No nonsense

Kristin Starnes Gray

Litigation Value:  Office romance with the new Regional Manager (and A.A.R.M.) = fodder for a potential sexual harassment claim; eliminating nonsense from the workplace = every human resources manager’s dream; Dwight giving up a milk maid to marry his long-time love and father his beet-loving offspring = priceless.

As John Krasinski explained in a recent interview with Jimmy Fallon, Thursday’s episode marked the first half of a two-part series finale for The Office. As a side note, I definitely recommend you check out the interview on www.nbc.com.  The lip-syncing competition, which featured a bearded Krasinski passionately singing “I’ll Make Love to You” to Fallon, was comic gold.

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Breaking up is hard to do

February 18, 2013 - by: Jaclyn West 0 COMMENTS
Jaclyn West

Litigation Value: David Wallace, get your metaphorical wallet out. You’ve got settlement checks to write for Erin ($2,500-$5,000 for sexual harassment and potentially a lot more for invasion of privacy), Pete ($5,000-$10,000 for sex discrimination and a touch of IIED), and Alice (the weakest claim, but still worth $1,000 or so for nuisance value).

What a night in Scranton. Dwight has roped Angela into acting as caregiver for his elderly aunt (best quote of the night: “Loose braids reflect a loose character”), and Pam is interviewing for an office manager job (which turns out to be a receptionist position in disguise) for the Michael Scott of the Philadelphia real estate industry. There’s plenty of material there, but I’ll leave that for one of my esteemed colleagues to discuss on re-runs, because I want to talk about the A plot.

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Crazy About Nellie

October 25, 2012 - by: Brian Kurtz 0 COMMENTS
Brian Kurtz

Litigation value: $0.00 provided Dwight reins in his hostility to Nellie’s anxiety meds.

Amidst the costumes, bad investments, and a cappella singers (OMG COLBERT!!!!!), this week’s episode — Here Comes Treble — reminds us that harassment on the basis of disability is just as verboten in the workplace as sex- or race-based harassment. Dwight found a little yellow pill under the sofa and learned it was anxiety medication. So he started hunting for the office “crazy person.” He eventually learned that the medication was Nellie’s and fortunately left it alone after that.

But what if instead Dwight started teasing Nellie for being on anxiety medication? And what if Nellie complained about Dwight to Andy but nothing was done, or worse, Andy joined in the teasing? And what if Dwight’s unremedied teasing made Nellie’s condition worse, even to the point that she could not work anymore?

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Don’t be tardy to Nellie’s party!

July 19, 2012 - by: Doug Hall 0 COMMENTS
Doug Hall

Litigation Value: Nothing this week — unless the magician sues for emotional distress.

Tonight’s “gently viewed” episode, “Welcome Party,” finds the gang dragooned by Robert California into performing favors for Robert’s newest crush, Nellie. Jim and Dwight are sent to help Nellie unpack her 30 boxes from London (and two trunks from Florida) into her new apartment, while the rest of the office is tasked with organizing a party to welcome Nellie into their community. Because Nellie is universally disliked, however, the party planners decide to throw her an intentionally bad party (as opposed to all the unintentionally bad parties in this history of the office). But when Jim and Dwight stumble across some personal history about Nellie (involving a stage magician) that shows her more vulnerable side, Jim calls Pam to tell her to put the kibosh on the plans. Alas, plans are too far along for Pam to do so. At least the office mates agree to use a code word (“Pam”) when referring to Nellie, so Nellie never realizes that the mean comments are directed at her. And Jim and Dwight gallantly come to Nellie’s side by ruining the magic act brought in for Nellie’s party (it makes sense if you see the episode).

Group bullying of this sort is, of course, not very nice, even if its target is herself rude and thoughtless at times. But would the actions of her co-workers give a claim against Dunder-Mifflin, assuming Nellie learned that they were directed at her?  Not likely. The statements were not because of, or based on, any protected characteristic, such as race, gender or age. Certainly they could be perceived as “hostile” but, contrary to popular opinion, courts generally do not recognize claims based simply on hostility in the workplace — the workplace has to be hostile based on a protected category. Indeed, courts have held that the anti-discrimination laws are not a general “civility code.” So, although this conduct could lead to problems down the road (and should be nipped in the bud), it should not provide a basis for liabiity. Moreover, Nellie’s own inappropriate statements about members of ethnic groups, seen earlier in the episode, would make it more difficult for her to claim that she was harmed by the conduct.

