Working Notes: Workplace bullying by taser, interns & sexual harassment, and more

Hello, dear readers! Here are several items of possible interest:

Alternet on alleged workplace bullying by taser in Texas

A claim of workplace bullying by taser is a first in my recollection, but here goes. Rod Bastanmehr reports for Alternet on a Texas man who has filed a lawsuit claiming he was repeatedly abused at work:

Bradley Jones, a 45-year-old Texas man is suing Republican state lawmaker Patricia Harless and her husband over what he cites as months of attacks and abuse while working for them. The couple owns Fred Finger Motors, which Jones has worked at since 2009, and are now facing assault and battery charges, as well as failure to provide a safe workplace.

. . . Jones’s suit argues that Sam Harless provided other employees with a taser, and that Harless would often film them sneaking up and using it on him. The series of incidents lasted over a period of nine months, with many of the videos posted online (though they have since been taken down).

MainStreet on workplace bullying

Susan Kreimer serves up a terrific overview of workplace bullying for MainStreet. Gary Namie (Workplace Bullying Institute), Pam Lutgen-Sandvik (North Dakota St U), and I were interviewed for it. Here’s a piece of my advice for bullying targets:

Because bullying situations and work environments vary, so do the strategies for self-defense. Employees who feel targeted “should read up on workplace bullying, try to understand what’s happening to them, avoid making rash decisions or engaging in reckless responses that may backfire, and instead attempt to assess their options carefully after doing their homework,” Yamada says.

NPR on how power can short circuit empathy

Here’s a piece that’s relevant to bullying bosses and nasty CEOs. Chris Benderev reports for National Public Radio on a new study by Canadian researchers showing how power changes brain responses:

Even the smallest dose of power can change a person. You’ve probably seen it. Someone gets a promotion or a bit of fame and then, suddenly, they’re a little less friendly to the people beneath them.

So here’s a question that may seem too simple: Why?

…[I]f you ask Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, he might give you another explanation: Power fundamentally changes how the brain operates.

Obhi and his colleagues, Jeremy Hogeveen and Michael Inzlicht, have a new study showing evidence to support that claim.

ProPublica on unpaid interns & sexual harassment protections

Blair Hickman and Christie Thompson write for ProPublica (here, via Salon magazine) on how unpaid interns are unprotected by federal discrimination and sexual harassment laws. They interviewed me for the piece:

In 1994, Bridget O’Connor began an internship at Rockland Psychiatric Center, where one of the doctors allegedly began to refer to her as Miss Sexual Harassment, told her that she should participate in an orgy, and suggested that she remove her clothing before meeting with him. Other women in the office made similar claims.

Yet when O’Connor filed a lawsuit, her sexual harassment claims were dismissed because she was an unpaid intern. A federal appeals court affirmed the decision to throw out the claim.

Unpaid interns miss out on wages and employment benefits, but they can also find themselves in “legal limbo” when it comes to civil rights, according to law professor and intern labor rights advocate David Yamada. The O’Connor decision (the leading ruling on the matter, according to Yamada) held that because they don’t get a paycheck, unpaid interns are not “employees” under the Civil Rights Act – and thus, they’re not protected.

So here’s the twist that I explain in greater detail in my 2002 law review article on the rights of interns: Employers who violate minimum wage laws by failing to compensate their interns can then turn around and claim insulation from  sexual harassment claims by saying that because the interns aren’t paid, they have no standing to sue under the federal employment discrimination laws!

TMZ Sports on an all-star lawsuit

TMZ Sports reports on a lawsuit brought against Major League Baseball for failure to pay some 2,000 people who :

Major League Baseball put roughly 2,000 people to work during  All-Star weekend in NYC last month and illegally paid them with giveaway items  like shirts and hats INSTEAD of cash, so says a new lawsuit.

. . . In the suit, John Chen says he worked  17 hours in 4 days at the All-Star Weekend festival — doing everything from  stamping wrists to stuffing flyers into bags and even filing paperwork … all  assignments that would otherwise have to be done by paid employees.

. . . Basically, Chen believes the concept of a  “volunteer” workforce violates federal and state labor laws — and the  “volunteers” should be paid at least minimum wage … which, in NY, is $7.25 per  hour.

This is a spin on the unpaid intern issue, but it carries slightly different implications. Surely Major League Baseball can afford to pay these people the minimum wage for their work on this lucrative, marquee event. In addition, it also says something troubling about the willingness of people to provide free labor to a wealthy, profit-making organization. Is it the appeal of basking in the reflected glow of athletic and celebrity glory?


New essay

I recently posted a draft of a new essay, “If It Matters, Write About It: Using Legal Scholarship to Effect Social Change,” which will be published in a new student periodical at Suffolk University Law School to which I’m serving as faculty advisor. Here’s the abstract, and go here to download the essay:

This essay centers on the concept of “intellectual activism,” discussing how legal scholarship can be used as the foundation for social change work. It recounts and reflects upon the author’s ongoing work in advancing issues such as workplace bullying and the rights of student interns. It concludes with advice on how to be effective in an intellectual activist mode. The essay will be published in the inaugural issue of Bearing Witness: A Journal of Law and Social Responsibility, a new student-run periodical at Suffolk University Law School.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 9

4 responses

  1. With all due respect, your summary of advice for targets of workplace bullying is just another substantial reason why healthy workplace legislation is needed in every state, especially NY. Having been a target in a well known NYC organization, I know first hand how unbearable being bullied at work can be. I also know that your advice is helpful as I have utilized the process and at best can keep the “bully” at bay. I’ve learned the importance of validation. If someone who witnesses the bullying reports it to HR, the organization is immediately liable and must take steps to end it and monitor the situation. There is a plus and minus to this as the bully typically has a stacked deck of support and the target does not. I feel strongly about the approval of anti-bullying legislation as the only real solution to the problem because it hits organizations where it “hurts” most, in their pockets. Even though a cap of $20,000 does not sound like much, several incidents would add up, and an organization may not be able to secure credible employees based on their reputation of having a workplace bullying environment issue. It may shake things up a bit and organizations will start terminating bullies instead of targets.

  2. Interesting posts. Power and empathy? I never believed the old adage that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Maybe it’s true after all.

    Thank you for bringing these stories to light and for speaking up for targets.

    • Been There, I am still there. The bully is a complicated “monster”. We can try to define the ins and outs of the who, what, why and when of them, but I stopped wasting my time on that and instead focus on empowering myself, a target. The one defense that works for me, and I have never seen anyone speak about this, is the use of Family Leave as a defense mechanism. If you are under the care of a Dr. or therapist and are covered under the guidelines of The Family Leave Act (there are certain criteria that must be met regarding your employer such as a minimum number of employees which I believe is 50) then as a target you should be utilizing this resource. Your absence cannot be held against you in any way if they are FMLA days (or time) out. The beauty of this defense mechanism is you can use it consecutively or intermittently. You can use it in increments of time as well. If you are experiencing a panic attack before work and arrive 15 mins late have it marked as FMLA, not Late. Same applies during the day. If you are having a tough day dealing with the bully’s BS leave early, marked as FMLA. Under the guidelines you may use your paid time off such as vacation for FMLA or unpaid. Your employer will have to adhere to specific guidelines according to the legislation. While this method won’t provide complete resolve, it will level the playing field quite a bit. I’ve been utilizing FMLA for the last few years and have taken control of my situation. It helps rebuild your confidence and knocks your bully down several levels. Believe me this works. It’s not a cure, it’s more like managed care.

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