Ooh, Ooh, She’s Magic

April 13, 2012 - by: Jaclyn West 0 COMMENTS
Jaclyn West

Litigation Value: Not much from this episode, but if Nellie sticks around her apparent prejudice against the Irish and Hispanics could lead to some sticky legal situations.

Another week, another party in Scranton. Last night on The Office, Robert had the party-planning committee working hard on a party to welcome Nellie into the fold. Problem is, the party-planning committee doesn’t actually like Nellie. Nor does anyone else in the office, for that matter. So Pam comes up with the idea to throw a terrible party for Nellie. The gang strings up black streamers, buys bad food (a carrot cake — it’s like a salad bar, as Kevin indignantly points out), and hires Creed to play “all originals.” And the piece de resistance — they hire a magician, because Nellie hates magicians.

But in the process of helping Nellie move into her new apartment while the party-planning goes on, Jim and Dwight learn that Nellie — prejudice against the Irish and Oscar notwithstanding — isn’t all bad. In fact, much of her abrasive attitude is rooted in having to start her life over in a new country after getting her heart broken by “a bloody stage magician.”

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California Scheming

October 20, 2011 - by: Doug Hall 0 COMMENTS
Doug Hall

Litigation Value:  More fodder for potential sexual harassment, sexual orientation, and national origin claims, but it could have been worse. At least Andy didn’t run naked through the parking lot with a doughnut on his ding-dong — that would have put me off of Krispy Kreme for awhile.

Was really looking forward to being able to discuss a new episode of The Office following the summer reruns and … NBC puts up a rerun of “The Incentive” against the World Series. Que sera. My colleague Josh Drexler gave his take on the episode (check it out at http://blogs.hrhero.com/thatswhatshesaid/2011/09/30/southern-exposure/), and now it’s my turn.

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It’s All Greek to Me

January 28, 2011 - by: Matt Rita 0 COMMENTS
Matt Rita

Litigation Value: No immediate employment law liability. Under the applicable statute of limitations in Pennsylvania, however, Andy’s seminar invitees would have up to two years in which to claim personal (digestive) injury caused by Kevin’s “off the rails” motivational display.

The Scranton Business Park was a busy place last night, with a number of visitors spending time in and around the halls of Dunder Mifflin/Sabre. The brief appearance of one of those visitors, Ricky Gervais, will no doubt fuel speculation about whether he is the heir apparent to Steve Carell. Coupled with the anticipated arrival of Will Ferrell — with or without more cowbell — that opening cameo should keep The Office prognosticators buzzing during the weeks ahead. For now, Michael Scott and the show’s other regular characters continue to offer up workplace antics worthy of commentary.

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Corporate Espionage for Dummies

October 21, 2010 - by: Brian Kurtz 5 COMMENTS
Brian Kurtz

Prison Sentences for Michael, Dwight, and Jim: Up to seven years for interception of oral communications plus up to seven years for attempted theft of trade secrets. There may also be criminal conspiracy prosecutions against Meredith, Oscar, and Ryan.

Litigation Value: Danny Cordray’s action for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Dunder Mifflin and several individuals = $250,000. Osprey’s action against Dunder Mifflin and several individuals for misappropriation of trade secrets = an injunction and damages to be proved at trial.

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Sex Sells (OK, No It Doesn’t)

May 01, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 0 COMMENTS
Chris Butler

Litigation Value: $250,000 for assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, and negligent entrustment.

Well, folks, the quintessential horndog – Michael Scott – is back on the stick. And this week, he didn’t disappoint. Michael’s recent announcement that this may be his final year sitting in the boss chair makes us wonder who will replace him; as if anyone could. We’ll address that later.

All right, so check it out: An attractive female, and potential Sabre customer, let’s just call her Donna (because that’s her name), visits the office dressed in eye-catching semi-business wear. Michael wastes no time in jokingly asking: “Did somebody order a hooker?” Soon thereafter, Michael interrupts Jim and Pam Halpert’s PowerPoint sales presentation by offering Donna a dog-eared Victoria’s Secret catalog. Michael further attempts to get Donna “turned on” by hijacking the presentation, superimposing wistful photos of himself, both fully clothed and facetiously standing behind a semi-nude strongman cutout (including an unnamed underwear model).

