Congress to Consider School Anti-Bullying Law

Federal officials are rightly concerned about bullying in school. The problem, of course, is also pervasive in the workplace. It would not be surprising if lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgendered employees,  or employees who are perceived as thus, also are frequent targets of workplace bullying.  PGB

The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) was reintroduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate last week in an effort to protect to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students in federally-funded public elementary and high schools from bullying.

The bill, which was reintroduced by U.S. Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) and Senator Al Franken (D-MN), was prompted by suicides resulting from anti-LGBT bullying of several students in recent years.

According to the bill:

“Public school students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (referred to in this Act as ‘‘LGBT’’), or are perceived to be LGBT, or who associate with LGBT people, have been and are subjected to pervasive discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence, and have been deprived of equal educational opportunities, in schools in every part of the Nation.”

The SNDA is modeled after Title IX [20 USC § 1681 et seq.] of the Education Amendments of 1972 and would establish a comprehensive federal prohibition of discrimination against LGBT students in public schools. The act would also prohibit schools from discriminating against students based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as prohibit schools from ignoring harassment. If enacted into law, violations of the SNDA would result in the loss of federal funding and provide a legal cause of action for victims who encounter discrimination in public schools.

The legislation was first introduced in the 111th Congress and currently has 99 co-sponsors in the House and 27 co-sponsors in the Senate.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama, lawmakers, students and parents also convened last week to discuss measures to combat bullying. Several state and federal legislators have introduced similar bills aimed at preventing bullying in public schools. In a press release, the White House said:

“Estimates are that nearly one-third of all school-aged children are bullied each year – upwards of 13 million students. Students involved in bullying are more likely to have challenges in school, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to have health and mental health issues. If we fail to address bullying we put ourselves at a disadvantage for increasing academic achievement and making sure all of our students are college and career ready.”

The Massachusetts House of Representatives in March 2010 unanimously passed a bill seeking to prevent bullying in schools and cyberspace.

According to the SNDA, there is a special need for legislation addressing bullying of  LGBT students:

“Numerous social science studies demonstrate that discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence, at school has contributed to high rates of absenteeism, dropping out, adverse health consequences, and academic underachievement, among LGBT youth.

When left unchecked, discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence, in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity can lead, and has led, to life-threatening violence and to suicide.”

NBC Should Fire Donald Trump!

Shows Lousy Leadership Skills

Donald Trump,  real estate mogul and boss of  The Celebrity Apprentice,  hit a new low this week when he fired a target of workplace bullying and retained the bully.

Trump retained Richard Hatch after Hatch, in his capacity of Project Leader, actually physically pushed away  his “employee,” David Cassidy, when Cassidy tried to make suggestions.

Hatch, who won the first Survivor reality TV show, is physically considerably larger than Cassidy, who is a performer and former teen idol. Hatch treated Cassidy like a pesky fly, physically pushing him away a couple of times.  At one point, Cassidy confronted Hatch, complaining that Hatch had physically touched Cassidy twice and telling him to stop.

Notably, Hatch did not physically touch any other team member.

In addition to physical bullying, Hatch repeatedly referred to Cassidy in demeaning terms, at one point calling  Cassidy delicate and one of the “little people.”

Meanwhile, in a behavior that is typical for a workplace bully, Hatch at first denied the abuse, which was caught on film, and then minimized the abuse.

Unfortunately, the scenario is all too typical.

In a 2008  poll by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 53 percent of targets of workplace bullying said they reported the abuse to their employer, and their employer substantially did nothing; 71 percent said the employer retaliated against them!

Cassidy and other team members reported the bullying to Donald Trump  but, sadly, Trump’s response was essentially to criticize Cassidy for failing to be more assertive.  Trump said  his gut  (which he said is always right)  told him to fire Cassidy and not Hatch. However, cynics might infer that Trump’s gut told him the villainous Hatch is better for ratings.

This is an appalling example of poor leadership for any boss but especially one who is making noises about running for the Republican nomination for U.S. President.  (I’m referring to Trump)

In addition to Cassidy, Trump  failed Cassidy’s team-mates. Witnesses of bullying often fear that they may be next, and experience guilt that they didn’t intervene on behalf of the bullied.  Several of Cassidy’s teammates watched in silence while Hatch physically dominated Cassidy.

Hatch, by the way, spent three years in prison for failing to pay taxes on his winnings from Survivor and subsequent earnings. (A federal judge ordered Hatch back to prison on 3/11/11 for nine months because he still hasn’t settled up with the IRS.) Fellow Survivor cast member Sue Hawk threatened to file a lawsuit after Hatch, while nude, brushed up against her during a Survivor challenge.

Hatch calls himself a corporate trainer.

God help us!

By the way, for all you employers out there who think the workplace should be a battleground, here’s an overview and definition of the tort of battery.