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Turf War; Smurf War

May 03, 2012 - by: Adam Klarfeld 1 COMMENTS
Adam Klarfeld

Litigation Value: Wait, Dunder Mifflin might actually be a plaintiff in an employment dispute? In a surprising turn of events, the company may have claims against Andy Bernard for stealing a major client and against Jim and Dwight for stealing from the company. Not surprisingly, Dunder Mifflin is looking at liability ($150,000+) for Robert California’s “filthy” messages to his subordinate, Nellie. Also, Pam’s acquisition of Nellie’s cell phone raises several privacy issues in the workplace. WARN Act violations could also cost the company another $100,000.

This episode was like a law school exam. So many issues; so little time.
First, we see the Syracuse and Scranton salespeople fighting over the Binghamton office’s (former) clients. The Binghamton office seemingly closed with little warning. Assuming that Dunder Mifflin employs over 100 full-time employees overall and terminated more than 50 at this site, the company needed to comply with the notice requirements of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) and any New York-state counterpart. Damages under the federal WARN Act include lost wages (up to 60 days per employee), a civil penalty, and attorneys’ fees.

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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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Splish Splash

April 06, 2012 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

Litigation Value:  California and his cohorts swimming nude in front of employees = far too much to calculate; Andy trying to get his “monog” on = one trip to the hospital for an oxygen-deprived Dwight; and Kevin getting to create a party without the party planning committee’s input = priceless.

This was certainly not our first Dunder Mifflin party, but it was our first Office pool party which meant much hilarity and debauchery.  My colleague thoroughly covered this episode when it first aired in January.  As this period of re-runs continues, I wanted to take this opportunity to go over my top 5 tips for work-related pool parties. 

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Pyramid

March 01, 2012 - by: Brian Kurtz 1 COMMENTS
Brian Kurtz

Litigation value: $150,000. This isn’t Hooters, Dwight. Requiring Kathy to flirt with customers is sexual harassment. Additional damages if Todd Packer plays his sexual predator role as well as we suspect he can.

“Bloggers are gross. Bloggers are obese. Bloggers have halitosis.”

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Tighten Your Saddles

February 24, 2012 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 1 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

Litigation Value: Cathy showing Jim the “Talla-Nasty” = yet more fodder for Jim’s sexual harassment lawsuit; five dots = a murky texting area and potential lawsuit for Darryl; and watching Dwight work himself into a human bedbug trap = priceless.

This After Hours episode has the gang engaging in conduct that should make any human resources professional cringe. Tighten your saddles, because it is bound to be a bumpy ride. While the Scranton branch is working late, the Florida team is hitting the hotel bar scene for some debauchery. As we have mentioned in previous posts, the fact that the conduct occurs outside the workplace does not necessarily free an employer from liability, particularly when a supervisor instructs her employees that bar attendance is “compulsory.” 

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Nervous (About) Nellie

February 16, 2012 - by: Doug Hall 2 COMMENTS
Doug Hall

Litigation Value:  $100,000 – perhaps more if Todd Packer sleeps his way to a VP position.

All sorts of sexual shenanigans occur throughout tonight’s episode, “Tallahassee.” Most of the action takes place in the aforementioned capital city of Florida, where Dwight, Jim, Stanley, Ryan, Erin, and Kathy are attending a meeting regarding Sabre’s plan to open retail stores. And who else do we find at the meeting but walking employment law disaster Todd Packer and Nellie Bertram, the slightly … quirky, shall we say, friend of Jo who memorably interviewed for the regional manager position in Scranton. Todd and Nellie engage in the most blatant inappropriate conduct of the episode — and Nellie’s wink to Todd after she says she is “waiting for someone to wow me” hints at perhaps even worse.

Before we get to the meeting itself, let’s talk about Dwight’s behavior that morning. Concerned about making it to the meeting on time, Dwight takes it upon himself to wake up the rest of the team members by using duplicate keys to enter their hotel rooms and rouse them from their sleep. He frightens Kathy, suffocates Stanley and exposes Erin to Ryan’s drowsy amorous advances (until Ryan realizes he is on camera — “not cool!”). Though Dwight gets his comeuppance via a detailed prank courtesy of Jim, that doesn’t change the fact that his co-workers might well file claims against him (and the company, as he is the head of the project) based on his invasion of their privacy, infliction of emotional distress, assault, and battery.

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