Who’s In Charge Around Here?

November 11, 2010 - by: Brian Kurtz 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value:  $0.00

Who’s the boss?

In the opening scene of the “Viewing Party,” the staff is crowded around a TV in the conference room watching local coverage of the Scranton Strangler. Gabe walks in and directs everyone to return to work. They ignore him. Later, in the kitchen, Kevin refers to Gabe as Michael’s “boss” . . . in front of Michael. Employees scatter. At Gabe’s Glee viewing party, Michael and Gabe face off in the ultimate test of masculinity and dominion — control over the clicker.

It goes without saying that an organization cannot function properly without effective leadership. Legally, it’s a toxic situation. Frontline supervisors don’t get any training and don’t know how to deal with employee complaints of harassment or discrimination. Policies and procedures are ineffective, not followed, or simply nonexistent. There is no consistent treatment of employees. Supervisors retaliate against employees. It all invariably leads to costly and disruptive litigation.

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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Gags

October 15, 2010 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 2 COMMENTS

Kidnapping day laborers = possible jail time for Dwight; giving Oscar another paid vacation and use of a company car= $15,000; settling claims related to Andy’s sex-ed course = more than just some free pizza; watching Michael try to convince an elderly stranger that they were once lovers = priceless.

Between Michael tracking down his former girlfriends over an STD scare and Andy using a sex-ed course to find out if Erin is practicing abstinence, last night’s shenanigans certainly made for an expensive and unproductive day for Sabre. One of the many lessons from last night’s episode is that romantic relationships between employees can lead to serious awkwardness and even potential liability. For example, after noticing a cold sore, Michael began a mission to notify his past girlfriends that they might have herpes. This list of old flames included his former supervisor, a human resources manager, and even Oscar (which we’ll get to shortly). I must admit, though, that I enjoyed Michael interrupting Jan’s ridiculous sing-a-long by abruptly stating , “I have herpes.”

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The Wedding, Part II

July 23, 2010 - by: Matt Scott 1 COMMENTS

Well, it’s a little difficult to write about the perils of working in Scranton with Michael Scott as your boss when the entire office is attending a wedding, but here goes. After watching last night’s repeat episode of Jim’s and Pam’s wedding, I can’t say that getting married to a coworker is always a bad thing (I met my wife when I was clerking for a company after my second year of law school, and we will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary next month, and as Chris Rock has joked, “If my dad hadn’t sexually harassed my mom, I wouldn’t be here”).

Nor is inviting your coworkers to a wedding an absolute no-no (my wife and I obviously did that, too, and no one got into too much trouble). That said, office romances and non-work functions often bring trouble. Many employers worry about liability for conduct that occurs between employees at non-work sponsored functions, and rightly so. Many times, sexual harassment cases draw on activities that occur away from the workplace, as do all types of discrimination cases. Workers let their hair down when they’re away from the office, and these social activities can provide fertile ground for discrimination claims.

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Aged Like a Fine Wisconsin Parmesan

June 10, 2010 - by: Doug Hall 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: More fodder for a potential lawsuit by Oscar Martinez; at least $10,000-15,000 to help Dunder Mifflin muddle through the competing Darryl-Dwight complaints — and the only reason it is that low is that, at the end of the day, neither is likely to want to escalate their dispute further.

Tonight we were treated to a repeat — or should I say “finely aged” — episode, “The Meeting.” The main story line — in which Michael Scott tries to undercut Jim Halpert’s efforts to get promoted to management, only to learn that Michael would have been promoted as well — doesn’t really involve potential employment law liability to the company. There is plenty to talk about, however, in the “B” plot and the cold open.

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Blowing the Whistle

May 06, 2010 - by: Jody Ward-Rannow 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $50,000 for the office meeting Michael called to discuss his sex life with his employees.

In this week’s episode of The Office, we saw two storylines, both of which provide interesting employment law issues: Michael’s quest to find out if Donna is cheating on him and Darryl’s attempt to play a prank on Andy that turns out to resemble a whistleblower complaint.

Michael is concerned that his new girlfriend, Donna, is cheating on him because he thinks she is too good-looking for him. So, in classic Michael fashion, he holds an office meeting to ask everyone what they think. Of course, Michael cannot resist telling the office how much sex he is having with Donna. This meeting is an obvious problem in the office. Michael, the boss, forced his subordinates to listen to him talk about his sex life. If any person in that room was offended, Michael will have a sexual harassment complaint on his hands. This type of sexual harassment requires that the harassment was “severe and pervasive” so as to create a hostile work environment. The meeting shown in the episode likely wasn’t severe enough to create a hostile work environment (and most employees actually seemed to participate willingly), but if Michael continued his banter throughout the day, then the employees could have a claim.

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Sex Sells (OK, No It Doesn’t)

May 01, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $250,000 for assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, and negligent entrustment.

Well, folks, the quintessential horndog – Michael Scott – is back on the stick. And this week, he didn’t disappoint. Michael’s recent announcement that this may be his final year sitting in the boss chair makes us wonder who will replace him; as if anyone could. We’ll address that later.

All right, so check it out: An attractive female, and potential Sabre customer, let’s just call her Donna (because that’s her name), visits the office dressed in eye-catching semi-business wear. Michael wastes no time in jokingly asking: “Did somebody order a hooker?” Soon thereafter, Michael interrupts Jim and Pam Halpert’s PowerPoint sales presentation by offering Donna a dog-eared Victoria’s Secret catalog. Michael further attempts to get Donna “turned on” by hijacking the presentation, superimposing wistful photos of himself, both fully clothed and facetiously standing behind a semi-nude strongman cutout (including an unnamed underwear model).

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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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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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