Sexual Harassment

January 11, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 8 COMMENTS


It would be pretty safe to say that any time a company’s regional manager asks a female employee to act out a lesbian love scene during its anti-harassment training you have problems. Expensive problems. Not only does the company face liability for Michael’s actions in contributing to the hostile working environment but his treatment of and attitude towards the seriousness of sexual harassment claims could jeopardize the company’s ability to defend itself in the future.

One of an employer’s primary defenses to a sexual harassment claim is that it took reasonable care to prevent and correct any sexually harassing behavior and that the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of the employer’s policy. To prove this, a company must show, among other things, that it has a sexual harassment policy and that it provides training to its employees on that policy – just like Dundler Mifflin’s corporate office was trying to do before Michael got involved.

Of course, if a company’s managers act in such a way that employees would reasonably believe that reporting sexual harassment to the company would be futile, a Court could (and, in most cases will) find that the employer did not take the necessary steps to prevent sexual harassment. And there goes your defense. Here, I’d say that Michael blew any chance for Dundler Mifflin to use this defense when he openly mocked the harassment training; publicly denounced the need to have an anti-harassment policy; and then, on the same day the training was conducted, forcibly kissed a female subordinate and told her that she was giving him a “boner.”

What does this mean? It means that someone from Dundler Mifflin’s corporate office is going to write a large check, either in the form of either a bad jury verdict or a settlement. And for this case I’m putting the final price tag at over $700,000 including all defense costs, attorneys fees (for both the employee and the company), back pay ,front pay, and, of course, $300,000 in compensatory and punitive damages (given some of Michael’s comments and past antics it would probably be more but the statute caps the damages). Of course, if there are any other related claims the value would be more!

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1 Mike Maslanka
17:19:44, 22/01/07

Yes all this is true, but the show takes a real problem to the extreme—how do you get to date and meet people when you spend all your time in the OFFICE! Of course, men are generally lazy and reach for the nearest donut on the plate and I think men use the “I can’t meet anyone” as an excuse. Still, what can be done? What about “love contracts” in the workplace? Do they have a place? Should there be a zero tolerance policy—date a subordinate and you are gone? Guidance please. Mike

2 Paul Schorn
14:40:49, 23/01/07

As a plaintiff’s lawyer, I know my pulse rate picks up when I hear about a manager dating a subordinate. There’s about nine ways it can turn out, and eight of them are bad for the employer. Paul

3 Julie Elgar
13:18:10, 25/01/07


Just as your pulse rate picks up as a plaintiff’s lawyer, as a defense attorney I start wondering how many zeros it just added to the settlement value!

4 kmcgraw5
11:28:38, 26/01/07

Excellent blog! I was just turned on to it (pun intended) and think this is a great concept. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I have never seen a single episode of the show (no, I don’t live in a cave), but now that I have Tivo, will be sure to start recording it!

5 Julie Elgar
11:36:10, 26/01/07

Thanks! Be sure to tune in next week. Michael is hiring “adult entertainers” for an office wedding shower! I can’t even begin to imagine….

6 James Sokolowski
10:30:26, 29/01/07

“men are generally lazy and reach for the nearest donut on the plate”

Mike, you’re such a romantic!

7 dfomko
09:14:06, 11/02/07

Finally! A show for all my family/friends to see what I have to put up with everyday. As an HR Professional it makes me cringe with most of the stuff that comes out of Michael’s mouth….but then again, it’s a great training tool to let my classes know what NOT to do in the workplace! Great show and great blog!

8 Puck
17:00:29, 13/02/07

First of all, I hereby deem Mike not a man, but a very butch feminist (lesbian) masquerading as one. That matter resolved I can move on to my main points:

Everyone else: your pulses pick up when you watch fiction and wonder about what kind of lawsuit you could file (or defend against) were it real? Jesus Christ! Americans really ARE the most litigious people on the planet. And it’s on each of your shoulders.

YOU’RE WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY (you and Mike of course)!

This BLOG is what’s wrong with this country; Seeing everything as a dollar amount in terms of the settlement.

May God have mercy on your immortal souls.

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