Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Melani's Defense Bears a Costanza-Like Appeal

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Melani's Defense Bears a Costanza-Like Appeal

Article excerpt

When a white-collar worker is fired after a lack of judgment so profound it is mesmerizing, there is generally only one recourse.

I am speaking, of course, of the Costanza Defense. Dr. Ken Melani, who just went from CEO to CU-Later at Highmark, is all set to play that card now.

The Costanza Defense is named for the "Seinfeld" character, George Costanza, who was caught with a cleaning woman atop an office desktop. (Put it this way: They were not tidying up.) When the boss heard of this after-hours liaison, he called George to ask if this story was true.

George, with a facility for dishing baloney that deli workers envied, responded as only he could:

"Was that wrong?" George asked. "Should I not have done that? I tell you, I gotta plead ignorance on this thing, because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing is frowned upon ... You know, 'cause I've worked in a lot of offices, and I tell you, people do that all the time."

The next two words from the boss were "You're fired." George lost both his job and any shot at another date with the cleaning woman.

The Melani melee has striking parallels. He, too, had a relationship with a woman working for the same firm. It also resulted in an all-too-public display, albeit not one of affection. A couple of Sundays ago, Dr. Melani got into a scuffle with his lover's husband at the latter's home in Oakmont. Police were called in.

Dr. Melani was charged with defiant trespass and simple assault. Highmark's board of directors wasted little time firing him. The company stated it has "a non-fraternization policy which prohibits the type of conduct to which Dr. Melani and his attorney have confirmed did occur."

Dr. Melani's able attorney, Sam Cordes, immediately went into Costanza mode, saying if there were any non-fraternization policy, "the president of the company did not know there was a policy.

"You don't get to make up reasons [for firing someone] later," Mr. Cordes said.

Does everything really have to be spelled out? Does there need to be a heading for "Assaults/employee's husbands" in the Highmark handbook before its board can decide an executive lacks the judgment to steer a $14. …

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