Fire all the “cripples” and the “fatties?!”

August 30, 2013 0 COMMENTS

As I mentioned in my July post, the film Horrible Bosses has enough material for weeks’ worth of blog posts. With three atrocious bosses blatantly making the lives of their employees miserable and disregarding a long list of employment laws, it is certainly a plaintiffs’ attorney’s dream situation and an HR manager’s nightmare. I am sure the upcoming sequel will be full of blog material as well. This week, I turn my attention to the antics of Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell), the cocaine-addicted son of business owner Jack Pellitt.

Unfortunately, when his kindly, family-oriented, and environmentally conscious father suddenly dies, Bobby is left to run the business. As it turns out, Bobby’s business approach includes snorting as much cocaine as possible, having his own harem of prostitutes present at the office at all times, disregarding necessary safety precautions for hazardous materials, and firing all the “cripples” and the “fatties.” Bobby even starts calling one wheelchair-bound employee “Professor Xavier” of X-Men fame. According to Bobby, “Roaming around all day in his special little secret chair, I know he’s up to something.”

Aside from the obvious environmental, Title VII, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) issues arising from Bobby’s bad behavior, it also raises the interesting issue of discrimination based on an individual’s weight. This has been a growing topic of conversation, given the rise in obesity rates in adults and children. Certain groups have been working to have obesity considered a protected class.  Although only a few state and local jurisdictions have chosen to pass laws expressly making obesity a protected class, recent litigation involving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission indicates that morbidly obese individuals may be able to claim protection under the ADA (as amended) in certain circumstances. Employers also should be wary of potential claims alleging that morbidly obese individuals were “regarded as” having a disability.

In the film, Bobby’s reign of terror is short-lived and comes to a surprising (and abrupt) conclusion. But you will have to check out the movie to find out what happens. In the meantime, you can look to Bobby as an excellent resource for what NOT to do in the workplace.

Horrible bosses aren’t always male

July 08, 2013 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Rampant unlawful discrimination and harassment = more zeros than I’ve seen in a long time; instructing employees to fire all the “cripples” and the “fatties” = an expensive lesson for the employer to learn; finding out that a sequel is in the works = priceless.

To kick off our new blog, I thought I should choose some bosses whose shenanigans meet, if not exceed, the litigation value accumulated by the antics of the much loved fictional boss and source of inspiration for our previous blog, Michael Scott. With that in mind, it would be difficult to surpass the litigation value in the aptly named dark comedy film Horrible Bosses. Given that a sequel is now in the works, let us revisit one of my favorite 2011 films.

If you have seen the movie, you probably know that I could spend weeks blogging about this movie alone and the rampant employment issues, not to mention the potential criminal charges arising from the events in the film. I’ve decided to limit this blog entry to a particular employment discrimination issue that seems to be on the rise—sexual harassment against men in the workplace. Believe it or not, sexual harassment charges filed by men have doubled over the past two decades. Indeed, in 2011, 16.3 percent of all sexual harassment charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) were filed by men.

This serious issue is represented in a darkly humorous way in the film via Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston) and her dental assistant, Dale Arbus (Charlie Day). Not only does Julia grope, lick, and make highly sexual comments to Dale on a regular basis, she even threatens to tell his fiancee that they had sex unless Dale agrees to actually have sex with her. In fact, Dale eventually learns that Julia sexually assaulted him and took photographs documenting the assault while he was under anesthesia during a dental procedure. Julia’s actions are enough to make this blogger even more nervous about those pesky dental appointments. When Dale complains to his friends about Julia’s conduct, they disregard his concerns and even seem to think Dale should be pleased with her attention.

Think that this is only a far-fetched plotline in a movie? Think again. Allegations of similarly egregious conduct have come up in employment lawsuits. In fact, plaintiffs in recent litigation have made allegations of female supervisors or coworkers making sexually suggestive remarks in the workplace, sending revealing photographs of themselves, engaging in inappropriate touching, and otherwise causing a sexually hostile work environment for the male plaintiffs. Some male plaintiffs have even alleged that when they complained about such treatment, their supervisors and other employees thought they should be happy to receive such attention or even made fun of them for not reciprocating the harassers’ advances.

The bottom line for employers: Harassment training is key, and all complaints (regardless of the sex of the complainer and the alleged harasser) should be taken seriously and handled appropriately. As for Dale, he manages to get the best of Julia, but you will have to watch the movie to find out how. A hint—please don’t try Dale’s methods at home.