That Fevered Night

October 28, 2011 - by: Matt Rita 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Not much on the employment law front. But, for many of our readers in Central Daylight Time (you know who you are), the goings-on during — and especially after — the most recent airing of The Office might have given rise to at least the kernel of an emotional distress claim.

Allow this week’s blogger to make an opening disclaimer:  In his lifetime, he has witnessed both the highs and the lows of World Series sixth games. But admittedly, those characterizations are very much a matter of perspective.

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Green Thumb, Brown Nose

October 17, 2011 - by: Brian Kurtz 0 COMMENTS

“The Garden Party” episode was light on employment litigation but heavy on workplace psychology. Poor Gabe. His capacity for humiliation knows no limits. I wasn’t sure he could sink lower than his public dumping at the hands of Erin last season, but then we witnessed his repeated sycophantic toasts of Robert California. Sad, right?

Maybe not. Before we feel pity for Gabe, what if he’s on to something? Does brown-nosing in the workplace work? Some research suggests that, yes, it does. A 2004 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology concluded that “ingratiation” (read: sucking up) by job interview candidates had a positive impact on the interviewer’s perceived fit, while self-promotion had a nonsignificant impact.

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Michael Gives Up the Mic

April 22, 2011 - by: Brian Kurtz 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0.00 for Gabe’s intentional infliction of emotional distress lawsuit against Erin. Stanley’s ADA action for his diabetes is primed and ready.

Michael’s final turn hosting the Dundies reminds us why The Office has been a source of so much material since this Blog launched five years ago.  Just about every award could be evidence in a future discrimination or harassment lawsuit — “Hottest in the Office,” “Diabetes Award,” “Cutest Redhead in the Office,” “Extreme Repulsiveness.”  If Michael misses his colleagues, he may get a chance to see them again … at his deposition.

Gabe likely feels aggrieved and may be tempted to sue Erin for the emotional distress she caused by using her acceptance speech as an opportunity to dump him in public. But Gabe should think twice before filing suit. In Sanders v. Rosen, a New York court refused to recognize termination of a romantic relationship as the basis for an emotional distress action. Most jurisdictions, however, do recognize a cause of action for stalking. Move on, Gabe. You should know better than to date a subordinate.

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I Do. You Sue

January 14, 2011 - by: Brian Kurtz 3 COMMENTS

This week was another repeat of “Niagara,” the hour-long Pam and Jim wedding episode. Doug Hall and Matt Scott did a nice job with this episode here and here offering different takes on employee behavior outside the office. But seriously, does an employer really have to be concerned about what happens at an employee’s wedding?

Yup.

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In the Company of Gleeks

January 06, 2011 - by: Doug Hall 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Likely no liability against Sabre/Dunder Mifflin, but Gabe could have some property damage claims against Michael and Andy

Only two more weeks until new episodes of The Office return, and I’m eager to find how the writers will wrap up Michael Scott’s career. Quick question for you Officeheads out there: How do you think they will engineer Michael’s departure from the show? Promoted out of Scranton? Leave the company altogether? And what of Holly? Post a message with your ideas and let’s compare notes.

In the meantime, we are treated to an episode that aired back in November, “The Viewing Party,” which was ably blogged by my colleague Brian Kurtz. Given that virtually the entire episode occurs away from the Scranton Business Park, I am going to focus on a couple of issues regarding what can happen when co-workers gather outside the workplace.

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Lady GaGa’s Door is Open

October 29, 2010 - by: Jaclyn West 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: More fodder for Darryl’s racial harassment claim and $1,000 to re-write Sabre’s Open Door Policy.

Where to begin, where to begin? I knew as soon as I saw the Hallowe’en costumes that we were in for quite an evening. And I must say, I agree with Kelly — can’t Michael just let the employees enjoy an office party, for once, without making it about all of his issues? Tonight, Michael was upset because Darryl went over his head to go behind his back (and stab him in the heart, I might add).

