Who Wanted to Be a Millionaire?

December 03, 2009 - by: Doug Hall 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: From Dunder Mifflin’s corporate perspective, likely $0, though it might find itself having to defend claims that it should be liable for Michael’s tuition promise. Michael on the other hand . . . but you can’t get blood from a turnip, right?

Just how long has Michael Scott been wreaking havoc on the greater Scranton area? From this episode of The Office, Scott’s Tots, we learn that he’s been at it for at least 10 years, when he promised a group of third graders — Scott’s Tots — that he would pay their college tuition should they graduate from high school. Oh those heady days of 1999, when Michael thought he’d be a millionaire by age 30, 40 at the latest. Well, it’s 2009 now and the chickens have come home to roost. In a series of cringe-inducing scenes, Michael tries to avoid facing the music at all, then reluctantly comes clean, but only after letting the kids sing his praises.

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Acting Koi

October 30, 2009 - by: Chris Butler 4 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: As to Dunder Mifflin, $500,000 (for potential hostile work environment, race discrimination/harassment, and/or intentional/negligent infliction of emotional distress damages); as to Andy, $25,000 (for potential assault, battery, humiliation, and emotional distress damages); as to Michael, $300 (value of decapitated koi).

Eight seconds. That’s precisely how long Michael needed to both sexually and racially harass the multitudes. To set the stage, Michael emceed the Scranton branch’s office Halloween party, staffed by Scranton branch employees and attended by their friends and families, including numerous children (and it was principally for them). Unencumbered by restraint, Michael spared no opportunity to “gift” the audience with a sexually provocative costume (paying homage to Mr. Timberlake and S.N.L.). Aside from his perpetually poor judgment, Michael’s offensive attire alone could land Dunder Mifflin with a hostile work environment lawsuit, particularly given his supervisory role. When will he learn to be the example, instead of being made the example?

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Growing Up Grotti

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

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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Recipe for Disaster

July 10, 2009 - by: Kylie Crawford 1 COMMENTS

On last night’s rerun episode, Lecture Circuit, Michael, whose office had the highest sales, traveled to other Dunder Mifflin offices to share his “secret recipe for success.”  Along the way, Michael manages to offend every single woman he meets.

Poor Pam is the is the main target of Michael’s harassment.  He asks her to take her shirt off or tie her sweater around her waist, calls her his hot roadie, tells her to picture Karen naked, and talks to her about Holly’s breasts.  Leaving no woman behind, Michael makes several inappropriate comments about Karen’s pregnancy (which we discussed last time the episode aired) and uses “sugarboobs” as a mnemonic device to remember the name of a woman in his audience.

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Season of Mercy

July 03, 2009 - by: Kylie Crawford 2 COMMENTS

Last night’s Moroccan Christmas episode is one of my favorites, and as usual, it offered plenty of what-not-to-dos.  At the center of the episode was Michael’s forced intervention with Meredith about her alcohol (porn?) addiction.  But there was also something else at play in the episode.  There was some serious bullying going on.

Phyllis finally has the upper-hand with Angela, who she caught having sex with Dwight.  Phyllis bosses Angela around, threatening to tell everyone about their affair, including Angela’s fiancé, Andy.  (Phyllis doesn’t think her actions constitute blackmail unless she sends a formal letter – we’ll save this for another rerun!)  Phyllis orders Angela to put away most of her off-theme nativity scene, get everyone a plate of hummus with fanned pita triangles and fanned napkins, and wear a hair net.  When Angela fights back, Phyllis tells everyone in the office, except Andy (next episode is going to be awkward!), about Angela’s affair with Dwight.

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Small Favors

June 25, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 2 COMMENTS

Thank goodness for small favors!  With The Office on summer break, we didn’t have to face Thursday night with trepidation, fearing that Michael would, in his affable way, fling impertinent comments about the Iranian election crisis around for all to hear. We are probably not the only ones breathing a sigh of relief either. After all, nearly every company is home to employees who feel uncomfortable when in the midst of insulting and derogatory comments. It is hard to imagine who they are at Dunder Mifflin, but it’s not all that unusual to not know who is privately offended. In a raucous or excessively jovial work environment, people often don’t express their discomfort at off-color jokes and quips.

Allowing culturally insensitive banter in the workplace not only is likely to alienate some employees, but it also may even give rise to a hostile work environment claim if allowed to continue unchecked. Dunder Mifflin could sure benefit from some well-designed diversity training, not to mention supervisor training.

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Spotting Your Michaels (and Dwights)

June 12, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 2 COMMENTS

After watching last night’s repeat of The Office, I decided that some of my clients’ stories this week were more titillating. That’s what she said. (Couldn’t resist.)

The theme of calls that I got this week almost made me feel like I was on the show. I looked for cameras (and Ashton and Howie) more than a few times. It started bright and early Monday morning. At my client’s business office, a supervisor started teasing his subordinate about her weight. He told her that the economy had not gotten in the way of her eating, that there were kids in whole counties that go without that she could feed if she skipped a meal, etc. Michael, is that you?

Tuesday and Wednesday were even better (of course, just from a “I can’t believe this train wreck is happening” perspective). A different client’s regional manager (yes, regional manager) called a lunch meeting to boost morale. He noted that purpose in his email. At the lunch, he began making fun of people. He poked fun at their physical appearances, their ethnicities, and their poor work ethic. He wasn’t random about it; the folks he was joking about were being laid off — that week. Better: His boss was at the lunch. And, he laughed and laughed. Michael? David (but without judgment)?

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Been There, Done That!

May 29, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 0 COMMENTS

Employment law attorney Troy Foster reflects on the “Stress Relief” episode of The Office and reminds employers that while reruns may work in prime time, letting workplace problems reoccur is dangerous.

Litigation Value: $615,000 and rising . . .

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Impractical Jokes

May 21, 2009 - by: Dominic Verstegen 0 COMMENTS

Time magazine is running a feature about The Office and NBC’s invitation for viewers to send in photos of hijinks in their own workspaces, like those often featured on the show. Some of the pranks featured on the show have been hilarious. From simple things like Jim enveloping Dwight’s stapler in Jello, to more complicated things like Jim putting coins in Dwight’s phone handset and then taking them out causing Dwight to hit himself in the head, you have to appreciate their creativity.

Some of the pranks featured in the Time magazine piece are equally creative. One picture showed an office filled with 1,700 balloons. Another picture showed a cubicle literally gift-wrapped from top to bottom. These pranks are awesome, to be sure. But they are also completely unproductive and not advisable from a legal standpoint.

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Oh Baby!

May 15, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 3 COMMENTS

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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