Business School Revisited

August 03, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: 33 million????

Typically, the workplace is not an appropriate location to practice “creative discipline.” Such “creativity” can be, and often is, misconstrued. Take, for example, Ryan. Michael was retaliating against him for making disparaging remarks about the company. Probably not illegal but easily could have been had Ryan engaged in an activity protected by law — such as complaining that Dunder Mifflin engaged in illegal practices. Then, the fact that Michael moved Ryan’s office to an annex where Michael knew it would upset Ryan and (obviously) disrupt his work could very well be actionable.

Dunder Mifflin would not be the only company that was being sued over a change in an employee’s office location. On May 26, 2007, the New York Daily News reported that a Connecticut secretary sued her former employer for $33 million because it moved her — along with her entire department — to another part of the office and declined her request for a desk closer to the window. According to the article, the secretary suffers from “seasonal affective disorder.” As it was, the new desk was just three feet away from the window. I guess that just wasn’t close enough for her.

Phyllis’ Wedding

July 27, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

As I said before, being a jerk isn’t illegal.  Typically.  And Michael’s conduct, although extremely self-centered and rude, probably does not violate anything more than the accepted standards of conduct in polite society.  But rude conduct at work can be more problematic.  At least according to a recent case from the Delaware Supreme Court. Recently, the court held that an employee could bring suit against his co-workers for injuries he received in a prank gone wrong.  According to the case, co-workers detained the plaintiff in the bathroom and wrapped him from ankles to shoulders in duct tape (the case didn’t explain why but it is a story that I am dying to hear).  The plaintiff was injured and sued his colleagues.  Breaking from established precedent of dismissing such claims under the “workers compensation exclusivity” doctrine, the Court said that workplace horseplay can be so far removed from the scope of the prankster’s employment that it takes it out of workers compensation system and into court.

Some food for thought the next time that Jim decides to trick Dwight using Pavlov’s theories.

The Initiation Reprised

July 06, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 1 COMMENTS

When I first saw this episode, I thought, surely initiation pranks don’t really occur at work. After all, adults know that the workplace is not an extension of their fraternity houses. I did some research. I was wrong.

In one case, Los Angeles firefighters mixed dog food into the spaghetti dinner of a co-worker who referred to himself as the “Big Dog.” The firefighters called it a prank — the recipient called it racial harassment. And the city almost paid the employee $2.7 million to settle his claims. That was, of course, until photographs surfaced on the Internet of the plaintiff hazing other firefighters.

read more…

Categories: Real-Life Cases

Branch Closing Revisited

June 22, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

“Branch Closing” exemplifies how there is a right way to notify employees that they are losing their jobs and a wrong way.  And, in case you were wondering,  wandering around the office muttering “do your work – while you still can” and “we’ll all be gone soon anyway” is definitely the wrong way.  That being said, it probably won’t cost Dunder Mifflin a whole lot of money.  While employers can be sued for intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress based on the manner in which they terminate an employee, these cases are very hard to win.  Generally, employees must show that the employer’s conduct was so atrocious as to be utterly intolerable to the civilized community.  So, what kind of things meet this standard? In one case, the court said that illegally wiretapping an employee’s home telephone line and then using the taped conversations to threaten an employee’s job might be enough.  So was planting company checks on a employee to give the appearance that he was stealing the company’s money.  Well, at least Michael hasn’t done that…..   Yet.

Categories: Layoffs / Real-Life Cases

Diwali – Revisited

June 15, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

Tonight’s episode serves as a good example of team building exercises gone wrong. Very wrong. But, believe it or not, Michael’s efforts to enlighten his staff about Kelly’s Indian culture was not the worst example of “team building” I’ve ever seen. It was a close call, but the award for “worst team building exercise” belongs to a California company that sponsored a contest between its sales teams where the winners threw pies at the losers, fed them baby food, and spanked the losers with yard signs. That’s right. They spanked them. Not surprisingly, an employee took exception and sued. The jury awarded $1.7 million. And all Michael did was unknowingly mock Kelly’s ethnicity and distribute the Kama Sutra…..

In case you are wondering, there is one case out there that deals with a supervisor who, among other things, gave a copy of the Kama Sutra to his subordinate. The employee called it sexual harassment, and the case settled for an undisclosed amount. Go figure.

Grief Counseling Revisited

June 08, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $3,000 – $ 5,000 (the amount that Dunder Mifflin will have to pay an attorney to write a brief supporting its motion to dismiss the case).

The lesson from this episode is that, try as we might, there are some bad things that happen for which you can’t sue your employer. Or anyone else for that matter. Of course, this is not to say that people haven’t tried. A Pennsylvania man sued God (as well as all members of the 100th – 105th Congress, the President, every major news network, including NBC, and Janet Reno) in a lawsuit alleging that his constitutional rights were terminated when he got fired. Not surprisingly, that case was dismissed. Quickly. In another case, a man sued Satan for causing him misery and placing deliberate obstacles in his path to cause the man’s downfall — in Federal Court. I’m not kidding. The court dismissed the case because the plaintiff could not figure out a way to serve Satan with a copy of the complaint. With tongue in cheek, the court even pondered whether the case should be a class action.

