Is Elena Kagan a Bullying Boss?

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan appears to have the necessary qualifications to be confirmed by the Senate to serve on America’s highest court, but working for her may not be the most enjoyable experience.

Kagan has built an accomplished legal and academic career and had a very successful run as Dean of Harvard Law School.  She currently holds the position of Solicitor General in President Obama’s administration.  I’d be very surprised if she encounters significant obstacles toward confirmation.

A “yeller”

But I couldn’t help zeroing in on a negative piece of NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg’s generally laudatory commentary today, indicating that Kagan may have something of a bullying boss quality to her — of the kiss up, kick down variety:

The cheerful, charming Kagan so beloved by the students was not always in evidence elsewhere. Secretaries and faculty members alike have stories of Kagan screaming at people, slamming doors and chewing out subordinates in public — a trait that she is said to have carried with her to her next job as solicitor general. She’s a “yeller,” concedes one of her friends with a wry smile.

Tushnet, one of her admirers, puts it this way: “Her weakness as dean was that she really didn’t like people to disagree with her. But that’s not something you can do at the Supreme Court.”

Harsher standards for women

If you’ve ever worked in hierarchical, professional workplaces where support staff and other subordinates are treated poorly by their bosses, this description of Kagan’s behavior may push some uncomfortable buttons.  It’s a common profile: High-achieving strivers who please those in positions to promote their careers, while being less than respectful toward those beneath them on the organizational chart.

That said, we shouldn’t make too much of this, for two reasons:  First, if yelling at subordinates was a disqualifying factor for lawyers seeking positions of power, well, we’d have a lot fewer attorneys in high places.  (I’ll let readers ponder the possibilities there…)

And perhaps more importantly, women often are judged more harshly than men when it comes to such behaviors.  Many an abrasive man can get away with it, while an abrasive women is more likely to be called a certain five-letter epithet.

Especially in Type A, top-down work settings, bullying-type behaviors should be taken into account when evaluating someone’s suitability for leadership roles, regardless of demographic characteristics.  It would be wrong, however, to deny that double standards often exist.

Coaching and advice from the Workplace Bullying Institute

Because I receive many unsolicited inquiries about workplace bullying from targets, periodically I like to remind readers of the coaching services offered by the Workplace Bullying Institute.  WBI now has a licensed counselor providing coaching over the phone:

Jessi Brown, a licensed counselor and WBI coach, is available for telephone coaching by appointment Mon thru Thurs. Just call 360-656-6630 to schedule a time. Her rate is a reasonable $50/hour.

As an example of the kind of help Jessi can provide, here’s a short excerpt from her piece, Changing Careers Again, Voluntarily or Not?, posted to the WBI website:

We have combed the Internet to offer you some of the most valuable career development resources in cyberspace. Changing careers can feel like an enormous undertaking; just remember to follow a few simple rules:

Rule Number 1: Break career planning and decision-making tasks into manageable chunks.

Rule Number 2: Make decisions only after taking adequate time for reflection.

Rule Number 3: Ask for help and support when you need it. You may choose to consult with a career development professional for assistance with the career planning and selection process.


Additional Resources

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached around the clock at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Those seeking to retain an employment lawyer can find online referral assistance available from the National Employment Lawyers Association, a bar association of attorneys who specialize in representing workers.  Massachusetts residents also can “window shop” the attorney directory of NELA’s Massachusetts chapter.

Tell the Wall Street Journal that Workplace Bullying is Not Mere “Nastiness”

The Wall Street Journal, reporting on the New York State Senate’s passage of the Healthy Workplace Bill, ran this headline:

State Anti-Bully Law Would Let Workers Sue for Nastiness

The Healthy Workplace Bill is not about everyday dust-ups, arguments, or jerky behavior at work.  When enacted into law, a worker seeking relief under the statute will have to show that the bullying behavior was malicious and harmful.  That’s a high standard for recovery, far beyond mere “nastiness.”

R.M. Schneiderman’s article goes on to state:

Amid the furor over Gov. Paterson’s furlough plan this week, few seemed to notice when the state Senate passed a bipartisan measure on Wednesday that would give workers who have been physically, psychologically or economically abused by their employers the ability to sue in civil court.

