A Matter of Personal Space

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled on Oct. 6, 2010 in the case of Vera v. McHugh that a supervisor’s allegedly intentional encroachment on a subordinate’s personal space was severe and pervasive enough to constitute sexual harassment under Title VII.

The plaintiff , a U.S. Army soldier, shared a small office with her male supervisor.  She  alleged that for three months he stared at her,  sat very close to her,  made it difficult for her to leave the office and called her “babe” on one occasion. She alleged that he enjoyed her discomfort, and would smirk at her reaction to his behavior.

The First Circuit reversed a grant of summary judgment for the Army, remanding the matter for jury trial. The court ruled the plaintiff alleged sufficiently severe and pervasive conduct to constitute a violation of Title VII if proven.

Federal courts take different positions with regard to the level of severity necessary to constitute a hostile work environment and sexual harassment under Title VII.

The First Circuit includes U.S. District Courts in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island.

The 94 U.S. judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a United States court of appeals. A court of appeals hears appeals from the district courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies.

Women Too Nice to Get Corner Office?

Or maybe we should examine the workplace and ask ourselves why it’s detrimental to one’s career to show respect, fair play and teamsmanship? PGB

Exhibit A: Women told not to be too nice

The Wall Street Journal writes about advice that Citigroup provided to women who wanted to succeed in their careers.  Laminated cards, distributed to some female Citigroup employees,  list some things women do to sabotage their careers.  According to the cards, women tend to:

1. Speak too softly and aren’t heard

2. Groom in public, which “deemphasizes…capability.”

3. Sit too demurely, rather than leaning forward at the table in meetings.

4. Speak last in meetings. Early speakers are seen as more assertive and authoritative.

5. Ask permission, while men inform.

6.  Apologize too much for every little thing.

7.  Smile too often, which can dilute a message.

8. Play too fair.

9. Operate behind the scenes, which enables competitors to take credit for one’s work.

10. Offer a limp handshake.

The WSJ took the position that took “the view that these suggestions were helpful ways for women to do well in finance. ”

The list emanated from a book, “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers,”  by Dr. Lois P. Frankel.

The WSJ quotes her stating the list was taken out of context BUT:

“The women who say they don’t have to do these things are naïve,” Frankel said. “There are different rules for men and women in the workplace. To be successful, you have to figure out the boundaries on the playing field and figure out where to play your game on the edge. All games are won at the edge.”

U of Virigina clears itself of fault in alleged bullycide

Excerpts from an article by The Chronicle of Higher Education about the suicide of  Kevin Morrissey (pictured below), the managing editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, who was allegedly bullied by his boss.  See: http://chronicle.com/article/UVa-Audit-Finds-Questionable/125034/ for the full article.

October 20, 2010

But Finds ‘Questionable’ Management by  Editor

By Robin Wilson

An audit of The Virginia Quarterly Review released on Wednesday by the University of Virginia says that Ted Genoways, the journal’s editor, had “questionable” managerial skills and spent magazine money without approval to publish a book of his own poetry. But the audit report stops short of saying that Mr. Genoways was guilty of workplace bullying, which some journal staff members say contributed to the suicide of the journal’s managing editor, Kevin Morrissey.

The internal investigation, which was commissioned in August by the university’s new president, Teresa A. Sullivan, also found that while UVA should streamline its procedures for dealing with employee complaints, the university took “appropriate actions” in dealing with complaints from journal’s staff about  Genoways. “Because some individuals were not aware of all that was going on,” says the eight-page report, “they incorrectly concluded that things were not being done.”

A spokeswoman said the university is “committed to publishing VQR,” although she said the university will make several changes in the way the journal is managed.
The report does not specifically mention accusations of workplace bullying made against  Genoways by some staff members, and subsequently by  Morrissey’s sister, Maria Morrissey, but it does say that such behavior can be hard to discern. “It is sometimes difficult to define where the line gets crossed between a tough manager and an unreasonable one,” says the report, which points out that “no laws exist” banning workplace bullying, as they do banning sexual harassment.

The report says that, by his own admission,  Genoways’s “capacity to supervise and lead his staff well and to operate his department in accordance with university policies is questionable.” It recommends that the university establish a panel “to strengthen the institution’s policies and structure with regards to acceptable workplace conduct,” something the university has agreed to do.

Genoways came to Virginia as editor of VQR in 2003 and brought Morrissey in as his deputy. By all accounts, the two were quite close until about a year ago, when  Genoways hired Alana Levinson-LaBrosse, a young UVA graduate and donor, to help raise money for the magazine. Morrissey, who had suffered from serious depression for which he had taken medication,  reportedly felt he was being pushed aside.  In the months before Morrissey took his life, people close to the magazine say that Genoways barely communicated with Morrissey and other members of the journal’s small staff,  frequently working from home instead of from the VQR offices. In a letter that Genoways sent to contributors and others after  Morrissey’s death, he said it was Morrissey who had been distancing himself—and he blamed the behavior on  Morrissey’s depression.

Last July, after becoming angry about an exchange that Morrissey and another staff member had with Levinson-LaBrosse,  Genoways banished  Morrissey to work from home.  Morrissey, worried that he might lose his job, made 17 calls to the university’s human-resources department, the president’s office, and university officials responsible for employee assistance and faculty-staff relations, said his sister. Other staff members also complained to university officials about Genoways and told UVA administrators that they worried that Morrissey was so distraught he might kill himself.

