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6 of the strangest lawsuits making headlines

Jigsaw puzzles, Scientology and four more of the strangest lawsuits in the news

Irate Inmate

In 2012 alone, prison inmates have been subjected to too much soy, shoddy dental work, religious discrimination and attacks by the Kardashians. Now another inmate is suing the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for denying him access to jigsaw puzzles. Alan Burkun, who is serving a six year sentence for stock fraud, says he tried to order a puzzle from Amazon.com last year, but that prison officials denied his request.

Burkun claims that the prison is violating his First Amendment rights, but lawyers from the Department of Justice argued in a letter that puzzles “could cause unnecessary clutter, pose a fire hazard, and/or limit Berkun’s living area.” They added that the dispute “could also raise issues of fairness. If Berkun is permitted his puzzle, other inmates may also request a puzzle, once again raising concerns of limited space.”

Sickening Sandwich

Skip this story if you’re planning on eating lunch today, or ever again. A New Jersey deli cook, angry over a past arrest, found an especially distasteful way to get revenge. When the arresting officer, Jeremy Merck, later ordered an egg, turkey and cheese sandwich at the Good Foods to Go deli, Ryan Burke put his chest and pubic hair inside before serving it.

After discovering the extra ingredients, Merck sued the deli, claiming that it was negligent for failing to properly supervise its employees and not adequately examining the sandwich. The parties recently settled the case for $13,750. Burke, who was immediately fired, pled guilty to aggravated assault on an officer and retaliation for a past official action.

Accidental Amputation

An Illinois* man hunting for deer became his own prey last year, when a faulty crossbow allegedly severed his thumb. Cyril Korte says he purchased the bow from Cabela’s, an outdoor gear retailer, because employees told him it was “the best and safest crossbow.” But on a November 2011 hunting trip, Korte claims that he fired the crossbow, causing the bow string to amputate his thumb.

Korte is suing Cabela’s and crossbow maker Hunter’s Manufacturing Co., arguing that the bow’s GripSafety mechanism was ineffective. He is seeking $75,000 for medical costs, physical impairment and pain and suffering.

*This article originally said that Korte was from Wisconsin. He is actually from Madison County, Ill.

Pregnant Parkettes

You can’t visit Pennsylvania’s Parx Casino if you’re under 21, and, according to two former cocktail waitresses, the unborn aren’t welcome either. Alycia Campiglia and Christina Aicher worked as “Parkette” cocktail waitresses at the casino until 2008, when both became pregnant. Upon learning the news, their managers reportedly told them that they could continue working, as long as they could fit into their skimpy costumes. (A company rule stipulates that Parkettes cannot deviate more than seven percent from their body weight at the time of their hiring.)

The casino says the regulation is permissible because the Parkettes are “entertainers.” But the two waitresses filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the casino. Parx has since changed its uniform policy, and now offers maternity versions of its costumes.

Stein Scam

It seems like everything’s made in China these days, and genuine German beer steins are no exception, according to one Pennsylvania woman. ArtsQuest, a non-profit arts organization based in Bethlehem, Pa., hosts a 10-day “Musikfest” every summer. The annual music festival includes celebrations of the region’s German heritage and features merchandise such as $70 beer steins, which are purportedly hand-crafted in Germany.  

But former employee Rebecca Stoneback says the genuine German steins are actually $3.00 Chinese imitations. Stoneback claims to have discovered the deception when she saw a package of the steins in a shipping container from Xiamen, China. When she told her supervisors that she would not sell the products unless they changed the signs and advertising, she was reportedly fired. Stoneback is now suing ArtsQuest for wrongful termination under the state’s whistleblower law. ArtsQuest maintains that the steins are made in Germany.

Scientology Success

The Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes divorce has put the Church of Scientology back in the headlines this month, and those headlines have often been less than positive. But the church got some better news this week, winning a courtroom victory against two former employees.

Marc and Claire Headley were members of the church’s exclusive Sea Organization unit for years, before leaving the religion in 2005. In 2009, the couple sued the church under a human-trafficking law, claiming that they were forced to perform unpaid labor under the threat of physical and psychological abuse. According to the Headleys, the church restricted their access to mail and the Internet, forced them to make a one-billion-year commitment to the religion and pressured Claire to have two abortions.

But the 9th Circuit rejected the couple’s argument Tuesday, upholding a lower court’s ruling. Writing the opinion for the court, Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain noted that "a church is entitled to stop associating with someone who abandons it.” The court did say that the couple might have more success suing for assault, false imprisonment, battery or intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Alanna Byrne

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