Do You Need to Pump?

February 06, 2009 - by: Dominic Verstegen 0 COMMENTS

Employment law attorney Dominic Verstegen discusses Dunder Mifflin’s liability for Michael Scott’s actions in the “Lecture Circuit” episode of “The Offfice” should Karen decide to sue for pregnancy discrimination.

Litigation Value: $200,000

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And the Winner Is …

January 09, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0.
The last time The Surplus episode of The Office aired, we talked about Dunder Mifflin’s good behavior (relatively speaking). In the spirit of award season –- specifically the Golden Globes, which are on this Sunday –- let’s give some awards to folks for their exemplary behavior during the episode.

Best Actor – Oscar, for compromising on his demand for a new copier for the larger goal of office harmony. And it doesn’t hurt that he was the only employee dressed like someone from Hollywood. Was that a lavender shirt and a khaki suit coat?

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

November 07, 2008 - by: Dominic Verstegen 3 COMMENTS

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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Baby in the Office: A Slippery Situation

October 17, 2008 - by: Kylie Crawford 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Currently, $0

My stomach still hurts from laughing. This week on The Office, Michael Scott prepared for the birth of his make-believe baby by having Dwight Schrute, pant-less and on Michael’s desk, give birth to a buttered-up watermelon, all the while screaming about secretly marking the baby so no one could steal it.  Michael then ate his buttered watermelon baby.

Oddly enough, this offensive (read: incredibly funny) scenario is not the “pregnancy problem” in this episode. Michael did not discriminate against anyone based on pregnancy and no one suffered any sort of adverse employment action. Michael appeared to be truly excited that Jan was pregnant (or so he thought). This doesn’t mean that this type of behavior should be condoned. A story of grown men running around the office screaming, “My cervix is ripening!” and pretending that their water has broken would look really bad in front of a jury should some sort of pregnancy or sex discrimination claim arise.  But Holly should be far more concerned about Stanley than Michael in this episode.

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Anchors Away

June 26, 2008 - by: Troy Foster 4 COMMENTS

Another week without even a rerun, so to find something to write about, we turn to Steve Carrell’s movie catalogue. Anchorman proves to provide plenty of HR lessons — lessons that are strikingly similar to those we see with Michael Scott and gang in Scranton.

LITIGATION VALUE: $1,000,000 (in pre-inflation, 1976 dollars).

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Chair Model

April 18, 2008 - by: Julie Elgar 2 COMMENTS

LITGATION VALUE:  $6,000 – $10,000

Despite what you might think, Michael’s demand that all employees provide him with candidates to serve as the mother of his children does not violate any major employment law.  After all, Michael made the demand of all employees and not, for example, only female employees or employees of a particular race.  Continuing to employ an incompetent manager isn’t illegal.  Yet.

That being said, allowing managers to require their subordinates to act as match-makers as a term and condition of their continued employment isn’t a good idea.  In fact, it is as far away from a good idea as you are likely to get.  Employment law cases don’t exist in a vacuum.  And while this incident, standing alone, is not per se illegal, it will surely come up in the inevitable sexual harassment or gender discrimination trial that arises from Michael’s prior conduct.  As a result, Dunder Mifflin is going to have to pay someone like me between $6,000 and $10,000 to draft a motion asking the Court to exclude testimony about this incident from trial, which they may or may not win.  Somehow, I just don’t think that Michael (or his boss) will think that the coffee date with Pam’s landlady was really worth it.

Ripped From The Headlines

April 03, 2008 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

Well, apparently Michael Scott has moved to Boston and obtained a medical degree.  Last week, the Boston Globe reported that a neurosurgeon at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital was suing for gender discrimination.

Her evidence?  The antics of her boss, the chief of neurosurgery, who keeps an 8 inch sculpture of a penis and a box of bikini underwear on his desk; refers to female colleagues as “girls”; and who downloaded drawings from the Kama Sutra to the plaintiff’s PDA.  Somehow, I just can’t help but be reminded of Michael Scott’s Diwali seminar.

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The Deposition

November 16, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: $200,000 (including Dunder Mifflin’s attorneys fees and deposition costs)

Well, it finally happened. An employee has sued Dunder Mifflin for wrongful termination. I’m not usually one to say “I told you so” but, somehow, I just can’t stop myself this morning.

While it is probably not illegal to fire someone for getting a boob job, it is certainly illegal to fire someone based on gender stereotypes or characteristics. Unfortunately for Dunder Mifflin, it seems like this may be where Jan is headed. And that just can’t be welcome news for David Wallace and the gang.

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Women’s Appreciation

May 04, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 6 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: 1,000,000 +

The “women’s appreciation” meeting was a bad idea that was poorly executed. I’m not saying that Dunder Mifflin cannot or should not recognize the achievements of its female employees. It should. I just think that the meeting shouldn’t be announced by saying “I know the crap out of women” and should not end by taking the women to a shopping mall because the office is too much of a “male environment.” If the trip to the mall wasn’t bad enough, it was “game over” when Michael offered to buy them some new panties at Victoria’s Secret. The only way it could get worse would have been for Michael to use a company credit card and for Dunder Mifflin to actually approve the expense.

Should the women of Dunder Mifflin (collectively or individually) later choose to challenge the company’s employment practices as discriminatory, then this type of evidence is going to seal its fate. And, as for Michael’s inquiries whether female employees who are upset with him are having their periods and his reenactment of the “flasher” who exposed himself to Phyllis by putting his finger in his zipper and pretending it is a penis, well, that just introduced Dunder Mifflin to seven-figure damage calculations.

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