Some time back, apparently, Darryl had the idea that the warehouse delivery drivers should be able to make sales. He presented this idea to Michael, who squashed it. (Probably because it didn’t involve dressing up in costume like the Golden Ticket idea from a few seasons back.)  Not having gotten anywhere with Michael, Darryl then took the idea to Gabe. First, I have to point out, Darryl did go to Michael first, so Michael’s anger at being circumvented is slightly misplaced.

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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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Jesus Take the Wheel

December 11, 2009 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 5 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: One “Tranny Claus” = $0; One Disgruntled Jesus Impersonator = $0; Settlement Checks for Offended Employees = $50,000; Getting an XBox from Santa = Priceless.

It’s the holiday season again and time for our friends at Dunder Mifflin to trim the tree and try to stay off the Naughty List. Some were more successful than others (i.e. Michael, as usual). While Jim and Dwight “the Christmas Elf” attempted to bring the office closer together by having everyone trim the rather short artificial tree, Michael exhibited some of the worst behavior since he pretended to hang himself in front of frightened trick-or-treaters.

The episode opened with Phyllis finally achieving her long-time goal of playing the coveted role of the office Santa. Unfortunately, Michael did not get the memo and arrived wearing a Santa suit as well.  Instead of graciously allowing Phyllis to be Santa in peace, Michael instead became highly upset and berated Jim for allowing a woman to play the role. Michael bitterly called Phyllis “Tranny Claus” and was intent on ruining the holiday party for everyone else. When it came time for the office employees to sit on Santa’s lap, Michael quickly grabbed a chair to hear everyone’s holiday wish list. However, Michael crossed the line when he announced that he was a man, unlike Phyllis, and said, “Sit on my lap and there will be no doubt.” This is far from the first time that Michael has made sexually suggestive remarks to his subordinates. Who could forget Michael telling Phyllis that she was giving him a “boner”?

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Getting a Little (Maid of the) Misty

October 08, 2009 - by: Doug Hall 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0 for Dunder-Mifflin (consider the bullets dodged for now), but I’d love to be the plaintiffs’ lawyer representing those poor souls who got ice from the machine in which Kevin stuck his formerly Kleenex-boxed feet

I don’t normally cry at weddings, but I could see making an exception for the long-anticipated nuptials of “The Office” sweethearts Pam and Jim. Not because these characters found true love — they’re fictional after all. No, my tears were for the fact that the wedding takes the entire Office out of the office and on the road to Niagara Falls! (“Niagara Falls! Slowly I turn, step by step, inch by inch…”  - it’s an old Three Stooges routine, ask your parents.) How is any self-respecting employment lawyer — or me for that matter — supposed to write an employment law blog about an episode that doesn’t involve work? Well, I shouldn’t have worried, Michael Scott et al. never fail to deliver!

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Company-Sponsored Hijinks

September 04, 2009 - by: Jaclyn West 6 COMMENTS

In the rerun episode of “Company Picnic,” Season 5′s finale, we saw the Dunder Mifflinites don branch t-shirts and head out for a day of friendly competition, team-building and — because this is Dunder Mifflin we’re dealing with — potential disaster. We already discussed the noteworthy events, such as Michael announcing the closing of the Buffalo branch to the entire company, including the shocked Buffalo employees and their families… so I thought I’d just say a few words about employer-sponsored recreation.

Company picnics can be a great bonding experience and are often appreciated by employees, but they are also fertile ground for mishaps of all sorts. For instance, Pam and Jim told the story of last year’s picnic, where an inebriated guest tried to regain some stability by hanging onto Pam and apparently got a bit fresh. That’s never good news if you’re Human Resources. (Speaking of HR, I’ve just got to shake my head over Holly Flax. It’s dangerous enough for a company when employees get involved with one another, worse still when a manager is involved in a workplace relationship. But as an HR professional, Holly’s judgment in getting involved with two coworkers is pretty darn questionable.)

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