Words Matter (More than Lithium)

August 19, 2010 - by: Matt Rita 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: A plaintiff (and high school) class consisting of “Scott’s Tots,” each of whom could claim entitlement to four years of college tuition — less an offset for the value of a laptop battery. (Thanks, Mr. Scott.)

Greetings, faithful readers! You know the summer’s going fast and the nights are growing colder — at least in some parts of the continent — when this blog circles back on itself not once, but twice. While watching the most recent repeat of The Office, I seemed to recall writing about someone else within Ford & Harrison who had previously written about this episode. Or maybe I just read his or her prior post. Whatever the case, the fact that I can’t remember how many levels in we are (can you say “Inception”?) suggests that it’s high time for a new season!

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Job Posting

July 29, 2010 - by: Brian Kurtz 6 COMMENTS

Alas, repeats. My able colleague, Jaclyn West, wrote about this week’s episode — The Chump — in her excellent post of May 14. But fear not. There is big news this week that demands its own post. NBC has confirmed that Steve Carell will leave The Office when his contract expires in 2011. Michael Scott’s seven-year reign as Scranton branch manager is coming to an end.

Michael Scott This blog has cause for concern. At least 80% of the potential liability we find in each episode is attributable directly to Michael Scott. Who can replace him? We need someone who can be combination leader/lawsuit-magnet. We need the next anti-Toby. Who’s ready to step up and be the new “World’s Best Boss” in Scranton? Consider the candidates:

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The Michael Scott School of Business

July 09, 2010 - by: Jaclyn West 5 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: An education on management from the master (of disaster) … priceless.

The Office didn’t air in my little corner of the world last night, and I’m currently battling symptoms of withdrawal. So I decided to take a little walk down memory lane and relive some of my favorite lessons from Season 6. Remember, back in Season 2, when Michael gave Ryan the benefit of his many years of management experience through a series of cliches? What lessons would Michael share with us from this season?

Gossip: Michael divulges Stanley’s secret — he’s having an affair! — to the entire office. Feeling guilty, Michael makes up false rumors about everyone in the office, telling the office that Kelly has an eating disorder, Andy is homosexual, and Pam is pregnant. Turns out, Pam really is pregnant. Lesson learned: Talk is cheap … for Michael, anyway. Maybe not so much for Dunder Mifflin.

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Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Litigation Value:  training management on whistleblower protections — $10,000; settling customer claims due to the flaming printers — more than Sabre would like to think about; finding out Holly’s coming back — priceless.

The printers aren’t the only things heating up at Sabre. Jo’s mission to root out the whistleblower had more than one person sweating in Scranton. Tensions were high given Pam’s admission to a reporter’s wife, Darryl’s misguided attempts to pick up a not-so-cute copy editor, Kelly’s infamous tweet, and Andy’s video. Unfortunately for Sabre, a variety of laws protect employees who choose to “blow the whistle” on employer wrongdoing.

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Diabolical Laughter

April 09, 2010 - by: Jaclyn West 3 COMMENTS

This week’s episode was another repeat, and it was just as cringe-worthy as the first time it aired. Doug Hall did a fabulous job covering this episode in first run, so I’ll just use this space to talk about an issue that has been ongoing since the very first episode of the series: the personality clash between Dwight Shrute and Jim Halpert.

In tonight’s show, Dwight, jealous of Jim’s promotion, continues to pursue his Diabolical Plan to get Jim fired (or at least demoted). Although the conflict has since resolved (to the extent the Dwight-Jim war can) by Jim’s returning to the sales staff, it’s still worth talking about. What could Jim, as a manager, do when he encounters an employee like Ryan, who is determined to undermine his authority? Or, worse, like Dwight, who is determined to have him fired?

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A Tale of Two Repeats

April 02, 2010 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Very Little.  Destination Wedding = $25,000; Niagara Falls Ceremony after Escaping Wedding = $100; Diapering Angela’s Cat = Priceless.

Given that last night consisted of two repeats, two of my colleagues have already done a wonderful job of covering issues raised by the Dunder Mifflin gang’s antics last night. Although last night’s episodes did not give rise to much in the way of litigation value, here’s a rundown of my top 10 things not to do at the office (or anywhere else, for that matter).

