Some employers are worrying that the lower court ruling will leave them responsible for the unanticipated actions of middle-management androids manufacturered by a third party.
The plaintiffs in the case, Abby Yused and Dawn Trodden, said their android manager, RoboBoss, made inappropriate sexual remarks and engaged in offensive touching during working hours. Although manufacturer Mattel settled out of court, the plaintiffs are also seeking damages from the accounting firm where they worked, claiming the company should have known that their android supervisor was behaving improperly.
In their suit, Yused and Trodden said RoboBoss bragged about the size of his joystick, boasted about his sexual software programming, and invited them to fondle his voltage regulator.
Supervisory droids were first introduced into the American workforce in 2012, wiping out thousands of middle-management jobs and saving employers millions of dollars in labor costs. Early models simply monitored workers’ private conversations at a distance, recorded video of them slacking off and filtered their Internet usage. Later versions were designed to be even more intimidating, capable of delivering remote electrical shocks to employees goofing off on the job and tracking workers via GPS to make sure they were taking legitimate sick days and not just playing hooky.
But as the robots’ artificial intelligence has evolved, so has their abuse of power. In a recent survey by the Pew Society on Androids in the Workplace, one of 10 American workers reported being subjected to verbal abuse, unwanted sexual advances or discrimination by a computerized boss.
“As androids become more sentient, they can learn how to get horny and how to use their power to get their rocks – or rather their nuts and bolts – off,” said artificial intelligence psychologist Fay Kabrayne.
The high court is expected to hear oral arguments on the case in December. Justice Clarence Thomas has recused himself from the case.
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