But opponents of the law, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, are quickly lining up to say the measure’s passage in the state Assembly would result in lots of costly litigation.

The article goes on to detail some of the arguments that have been made against the Healthy Workplace Bill.  If you’d like to post your response to the article, here’s the link.


Earlier post: New York State Senate passes Healthy Workplace Bill; Assembly next

Shout out to SUNY-Empire State College

Many thanks to the folks at SUNY-Empire State College (where I earned a Master’s degree in Labor and Policy Studies in 1999) for running this generous interview by Helen Susan Edelman, profiling my work on workplace bullying in the Spring 2010 issue of Connections, the ESC magazine:

Workplace bullying is a problem wherever there are human beings, says David Yamada, and he is dedicated to redressing this destructive phenomenon.  A lawyer and law professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Yamada is inspired by a vision of a work environment that affirms and dignifies individuals; he promulgates this ideal in efforts to encourage the legal system, institutions and individuals to address workplace bullying.

Empire State College: A higher education pioneer

Empire State has been and remains a pioneering institution in developing and offering innovative degree programs. I have been an active alumnus because I believe wholeheartedly in its mission as a public, flexible learning college for adults who want to make a difference in their workplaces and communities.  Recently I joined the Graduate Dean’s Advisory Board, and for several years I have sponsored a modest scholarship for a graduate student pursuing studies in labor relations.

New York State Senate passes Healthy Workplace Bill; Assembly next

On May 12, the New York State Senate passed the Healthy Workplace Bill by a 45-16 vote.   The next stop for the bill is the State Assembly.

This is the second time this year that the Healthy Workplace Bill has been approved in a state legislative floor vote, the first being a  vote in the Illinois Senate.

Bipartisanship can work!

In a news release, Senator Thomas Morahan (R-Rockland Co.), co-prime sponsor with Senator George Onorato (D-Queens), highlighted the bipartisan cooperation that led to passage in the Senate:

“The social and economic well-being of the State is dependent upon healthy, safe, and productive employees,” said Senator Morahan. “I want to thank all my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, who voted for this legislation today. In particular, Senator George Onorato, Chairman of the Labor Committee, Republican Leader Dean Skelos, Majority Conference Leader John Sampson and Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Klein for helping secure passage of the legislation”.

“I became aware of the prevalence of abusive environments in the workplace when one of my constituents brought her situation at her place of employment to my attention. It became apparent that legislation was needed to address the problem,” said Morahan.

In view of the gridlock and bitter political infighting that we’re seeing in this country, it is heartening to me that Republican and Democratic legislative leaders can come together to support legislation that will safeguard the health and dignity of all workers.

Thank you, Tom and Mike

Special kudos go to New York Healthy Workplace Advocate State Coordinators Mike Schlicht and Tom Witt, whose tireless efforts on behalf of the legislation have been largely responsible for this development.  Their work has been an excellent example of how steadfast commitment and smart advocacy can make a difference.

Next step: The New York State Assembly

Looking ahead to advocating for the bill in the Assembly, the New York Healthy Workplace Advocates circulated this request to New York supporters of the Healthy Workplace Bill:


Dear Healthy Workplace Advocate,

Big news!  The Healthy Workplace Bill was passed in the New York State Senate today!!!  (Now we need the Assembly to do the same!)

If you haven’t already done so, please send us a letter detailing your workplace bullying experience or at the very least, us the template letter below to request our state Assemblymembers to pass the bill in their house.  We need your letter ASAP and by May 17, 2010 to show to the leadership in the New York State Assembly to try to get the Healthy Workplace Bill passed into law by the end of June 2010!

Time is of the essence and you can email your letter to us at as well.

If you can, please also ask a few others to send a letter too!

The letter writing campaign in just a short ten days made a tremendous impact on the New York State Senate, now it is time to show the Assembly these letters and yours to get the Healthy Workplace Bill passed! 

Thanks so much (in advance)!

Please send your typed or hand written letter ASAP to:

Elected Representative of the New York State Legislature

c/o New York Health Workplace Advocates
P.O. Box 43
Amherst, NY 14226

or send via email to:

Thank you!
Please use the template below as a guide to write your letter because we received a request to ask you to include the name of your state senator and your state assemblymember at the beginning of your letter.

