Invasion of the Privacy Snatchers

February 13, 2009 - by: Dominic Verstegen 3 COMMENTS

Employment law attorney Dominic Verstegen discusses Dunder Mifflin’s liability for its employees’ actions when Michael, Dwight, Kevin, and Oscar all cross the line and invade the privacy of their coworkers on the “Lecture Circuit, Part II” episode of The Office.

Litigation Value: $45,000

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We’ve Come a Long Way (Except for Michael and Dwight)

November 07, 2008 - by: Dominic Verstegen 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $50,000.

In this week’s episode of The Office, Michael Scott is on camera calling Kelly Kapoor dusky and exotic, and then Dwight Schrute, the assistant to the regional manager, refers to her southern India birth before he threatens her. A jury somewhere will find against Dunder Mifflin for race discrimination. Of course, that jury would have to ignore Kelly sabotaging Dwight’s and Jim’s bonuses and then claiming she was raped when she was caught in her misconduct. (“You cannot just say that you’ve been raped and expect all your problems to go away. Not again, don’t keep doing that.”) But still, some people will sympathize with Kelly.

It’s fitting that the Dunder Mifflin gang brought race discrimination to our attention this week, after the historic election of Barack Obama. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial segregation in schools, public places, and employment, is not even 50 years old, and now we have a black President. (The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also outlawed discrimination based on religion, gender, and national origin — interestingly, gender was added at the last minute by a Virginia congressman who thought its inclusion would kill the bill.) This piece of legislation drastically changed the face of employment law. It allowed the Kelly Kapoors of the world to file lawsuits when the Michael Scotts of the world called them dusky.

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Lose Weight, Gain a Lawsuit

September 26, 2008 - by: Troy Foster 4 COMMENTS

Litigation value: ($500,000 when all is said and done, mainly to Phyllis and Kelly)

Wow, it certainly didn’t take the folks at Dunder Mifflin long to get into midseason form! And from a liability perspective, that’s not good.

When corporate initiated a weight-loss competition among all the branches, the Scranton branch sprang into action. While some people slacked off after a while, others like Kelly took the competition very seriously, even buying a tapeworm from Creed. (By the way, what was that if not a tapeworm? I’m guessing one of those worms at the bottom of a tequila bottle.) Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, Michael and Dwight took the competition too seriously, stepping over several lines on their way to certain liability and money damages. (And let’s not forget that Phyllis called Corporate to complain about Dwight making her walk five miles, and the response was to have Michael read an apology/clarification paragraph statement -– so let’s put a few bucks on them, too.)

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Awards Season

January 18, 2008 - by: Julie Elgar 10 COMMENTS

The Golden Globes were canceled, and it isn’t looking so good for the Oscars. So, in the spirit of the awards season, I have decided to give out a few awards of my own. And I’d like to invite all of you to be the Academy. My first category is “Best Plaintiff in an Employment-Based Lawsuit,” which honors the Dunder Mifflin employee who has been most egregiously wronged by the Company. And the nominees are:

Kevin: Kevin is nominated for his experience in having to admit that he has anal fissures in a room of his coworkers during Season Two’s “Health Care.”

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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.

Diversity Day

March 30, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE:  $800,000

If I represented Kelly, I think my opening statement would say something like this:
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we are here today because Kelly Kapoor’s right to work in an environment free of discrimination was violated when her boss, Michael Scott, repeatedly made negative comments about her heritage culminating in an incident in which he openly mocked her during a training meeting by doing an imitation of an Indian convenience store owner.

Today Dunder Mifflin will take the stand and they will tell you about their efforts to promote a diverse workforce.  They will tell you they acted as a good corporate citizen by maintaining a policy prohibiting discrimination in the workplace and that they enforced that policy by taking prompt remedial action in response to a complaint that Michael Scott, a regional manager, acted in a racially insensitive manner.  Dunder Mifflin will even tell you how they hired a consultant to provide diversity training.  But the evidence paints another picture.

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Diwali

November 02, 2006 - by: Julie Elgar 1 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: $350,000

My grandmother always said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I never knew exactly what she meant. Until now. Michael’s diversity training, well intentioned as it may have been, provides ample evidence of discriminatory bias against employees of Indian descent in general and of Kelly in particular. Indeed, Michael’s PowerPoint on famous Indians includes only three people — one of whom is the fictional character Apu from The Simpsons.

Standing alone, the events in this week’s episode, taken either together or separately, probably will not be actionable national origin harassment. It’s a close call, but, generally, one offensive meeting is not enough. On the other hand, if Kelly were to include all of the offensive conduct from past episodes, including the diversity training episode in season one when employees had to act out traits from various ethnic groups, then she has a good case. A very good one. And the fact that Toby sat in Michael’s “Indian Cultural Seminar” without shutting it down just makes it worse.

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