While it wouldn’t be unheard of for a grieving employee such as Michael to sue his employer for the distress caused by losing his former boss, the claim would likely be dismissed pretty soon after it was filed. Maybe not as fast as it would be if Michael sued God, but pretty fast nonetheless. And if Michael is actually able to find God to serve him with a lawsuit, I’d say we have much bigger issues to deal with.

Categories: Real-Life Cases

“The Coup” Revisited

June 01, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $65,000 (but could have been much more)

Having Dwight stand on his desk with the word “liar” hanging from his neck is not what I would consider the most effective method of employee discipline. Nor was tricking him into believing that he got Michael fired. But, without more, Michael’s actions may not be considered to be “utterly intolerable to a civilized community” and, thus, are not actionable in a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

What could be more extreme you ask? Well, after digging around I found some examples. In one case, an Alabama manager allegedly required his employee to keep seeing a management consultant for “training” after learning that the consultant would hypnotize the employee and then ask her to remove her shirt and answer questions of a sexual nature. In another case, a Washington dentist tormented an employee, who routinely regaled the office with stories of her pet pot bellied pig named Walter, by implanting tusks as a temporary dental apparatus while the employee was under anesthesia and then gathering the other employees around to take pictures. The employee didn’t think it was nearly as funny and sued him. In retrospect, maybe Michael’s conduct wasn’t so bad after all….

read more…

The Convention Reprised

May 25, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

Throwing a virtual rave in a company-sponsored hotel room complete with black lights and a full assortment of hard liquor, while at the same time seeking to secure business opportunities, is a recipe for disaster. Luckily for Dunder Mifflin, Michael was miserably unsuccessful in creating the bacchanalian setting he so desperately longed for. But other companies have fared far worse. By way of example, one company found itself embroiled in litigation for injuries suffered by its employee who, after spilling his beer on a fellow reveler at a karaoke bar on Bourbon Street, was kicked in the groin during a bar fight. Employers are also frequently held liable for injuries caused when their employee gets drunk at company-sponsored parties and then get behind the wheel. In one case in Alaska, the jury awarded $635,000 when an employee imbibed at a convention and then crippled a pedestrian on his way home.

This may be one time when Michael’s ineptitude actually saved Dunder Mifflin some money!

The Job

May 18, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 2 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: $50,000 (with the potential for a whole lot more)

So Creed has joined the millions of people blogging at (and about) work. I’d say that this could definitely cause trouble for Dunder Mifflin when Creed eventually learns how to post his musings on something more than a Microsoft Word document. Believe it or not, there are actual cases being brought by employees who have been dooced (fired) over the content of their blogs. Take, for example, the flight attendant who was fired for posting photographs of herself stretched out on a row of seats with her uniform hiked up and her bra showing. She sued the airline for sex discrimination. There is also a journalist who got dooced for posting a critical play-by-play about her company and its bad management practices. Dunder Mifflin should be very afraid of what the Scranton employees could post about their work place. Especially if Creed actually learns how to post his entries online or, god forbid, he learns how to post photographs.

As for Jan and her unfortunate demise, I think she may have a claim. Not a good one but a claim nonetheless. After all, she was fired and replaced by a younger male temp who has very little seniority and no management experience just a few days after she “enhanced” her more feminine qualities. Jan could also claim that Dunder Mifflin fired her because it “regarded her” as having a mental disability. After all, the CFO did tell her that she was “clearly unstable” when he terminated her. While Jan probably won’t be the next big winner in the litigation lotto, it will still cost some money to defend. But with any luck, Jan’s attorneys won’t be able to use anything from Creed’s blog as evidence in the lawsuit.

read more…

Safety Training (with Guest Blogger Jason Loring)

April 12, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $40,000

Duty calls and Julie is not able to blog this week due to work. I’m a fellow labor and employment attorney with Ford & Harrison and also a fan of the show. This week’s episode certainly did not disappoint.

The episode starts with the Dunder Mifflin employees gathered around for a “safety meeting” that is intended to teach the “office workers” about safety. (Can’t you just feel the lawsuit coming?) Darryl, the meeting leader, is on crutches. Why? Michael kicked a ladder out from underneath Darryl while he was reaching for a supply box on a top shelf. Not a good idea. If Michael was acting in the scope of his employment when he kicked out the ladder, Dunder Mifflin could certainly be on the hook for all of Darryl’s medical expenses, which could cost upwards of $40,000. Given Michael’s speckled past as a less than stellar manager, Dunder Mifflin might also be exposed to possible claims of negligent hiring and negligent retention of Michael. read more…

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