May 12, 2010

The New York Legislature
c/o New York Healthy Workplace Advocates
PO Box 43
Amherst, NY 14226

Dear Elected Representative:

My state senator is ____________ _ and my state assemblymember is ____________ , and I am appealing to you in your role as an influential member of the  New York State Legislature to advance and enact into law the Healthy Workplace Bill S1823 / A5414 this legislative session.  The bill addresses workplace bullying.

I have witnessed <or experienced> bullying in the workplace <describe the harm it caused to the individual(s) involved and to the employer>.  <Also, please try to keep your letter to one page if possible to make it easier to reproduce>.

Please do everything you can to bring this bill to a vote  this legislative session. 

Thank you.


<Your Name>
<Home address >
<Telephone number>

Americans: We’re rich but not saving a lot

Yahoo!’s home page this morning served up an interesting double dose about income, social responsibility, and personal savings rates.

We’re rich!

First up, a piece by Jeanine Skowronski about how our earnings compare with the rest of the world:

For example, if you make $52,000 a year (the median American household income for 2009), you are the 58,252,719 richest person in the world (or in the top 0.97 percentile of all moneymakers).

The article links to the Global Rich List, a little calculator that allows you to enter your annual income (anonymously) to see how it stacks up against individual earnings globally.  Most employed American middle-class (and above) workers will see that they’re doing remarkably well compared to the world generally.


The Global Rich List site is shamelessly manipulative.  Its purpose is not to solicit our investments, but rather to make us more aware of how even modest charitable donations can make a huge difference to those in need:

$8 could buy you 15 organic apples OR 25 fruit trees for farmers in Honduras to grow and sell fruit at their local market.

$30 could buy you an ER DVD Boxset OR a First Aid kit for a village in Haiti.

$73 could buy you a new mobile phone OR a new mobile health clinic to care for AIDS orphans in Uganda.

$2400 could buy you a second generation High Definition TV OR schooling for an entire generation of school children in an Angolan village.


The average American may be wealthy by global standards, but we’re not saving much of what we earn.  A second article posted on Yahoo! by Joe Mont details how Americans are saving less of their incomes in the midst of the recession:

When it comes to saving their pennies for a rainy day, millions of Americans are facing drought conditions, victimized by the bad decisions that come with a lack of financial literacy.

…The portion of adults who lack non-retirement savings has increased from 63% in 2007 to 67% in 2010. However, 30% — the statistical equivalent of more than 68 million people — have no savings. Only 24% are saving more now than they did a year ago because of the weak economy. Nearly 39% Generation Y adults, more than any other age group, reported having no savings. Of those with no savings, one in four say that if faced with an emergency, they would charge that expense to a credit card or take out a loan.

…One-third of adults, approximately 75 million people, don’t put any household income toward retirement. That’s a 5% increase from the 2008 survey, but unchanged from 2009.


Even as we climb out of this horrific recession, many Americans still live in the Land of Plenty compared to many of our neighbors around the world.  We probably could afford to share more of our good fortune, and we sure as heck should be saving more for rainy days and retirements.

These are bigger topics, and I plan on commenting more in the months to come, but there’s lots of food for thought here.

Attleboro Sun Chronicle links school and workplace bullying

Here’s more evidence that we’re connecting the dots between different forms of bullying and abuse in our society:  The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro, Mass. ran an editorial, “Standing up to bullies at last,” that praised the new Massachusetts school bullying law and linked school and workplace abuse, citing survey data from the Workplace Bullying Institute:

“It’s incredibly upsetting to me that the adults don’t seem to have acted like adults,” the governor said last month, in criticizing South Hadley school officials. But, should we be surprised? After all, workplace bullying is also rife. Hallmarks are rumors and ridicule that damage a worker’s stature, purposeful isolation, chronic snubbing and acts of disdain.

The Workplace Bullying Institute, a nonprofit educational organization, provides research showing victims can suffer panic attacks and depression, and once targeted, there’s a 64 percent chance of losing their job for no apparent reason. Most workplace bullies are bosses, WBI reports, and bullying could not exist without the explicit or tacit approval from employers.


Related posts:

It took the death of a child…

The school bullying suicide of Phoebe Prince, age 15

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