Retaliation claims on the rise in employment discrimination cases

The Wall Street Journal reports that retaliation claims in connection with employment discrimination lawsuits are on the rise, according to 2008 statistics released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency responsible for enforcing employment discrimination laws:

Claims including a retaliation charge rose 23% in the year ended Sept. 30, 2008, to 32,690 — more than a third of all claims filed with the agency. Claims that didn’t involve retaliation rose 12% in the same period.

. . . . EEOC officials and employment lawyers cite several reasons for the increase. Management-side attorneys say many complaints come from laid-off workers. Moreover, retaliation is often easier to prove than discrimination, particularly since a 2006 Supreme Court decision adopted a broader definition of retaliation than some courts had used.

“Retaliation is really the No. 1 risk for employers today,” says Joseph Beachboard, a management-side lawyer at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart PC. He says the number of lawsuits handled by his firm that include a retaliation claim jumped 21% so far this year, compared with last year.

For the complete article by WSJ reporter Cari Tuna: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125470380636663209.html

When workplace bullying enters academe in a good way

Experiencing workplace bullying in academe is a bad thing, but the entry of workplace bullying into academic dialogue is a big step in the right direction.  I had an opportunity to witness the latter twice during the past two weeks.

Two weeks ago, I participated in a conference at the Western Institute for Social Research in Berkeley, California, a tiny storefront college devoted to social change and community activism.  I’ve been pursuing graduate studies at WISR via distance learning, and this conference was an opportunity to present some of the work I’ve been doing on workplace bullying and intellectual activism.  Overall the conference was terrific, and my presentation was greeted with an array of thoughtful, insightful comments and questions.  Many of the participants shared stories about workplace bullying drawn from their own employment experiences.

At the end of last week, I visited the main center of Empire State College — the adult learner-centered college of the State University of New York system — in Saratoga Springs, New York, for a series of meetings and events built around the 25th anniversary of the school’s graduate programs.  (I earned a master’s degree in labor and policy studies from ESC in 1999.)  From the many discussions I had with faculty and administrators, I could tell that workplace bullying registered with them as a topic worthy of attention.  My former thesis adviser told me how pleased he was to see one of his current students citing my work on workplace bullying, and I was interviewed at length on the topic for the alumni magazine.

It is noteworthy that within academic circles, the attention given to workplace bullying is bubbling up mainly from the grassroots.  Many of the leading researchers are from state colleges and regional universities, not from elite private schools. Their research often embraces, rather than avoids, practical applications. Among the graduate students who are researching and writing about workplace bullying, many have returned to academe after some time in the real world. It makes eminent sense that many are enrolled in distance learning and flexible degree programs that accommodate their busy schedules, support independent study, and encourage them to draw inspiration and insight from their own work experiences.

Advice to Young (and Not So Young) Folks Who Want to Make a Difference

commitment-clipart-can-stock-photo_csp1335879

(image courtesy of clipartpanda.com)

Several years ago I was asked to present an award to a pioneering labor leader at the annual banquet of Americans for Democratic Action, on whose board I sit. I don’t know why I thought this, but as I started to research his background, I half expected to see a long list of jobs in different labor and political organizations.

Instead, I learned that he had served in his current position for well over a decade.

That very longevity framed my introduction at the banquet, directed especially to the college students and summer interns in attendance: If you want to make a difference, find something you care about and stick with it.

Look around you: Most of the difference makers have staying power. They are driven by heartfelt commitment and a desire to do something meaningful.

Personal experience

I’ve grown to understand this in my own life. It took me a few years to find my niche after I graduated from law school, but eventually I was drawn to workers’ rights and employment policy. Over the past ten years, workplace bullying has become my primary focal point, and the wisdom and insights I have developed are invaluable to me and hopefully useful to others.

There is no magic “minimum time.” For some, it may be a lifetime mission; for others, it may be five, ten, or twenty years. And there’s always the risk of burnout, which may be a sign that it’s time to develop better coping skills or to switch gears.

That said, I’ll take the person with the genuine commitment over someone who flits around for years almost every time. The dilettante may have a more interesting resume, but I’d bet that if you dig beneath the surface, you’ll often discover little in the way of meaningful accomplishment. Instead, you’re more likely to find a string of jobs and unrealized or unfinished projects, without much completed substance.

Beyond obvious labels

Finally, let’s recognize that difference making can occur anywhere. It’s not just in initiatives or organizations that might be labeled “social change” or “public service.” Helping to build and sustain a sound business enterprise (hopefully one that is socially conscious!) provides useful goods and services, not to mention jobs. Immersion in a craft or trade contributes to our everyday experience of living. Devoting one’s self to raising a family nurtures individual lives and contributes immeasurably to the common good. A long-term commitment to a civic, charitable, or artistic activity enlivens our communities. These things matter, big time.

This world is in serious need of difference makers. So here’s to finding one’s niche and sticking with it long enough to make that difference.

(Re)generating Bullying Among the Young (and Not So Young)

Tom Jacobs, blogging for Miller-McCune magazine, reports on a study linking adolescent bullying to inadequate parenting:

Now, a research team led by Michael Brubacher of DePaul University has found a more subtle connection between inadequate parenting and adolescent bullying. In a paper just published in the journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law, the academics coin the term “cycle of dominance.”

The phrase reflects their finding that, in transmitting bad behavior from one generation to the next, the issue isn’t strictly the use of physical force. It’s also a matter of whether the youngster grows up with a sense that conflicts can be resolved in a just, fair way.

In short, if a kid feels he’s being punished arbitrarily at home, he is more likely to engage in arbitrary punishment on the streets or in the schoolyard.

This “cycle of dominance” is not unlike what communications professor and workplace bullying researcher Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik calls the “communicative generation and regeneration of employee emotional abuse.”  According to Lutgen-Sandvik, when workplace bullying is left unaddressed by an organization, targets become more motivated to engage in retaliation, and the likelihood of further aggression or violence increases.  (See Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, “The Communicative Cycle of Employee Emotional Abuse: Generation and Regeneration of Workplace Mistreatment,” Management Communication Quarterly (2003).)

In sum, for both kids and adults, preventing situations that lead to perceptions of injustice and mistreatment is one of the best ways of stopping these behaviors from being inflicted upon others.

For Jacobs’s full post, “How to Turn Your Kid Into a Bully”: http://www.miller-mccune.com/news/how-to-turn-your-kid-into-a-bully-1494?utm_source=Newsletter76&utm_medium=email&utm_content=0929&utm_campaign=newsletters

No surprises: Poor and middle income folks take biggest recession hit

Hope Yen, writing for the Associated Press, reports on 2008 census information showing that the nation’s income gap grew wider as poor and middle class Americans shouldered the brunt of the recession:

The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans — those making more than $138,000 each year — earned 11.4 times the roughly $12,000 made by those living near or below the poverty line in 2008, according to newly released census figures. That ratio was an increase from 11.2 in 2007 and the previous high of 11.22 in 2003.

Household income declined across all groups, but at sharper percentage levels for middle-income and poor Americans. Median income fell last year from $52,163 to $50,303, wiping out a decade’s worth of gains to hit the lowest level since 1997.

Poverty jumped sharply to 13.2 percent, an 11-year high.

For the full story: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090928/ap_on_go_ot/us_census_income_gap

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