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Classic Rewind

January 22, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 6 COMMENTS
Chris Butler

Litigation Value: In the aggregate, $100 million; most of which is punitive damages

OK, so tonight’s episode – The Banker –- didn’t really bring us much new material, but it indeed highlighted five years of near-catastrophic employee-relations failures. As Dunder Mifflin verges on economic collapse, a potential investor dispatches its self-proclaimed “fact-checker” to conduct a due-diligence assessment of the company’s “H.R. liabilities.” While interviewing HR representative Toby Flenderson, the fact-checker poses a series of provocative questions that invoke Toby’s vivid recollection of why he so dearly hates his job. In essence, we rewind the tape a few years. Let’s take a look:

  • Racial/national origin harassment/discrimination: Michael Scott mocking Kelly Kapoor’s Indian heritage.
  • Inappropriate and/or sexually-suggestive language and innuendos: Michael’s skilled reliance on the phrase “that’s what she said” to transform seemingly innocuous comments into sexually charged double entendres; Michael’s lewd references to Stanley Hudson’s teenage daughter; Michael exposing himself to Pam; Meredith Palmer exposing herself to the entire office; and Michael kissing Phyllis Lapin to dissuade her from complaining to human resources about his sexually offensive language, and then immediately rewarding her graciousness with sexually offensive language.
  • Sexual harassment/sexual orientation harassment: Michael kissing the visibly-horrified Oscar  Martinez on the lips to illustrate his tolerance of same-sex relationships; again, Michael kissing Phyllis; and, yet again, Michael’s unbridled references to “that’s what she said.”
  • Age harassment/discrimination: Several mean-spirited references to Creed Bratton’s age and his “distinct old man smell.”
  • Workplace violence: Andy Bernard ramming his fist through the wall; Pam slapping Michael; Kelly slapping Michael; Jim Halpert slapping Dwight Schrute; Dwight punching Michael, and later pounding him in the face with a shoe; Phyllis hurling a wad of paper into Angela Martin’s face; and Oscar shoving Angela.
  • Potential workers’ compensation claims: Michael running down Meredith in the employee parking lot; Andy plunging from a transfer truck into an empty refrigerator box; and Michael ramming the warehouse forklift into a storage rack, causing a cascade of flying metal, boxes, and paper.
  • Health and safety violations: Dwight purposely igniting a trashcan paper fire to instigate an unscheduled fire “drill”; and, again, Michael ramming the warehouse forklift into the storage rack.
  • Property damage/waste of company resources: Michael and Dwight bouncing a watermelon from the office roof onto a parked car; several mutinous employees shoving paper, books, and supplies to the floor; an employee shattering a plate glass window with a toy-gun projectile; again, Michael overturning the storage rack; Jim disassembling Dwight’s desk and contents (classic) and enveloping them in holiday wrapping paper; and Jim encasing Dwight’s stapler in a Jell-O mold.
  • Invasion of privacy/HIPAA violations: Dwight demanding that each employee publicly identify his or her personal medical condition to determine its legitimacy.
  • Supervisor-subordinate romantic relationships/inappropriate public displays of affection: Dwight making out with Angela; Angela making out with Andy; Kelly making out with Ryan; Michael’s painfully inappropriate workplace relationship with his boss, Jan (and discussing his repeated vasectomies before the entire office); and Jim’s and Pam’s eternal office romance, despite Jim’s supervisory role (OK, we turn a blind eye to this because we really like them).
  • Hostile work environment/miscellaneous inappropriate and outrageous behavior: All of the above, and too many to mention.

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Growing Up Grotti

October 16, 2009 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 4 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

Litigation Value: Oscar’s damages–climbing; diversity and harassment training from a trained professional–$2,000; backing off the mafia–priceless.