  1. Offer to stick spicy food (or anything else) into a coworker’s rectum.
  2. Discuss a coworker’s nipples. On the other hand, I definitely agree with Michael that no coworkers should be stimulating Pam’s nipples at Dunder Mifflin.
  3. Offer to bring a nippleless shirt to the office. Why Meredith has a nippleless anything in the car is a mystery to me. Of course, it may be the newest craze from the JWow collection.
  4. Pretend to shoot coworkers, even with your finger. This is particularly true if you intend to simulate gruesome brain splatter.
  5. Openly discuss the fact that Stanley has two lovers and you don’t have any.
  6. Decide to sleep nude in two coworkers’ bed, even if you are secretly eradicating mold and remodeling their kitchen for free.
  7. Announce that a coworker must have needed an “afternoon delight” with his wife.
  8. Discuss the relative hotness of a coworker as she stands uncomfortably next to you.
  9. Spread a rumor that a coworker has an elephant heart.
  10. Negotiate a parenting contract with a former office flame, even if your biological clock is ticking so loudly you awaken to find yourself cradling a gourd on your beet farm.

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Baby, Baby, Please

March 05, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Not much.

With collective attentions devoted almost entirely to the miracle of childbirth, the Scranton branch didn’t leave us much to work with tonight. Whereas Dwight Schrute’s senseless destruction of Jim and Pam Halpert’s kitchen cabinetry exposes him to a cornucopia of civil and criminal liabilities in his own right, it’s unlikely that his misconduct would be attributable to Dunder Mifflin.

Indeed, Dunder Mifflin got off light this week. Were it not for the fact that Michael Scott’s systematically inappropriate behavior has become the norm -– considerably lowering the bar and desensitizing the work environment -– his rather unhealthy interest in Pam’s pregnancy might otherwise expose Dunder Mifflin and himself to a rare, but potentially fatal, harassment-based-on-pregnancy claim. Of course, in order to prove pregnancy harassment, Pam would have to show that she was both subjectively and objectively offended by Michael’s repeated references to, and his actions based on, her pregnancy; and that they were pervasive enough to interfere with her ability to perform her job or to otherwise create a hostile work environment. Inasmuch as Michael means well, and Pam doesn’t appear to be overly offended by his innocuous behavior, it’s doubtful this variation of a sex/pregnancy discrimination theory would hold up in court.

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Sabre Rattled – Y’All Come Back Now

February 11, 2010 - by: Doug Hall 6 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $2,500 for Meredith’s workers’ comp claim (those paper cuts can sting!) and more grist for the mill for potential future claims.

Tonight’s episode has the Scranton office continuing to deal with Dunder Mifflin’s acquisition by Sabre International. This time, it is the arrival of Sabre’s colorful president, Jo Bennett, and her two rather large dogs. Much of the episode focuses on the duel between Michael and Jim, as Mrs. (not Ms.) Bennett decides there is no reason to have co-Regional Managers at the branch (which shows already that she is more astute than Dunder Mifflin’s prior management). What starts as a battle to retain the manager’s role ends up being a contest to return to sales, as they realize they can do much better financially under Sabre’s policies as a salesman. At the end of the day, Michael ends up back in the manager’s role while Jim ends up where he belongs, in sales, doing battle with Dwight.

Although the contest between Michael and Jim doesn’t involve potential liability to the company, it points out the issues that can arise when rank-and-file employees earn more than their managers, including a disincentive for the best employees to move into managerial roles. And Dwight and Ryan could be exposing themselves, if not the company, to possible claims arising out of their conversation with Nick the IT guy — Dwight’s false potentially defamatory statement that Jim is under criminal investigation for “molesting people via the Internet” and Ryan’s threat of physical violence if Nick doesn’t turn over Jim’s computer password.

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Classic Rewind

January 22, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 6 COMMENTS

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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Belles, Bourbon, Bullets & Bankruptcy

November 13, 2009 - by: Jody Ward-Rannow 6 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0. Shockingly no one did anything illegal in this episode. Dunder Mifflin suffered a full day’s lost productivity due to Corporate’s poor handling of the bankruptcy situation.

In this week’s episode, the recession finally hit Dunder Mifflin. Faced with such stress, I would have expected the Scranton branch to become a plaintiff’s lawyer’s dream, but shockingly, no one did anything that really violated any employment laws. Jim tricked Dwight into beating himself up instead of injuring Kevin, avoiding a potential battery and workers’ compensation claim. Although, I suppose Dwight could have made a workers’ comp claim based on his injuries since Dunder Mifflin sanctioned his Karate Seminar. Angela was uncomfortable with her game character and could have tried to make a religious discrimination claim because she did not want to be a voodoo witch doctor, but that’s a pretty weak claim. Dwight also should not have told the staff that they cannot unionize if they come work for him. It is illegal for an employer to prohibit unionization under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

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