Court case over fired janitor prompts debate over meaning of ‘Kafkaesque’
FREDERICTON — A New Brunswick judge has stepped in to answer a question that has puzzled some of the world’s most prominent thinkers: What exactly does Kafkaesque mean?
In a new ruling, Justice Hugh McLellan defines Kafkaesque as the struggle “against rules and forces that cannot be understood.”
The word — arguably one of the most overused adjectives of our time — had become a fundamental issue in a case involving a Fredericton lab janitor fired in 2015 after he didn’t go to work for more than a month.
Paul Lynch had been jailed for his seventh drunk-driving-related conviction, and claimed to be unable to contact his bosses at the Doctor Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton to tell them why he stopped coming to work.
It was because he was jailed for six months.
Lynch said he never had a chance to use a phone to contact his employer, and that no one came to his hearing who could have made the call for him.
Labour adjudicator John McEvoy ordered the health authority to give him his job back, in a decision that declared “no one ... should face the Kafka-like situation faced by Lynch in respect of his inability to contact his employer.”
The health authority went to Court of Queen’s Bench to have the adjudicator’s ruling quashed, and although there were other legal questions at play, the reference to the Prague-born novelist became a key issue.
In the end, the judge suggested simply he thought the word was fine, and upheld the ruling reinstating Lynch.