It’s a new episode of The Office that has Michael, Dwight, and Andy convinced that an insurance salesman is part of the mafia based on “his southern Italian heritage.”  While it was entertaining for viewers to watch the trio (and Pat the Mechanic) battle a perceived low-level mafia shakedown, it is certainly not office-appropriate conduct.  Looks like our friends at Dunder Mifflin need a refresher on national origin discrimination, and I am sure Oscar would agree.  National origin is not limited to the country where a person was born, but it also includes the country from which a person’s ancestors came.  In addition, national origin discrimination can include discrimination because the individual possesses the physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics of a national origin group.  An employee’s objective appearance can form the basis for an unlawful discrimination claim.  For example, the Third Circuit found that an employee was discriminated against as Hispanic even though the employee regarded himself as a Sephardic Jew.

Although Mr. Grotti does not have a national origin discrimination claim (given that he is not a Dunder Mifflin employee), Dunder Mifflin should strongly consider diversity and harassment training, because this is not the first time Michael has exhibited a lack of sensitivity when it comes to an individual’s national origin.  For example, I am sure most of us remember Michael asking Oscar if there is a “less offensive” term for “Mexican” or when Michael told everyone that Oscar was the voice of the Taco Bell dog.

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Oh Baby!

May 15, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 3 COMMENTS
Troy Foster

Litigation Value: $50,000 (per Buffalo branch employee); $200,000 for various hostile work environment claims.

“Company Picnic,” the season’s final episode, was a good one. Unfortunately, that also means that Dunder Mifflin is on the hook for several claims from some of its employees.

One might think that the wrongful conduct took place at the volleyball tournament. And while the conduct of many Dunder Mifflin-ers –- especially management –- was out of line at the volleyball tournament, there wasn’t anything actionable that occurred there (assuming Phyllis and Pam weren’t actually injured).  The hostility, the near injuries, and the plain old dirtiness of Charles Minor and David Wallace sending Pam to the hospital just to get her out of the game . . . it was all not very nice, but none of it was enough to hold the company liable in court.

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We’ve Come a Long Way (Except for Michael and Dwight)

November 07, 2008 - by: Dominic Verstegen 3 COMMENTS
Dominic Verstegen

Litigation Value: $50,000.

In this week’s episode of The Office, Michael Scott is on camera calling Kelly Kapoor dusky and exotic, and then Dwight Schrute, the assistant to the regional manager, refers to her southern India birth before he threatens her. A jury somewhere will find against Dunder Mifflin for race discrimination. Of course, that jury would have to ignore Kelly sabotaging Dwight’s and Jim’s bonuses and then claiming she was raped when she was caught in her misconduct. (“You cannot just say that you’ve been raped and expect all your problems to go away. Not again, don’t keep doing that.”) But still, some people will sympathize with Kelly.

It’s fitting that the Dunder Mifflin gang brought race discrimination to our attention this week, after the historic election of Barack Obama. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial segregation in schools, public places, and employment, is not even 50 years old, and now we have a black President. (The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also outlawed discrimination based on religion, gender, and national origin — interestingly, gender was added at the last minute by a Virginia congressman who thought its inclusion would kill the bill.) This piece of legislation drastically changed the face of employment law. It allowed the Kelly Kapoors of the world to file lawsuits when the Michael Scotts of the world called them dusky.

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Diwali – Revisited

June 15, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS
Julie Elgar

Tonight’s episode serves as a good example of team building exercises gone wrong. Very wrong. But, believe it or not, Michael’s efforts to enlighten his staff about Kelly’s Indian culture was not the worst example of “team building” I’ve ever seen. It was a close call, but the award for “worst team building exercise” belongs to a California company that sponsored a contest between its sales teams where the winners threw pies at the losers, fed them baby food, and spanked the losers with yard signs. That’s right. They spanked them. Not surprisingly, an employee took exception and sued. The jury awarded $1.7 million. And all Michael did was unknowingly mock Kelly’s ethnicity and distribute the Kama Sutra…..

In case you are wondering, there is one case out there that deals with a supervisor who, among other things, gave a copy of the Kama Sutra to his subordinate. The employee called it sexual harassment, and the case settled for an undisclosed amount. Go figure.

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