Acting Koi

October 30, 2009 - by: Chris Butler 4 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: As to Dunder Mifflin, $500,000 (for potential hostile work environment, race discrimination/harassment, and/or intentional/negligent infliction of emotional distress damages); as to Andy, $25,000 (for potential assault, battery, humiliation, and emotional distress damages); as to Michael, $300 (value of decapitated koi).

Eight seconds. That’s precisely how long Michael needed to both sexually and racially harass the multitudes. To set the stage, Michael emceed the Scranton branch’s office Halloween party, staffed by Scranton branch employees and attended by their friends and families, including numerous children (and it was principally for them). Unencumbered by restraint, Michael spared no opportunity to “gift” the audience with a sexually provocative costume (paying homage to Mr. Timberlake and S.N.L.). Aside from his perpetually poor judgment, Michael’s offensive attire alone could land Dunder Mifflin with a hostile work environment lawsuit, particularly given his supervisory role. When will he learn to be the example, instead of being made the example?

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He’s a Mother Lover

October 22, 2009 - by: Matt Scott 5 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: de minimus damage award (after spending $50,000 to “successfully” defend the lawsuit)

He rarely disappoints, and this week was no different. Michael Scott was in rare form in this week’s issue of The Office, “The Lover” (or should this episode have been titled “The Mother Lover” for all you SNL fans). Michael revealed to Jim that, since meeting her at Pam and Jim’s wedding, Michael has been engaged in a love affair with Pam’s mother. As Pam quickly learns, while it might be fun to office gossip when it involves someone else, when it involves you, not so much. (Oh, by the way, do you know anyone who would be excited to find out Michael was dating their mother? I don’t. Except, of course, Dwight.)

But it did give us one of the show’s best lines of all time: “Do not talk to me that way. I am your boss. And I may someday be your father.” Where’s Darth Vader when you need him? So to recap: Is it unlawful to sleep with the mother of one of your subordinates? Probably not. Is it a really bad idea? Oh yeah!

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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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Might Doesn’t Make Right, Dwight

October 01, 2009 - by: Brian Kurtz 0 COMMENTS

This week’s episode — “The Promotion” — had nothing to do with advancement in the workplace. In fact, the only thing it promoted was how to get fired. When the episode ended, I identified five Scranton employees whom David Wallace should discharge if he wants to minimize potential liability:

Dwight. He opened the episode fantasizing about placing Jim in a “triangle choke hold.” Later on he disrupted the workplace with an impassioned attempt to enlist his coworkers to “drag [Jim] out of his office.” The Office is funny, but workplace violence … not so much. Dwight’s threats were even more egregious because they were unprovoked, and Dwight repeatedly targeted a single employee. Prudent employers take a zero-tolerance approach to workplace violence. An employer that retains an employee it knows has threatened coworkers is begging for costly litigation and bad press. Just about every company not named Dunder Mifflin would have let Dwight go that day.

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Office Scuttlebutt

September 18, 2009 - by: Matt Rita 2 COMMENTS

Litigation value: $100,000

A new season of The Office is upon us!  Although Michael Scott is hardly a man for all seasons (and unlikely to be confused with Thomas More, or any other saint), in last night’s premiere he provided us with yet another object lesson on employment law.  This time the principle involved was employee privacy, or rather the lack thereof. In Michael’s zeal to shed his “third wheel” status, he set out to spread gossip about virtually everyone at Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch — other than himself, of course.  His rumors had nothing to do with company matters and everything to do with the personal lives of his staff members. For example, Michael would find it difficult to explain how the paper business has anything to do with Toby’s alleged virginity, Kelly’s supposed eating disorder, Creed’s asthmatic scuba diving, or the imaginary person inside of Kevin “working [him] with controls.”

The main focus of the rampant “scuttlebutt” was Stanley’s extra-marital relationship with a woman who had been his rehab nurse. Although an employee’s off-duty sexual conduct is a private matter, Michael saw fit to make himself “an equal part of it” — much as he did with Pam’s not-so-secret pregnancy. By disseminating such information to co-workers, Michael may have committed the tort of invasion of privacy.

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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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First Impressions

June 19, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value:  $0
Potential Savings:  $10,000 per retained employee

Last night’s rerun didn’t offer much new, so we’ll fulfill our promise to revisit the second “Michael Scott Paper Company” episode.

Michael crafted a deal to house his new company’s headquarters in a Dunder Mifflin closet. The dream team’s starry-eyed optimism soon wore off after Michael, Pam, and Ryan moved into their new digs. The makeshift office was cramped and uncomfortable, affording no one the illusion of a personal workspace. In fact, between the shared laptop, Ryan’s loud phone calls, and the sound of rushing water every time a toilet flushed, morale dipped dangerously low. In short order, Pam was disillusioned and more than ready to abandon her new position in the hopes of returning to Dunder Mifflin.

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Oh Baby!

May 15, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $50,000 (per Buffalo branch employee); $200,000 for various hostile work environment claims.

“Company Picnic,” the season’s final episode, was a good one. Unfortunately, that also means that Dunder Mifflin is on the hook for several claims from some of its employees.

One might think that the wrongful conduct took place at the volleyball tournament. And while the conduct of many Dunder Mifflin-ers –- especially management –- was out of line at the volleyball tournament, there wasn’t anything actionable that occurred there (assuming Phyllis and Pam weren’t actually injured).  The hostility, the near injuries, and the plain old dirtiness of Charles Minor and David Wallace sending Pam to the hospital just to get her out of the game . . . it was all not very nice, but none of it was enough to hold the company liable in court.

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All’s Not Fair in Love and War

April 17, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $250,000

Things escalated quickly during the “Heavy Competition” episode of The Office. Michael Scott ratcheted up his sales efforts by trying to get Dwight Schrute to give him some of Dunder Mifflin’s customers. But when new Dunder Mifflin boss Charles Minor gained Dwight’s respect (with a well-appreciated handshake –- “it’s firm!”), the deal was off, and the gloves came off, too.  Who could be liable to whom, and for how much?

First, Dunder Mifflin could do very well in a suit against Michael and his company. Michael tried to steal Dunder Mifflin’s customers, and might have done so unlawfully. Like we talked about a couple of weeks ago, although individuals can compete with their former employers, there are some restrictions. One such restriction is that you can’t conspire with a current employee to steal trade secrets. The only question is the amount of damages –- that’s difficult to determine because we don’t know how successful Michael has been. Let’s call it $50,000 for now.

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The Michael Scott Paper Company

March 27, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 9 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $100,000 * and possibly a permanent injunction

On the “Two Weeks” episode of The Office, Michael decided that since he was leaving Dunder Mifflin, he would start his own company, the Michael Scott Paper Company. This raises a lot of issues about what’s going to happen to the Scranton gang without their fearless leader -– and about unfair and unlawful competition.

The good news is that for once, we’re not talking about how much Dunder Mifflin might have to pay in court. Instead, we can talk about what the company might receive in court.

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