Battery occurs when the defendant’s acts intentionally cause harmful or offensive contact with the victim’s person. [See Restatement §§ 13, 16, 18.] While battery requires intent, the prevailing tort definition does not require an intent to harm. It is only necessary that the defendant intend to cause either harmful or offensive contact.  [From: J. Diamond, et. al, Understanding Torts (Lexis-Nexis, 2010)].

– PGB

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Workplace Anti-Bullying Laws Inevitable …

Here are excerpts from a Jan. 21, 2011 article in The New York Law Journal by two attorneys at a major law firm that represents management and employers, warning that it is just a question of time before a state passes a law providing a right of civil redress to workers who are victims of workplace bullying. Note: this article presents a somewhat alarmist view of what the authors concede is the inevitable passage of legislation to combat workplace abuse. The authors trivialize the current problem, focusing on co-worker spats and hypersensitive employees while ignoring the devastating impact of workplace bullying on targets, their families and the employers.  The authors’ interpretation of case law is unduly negative and slanted.  And the authors fail to present an accurate picture of the current costs of  workplace abuse  on employers and society– PGB

Office Bully Takes One on the Nose: Developing Law on Workplace Abuse

by Jason Habinsky and Christine M. Fitzgerald

For years the law has been stacked against an employee claiming that he or she was abused or bullied by a co-worker. Generally, the law offers no protection to such a victim as long as the alleged bully can show that his or her actions were not motivated by the victim’s status as a member of a protected class. Currently, there are no federal, state or local laws providing a cause of action for an individual subject to a non-discriminatory abusive work environment. However, with bullying becoming front-page news across the nation, it is just a matter of time before the law adapts. Since 2003, 17 states have considered legislation designed to protect employees from workplace bullying. Indeed, this year New York came very close to a floor vote on a bill that would provide a cause of action to an employee subjected to an abusive work environment.

Proponents of anti-bullying legislation contend that it is necessary given the prevalence of abusive conduct in the workplace. The proposed New York legislation noted that “between sixteen and twenty-one percent of employees directly experience health endangering workplace bullying, abuse and harassment” and that “[s]uch behavior is four times more prevalent than sexual harassment.”

Currently, employers have little to worry about with respect to facing substantial liability as a result of workplace bullying. The existing legal framework provides very limited recourse to an employee who is bullied at work. While some types of harassment are outlawed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII’s reach is narrow. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on an individual’s race, sex, color, religion, or national origin.

Likewise, the extreme behavior that gives rise to the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress does not encompass most workplace bullying.

Employees also have been unsuccessful in trying to fit their workplace bullying claims into a cause of action for constructive discharge.

Therefore, it appears that we may be on the cusp of a new era of legislation and legal precedent targeted at preventing and punishing workplace bullying. Indeed, it seems inevitable that some form of the HWB (Healthy Workplace Bill) will become law, whether in New York or elsewhere, and that once the first state adopts an anti-bullying statute others will shortly follow.

U.S. Civil Rights Laws & Workplace Bullying at Schools

The Office for Civil Rights of the  U.S. Department of Education issued a guidance on Oct. 26, 2010 reminding schools that federal civil rights laws also may protect students who are bullied.  Although the DOE does not address this in the guidance, federal civil rights laws also apply to workers at educational institutions receiving federal funds (this may also include libraries, training programs, etc.). Therefore, this guidance is relevant to victims of workplace bullying at educational institutions. PGB

Here is a short excerpt from the Office of Civil Rights guidance:

… In recent years, many state departments of education and local school districts have taken steps to reduce bullying in schools. The U.S. Department of Education (Department) fully supports these efforts. Bullying fosters a climate of fear and disrespect that can seriously impair the physical and psychological health of its victims and create conditions that negatively affect learning, thereby undermining the ability of students to achieve their full potential.

The movement to adopt anti-bullying policies reflects schools’ appreciation of their important responsibility to maintain a safe learning environment for all students. I am writing to remind you, however, that some student misconduct that falls under a school’s anti-bullying policy also may trigger responsibilities under one or more of the federal antidiscrimination laws enforced by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

… by limiting its response to a specific application of its anti-bullying disciplinary policy, a school may fail to properly consider whether the student misconduct also results in discriminatory harassment. The statutes that OCR enforces include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504); and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II). Section 504 and Title II prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability.

School districts may violate these civil rights statutes and the Department’s implementing regulations when peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees. School personnel who understand their legal obligations to address harassment under these laws are in the best position to prevent it from occurring and to respond appropriately when it does.

Although this letter focuses on the elementary and secondary school context, the legal principles also apply to postsecondary institutions covered by the laws and regulations enforced by OCR …

… The statutes that OCR enforces include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504); and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II). Section 504 and Title II prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. School districts may violate these civil rights statutes and the Department’s implementing regulations when peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees.

Note:  A complaint of discrimination can be filed by anyone who believes that a school that receives Federal financial assistance has discriminated against someone on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age. The person or organization filing the complaint need not be a victim of the alleged discrimination, but may complain on behalf of another person or group. Information about how to file a complaint with OCR is at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html or by contacting OCR’s Customer Service Team at 1‐800‐421‐3481.