Women’s Appreciation

May 04, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 6 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: 1,000,000 +

The “women’s appreciation” meeting was a bad idea that was poorly executed. I’m not saying that Dunder Mifflin cannot or should not recognize the achievements of its female employees. It should. I just think that the meeting shouldn’t be announced by saying “I know the crap out of women” and should not end by taking the women to a shopping mall because the office is too much of a “male environment.” If the trip to the mall wasn’t bad enough, it was “game over” when Michael offered to buy them some new panties at Victoria’s Secret. The only way it could get worse would have been for Michael to use a company credit card and for Dunder Mifflin to actually approve the expense.

Should the women of Dunder Mifflin (collectively or individually) later choose to challenge the company’s employment practices as discriminatory, then this type of evidence is going to seal its fate. And, as for Michael’s inquiries whether female employees who are upset with him are having their periods and his reenactment of the “flasher” who exposed himself to Phyllis by putting his finger in his zipper and pretending it is a penis, well, that just introduced Dunder Mifflin to seven-figure damage calculations.

Sexual Harassment

March 30, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: Over $700,000

It would be pretty safe to say that any time a company’s regional manager asks a female employee to act out a lesbian love scene during its anti-harassment training you have problems. Expensive problems. Not only does the company face liability for Michael’s actions in contributing to the hostile working environment but his treatment of and attitude towards the seriousness of sexual harassment claims could jeopardize the company’s ability to defend itself in the future.

One of an employer’s primary defenses to a sexual harassment claim is that it took reasonable care to prevent and correct any sexually harassing behavior and that the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of the employer’s policy. To prove this, a company must show, among other things, that it has a sexual harassment policy and that it provides training to its employees on that policy – just like Dundler Mifflin’s corporate office was trying to do before Michael got involved.

Ben Franklin

February 01, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 9 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: $800,000+

If an executive learns that a regional manager has sponsored a bachelor party in the warehouse, hired a stripper, offered to “deflower” the bride, taken an employee to a sex store, received a lap dance, and allowed a pervert dressed up like Benjamin Franklin to make a lewd statement to the receptionist, she should fire him. As soon as possible. Anything else and the company is looking at significant liability. Of course, at Dunder Mifflin, Jan is likely caught in a Catch-22. As soon as she fires Michael, she could be facing a charge for her own conduct in having an affair with her subordinate. Ah, what a tangled web we weave….

As this week’s episode colorfully illustrates, it is not enough to have an anti-harassment policy. Dunder Mifflin has one (as Michael mentioned- twice) and look what happened. Rather, employers must demonstrate that they take the policy seriously and that they are committed to stopping sexual harassment in the workplace. If they can’t, a court is likely to find the policy ineffective. And when it does, the company can say goodbye to its affirmative defense and say hello to punitive damages.

Sexual Harassment

January 11, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 8 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: Over $700,000

It would be pretty safe to say that any time a company’s regional manager asks a female employee to act out a lesbian love scene during its anti-harassment training you have problems. Expensive problems. Not only does the company face liability for Michael’s actions in contributing to the hostile working environment but his treatment of and attitude towards the seriousness of sexual harassment claims could jeopardize the company’s ability to defend itself in the future.

One of an employer’s primary defenses to a sexual harassment claim is that it took reasonable care to prevent and correct any sexually harassing behavior and that the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of the employer’s policy. To prove this, a company must show, among other things, that it has a sexual harassment policy and that it provides training to its employees on that policy – just like Dundler Mifflin’s corporate office was trying to do before Michael got involved.

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The Convention

September 28, 2006 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: Nominal (but only because Michael’s party was a flop)

Unfortunately for employers, what happens in Vegas does not always stay in Vegas. As a result, employers are increasingly faced with liability for their employees’ “booze-fueled sex romps,” as Michael so elegantly put it. Maybe it’s the exotic locale, or maybe it’s the free liquor, but one thing is certain: Conventions can be fertile grounds for employment-based lawsuits. Sometimes, between their second and third martinis, employees seem to forget that they are representing their employer and that their company’s policies, especially the sexual harassment policy, remain in effect. Too often you hear tales of the intoxicated supervisor who invites his (or her) young associate to visit his (or her) hotel room. Not generally the type of evidence that you want to be faced with. Lucky for the company, Jim was the only person who actually went to Michael’s party.

As for Toby, I’m just glad that his conscience kicked in at the last minute. Either that or he lost his courage. Either way, it was probably a good thing that the director of human resources did not proposition the receptionist.

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