In late July, Morrissey shot himself in the head, leaving a note that said: “I just couldn’t bear it anymore.”

Although the report did not find fault with the university itself, it said the institution’s way of dealing with complaints from employees should be re-evaluated. Under the management response, President Sullivan wrote that a new structure will be established for complaints to be taken, registered, and tracked—and for them to be investigated and have the findings reported.

Critics argue that UVA might have prevented the alleged bullycide of Morrissey by addressing the obvious dysfunction of the journal operations.

Mediation to Halt Workplace Bullying?

There is a lack of research on whether mediation works in cases of workplace bullying.  Many experts, myself included, urge caution. Workplace bullying is not like workplace conflict. It is a form of abuse (usually by a supervisor)  that takes place over time, and causes the target to suffer potentially serious  injury to his or her mental and physical health. A level playing field does not exist in bullying situations, just as it does not exist in domestic violence scenarios (where mediation is disfavored). Mediation is premised on the theory that an objective, neutral third party can help two parties of equal standing achieve a fair and just solution.  Here are some excerpts from an article published on June 8, 2010 by the Chronicle of Higher Education at: http://chronicle.com/article/Workplace-Mediators-Seek-a/65815/

Workplace Mediators Seek a Role in Taming Faculty Bullies

By Peter Schmidt

College faculty members who are bullied or abused by coworkers often feel they must either suffer through it or quit. Soon, however, colleges may be pressed to give them a third option: requesting the intervention of a mediator or arbitrator to try to turn their workplace situation around.

What is unclear is whether such interventions will make life more tolerable for bullies’ victims or leave them feeling more beat up than they were before.

Colleges already frequently use various forms of third-party intervention, broadly known as alternative dispute resolution, to try to keep complaints of unlawful discrimination from turning into costly legal battles. Noting that such disputes often involve allegations of bullying or other forms for workplace abuse, two prominent organizations that provide alternative dispute resolution plan in the coming months to undertake a national campaign to urge colleges to use that same approach in handling complaints of mistreatment that do not necessarily violate any civil-rights laws.

The effort is being led by the American Arbitration Association, a nonprofit provider of alternative dispute resolution based in New York, and by the ADR Consortium, which consists of companies and individuals that offer such services. Also involved is the Institute of Human Resources and Industrial Relations at Loyola University Chicago, which plans to do research on the effectiveness of the approach.

In a paper scheduled for presentation Wednesday at the annual conference of the American Association of University Professors, Lamont E. Stallworth, a professor of human resources and employment relations at the Loyola institute and a founder of the ADR Consortium, and Myrna C. Adams, an organizational consultant who formerly served as Duke University’s vice president for institutional equity, argue that alternative dispute resolution offers an “ethical, professional, and cost-effective” way to deal with bullying and other forms of workplace incivility.

Mr. Stallworth and Ms. Adams acknowledge, however, that they cannot point to any research showing alternative dispute resolution to be an effective means of dealing with bullying. And many experts on bullying argue that what research actually shows is that mediation by some third party is an ineffective means of dealing with bullying, and may even leave the victims worse off.

“There is great consensus about the futility of [alternative dispute resolution] to work with bullying,” Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, said in an e-mail message.

In a September 2009 article in Consulting Psychology Journal, Mr. Namie and Ruth Namie, his wife and partner in running the Workplace Bullying Institute, wrote, “Traditional conflict mediation ignores the targeted worker’s need for justice and acknowledgment of the harm” and “focuses only on current and future circumstances, ignoring the past.”

“If there is a power imbalance between target and bully, as there often is, mediation can harm the target,” they said.

…  In a paper scheduled to be presented on Thursday, three researchers from Wilkes University, in Pennsylvania, will discuss the results of a survey that asked faculty members in economics and business about bullying behavior.  .. The most common type of bullying behavior faculty members engage in, the Wilkes researchers found, is discounting another person’s accomplishments, followed by turning other people against their victim, or subjecting their victim to public criticism or constant scrutiny.

… A key element of the campaign planned by the American Arbitration Association and the ADR Consortium is persuading colleges to adopt anti-bullying policies and codes of civility. That way, although alternative dispute resolution would not be used unless both sides agreed to it, the alleged perpetrator would have an incentive to enter into the resolution process, to avoid facing disciplinary action.

Christine L. Newhall, senior vice president of the American Arbitration Association, said in an interview on Tuesday that many types of dispute resolution could be used in such situations, including fact-finding, binding or nonbinding arbitration, or mediation in which a facilitator tries to bring together both sides. She is confident that well-trained providers of such services can resolve many bullying-related conflicts in academe, just as they settle many other workplace disputes.

“Sometimes the bully does not even know they are a bully,” Ms. Newhall said.

Mr. Stallworth is playing a central role in the effort as both a faculty member at the Loyola institute and program director of the ADR Consortium, which he established in 1995. A veteran user of alternative dispute resolution to settle complaints of illegal discrimination, he says he became interested in research on workplace bullying several years ago and has been considering how to apply the expertise of those like him to such conflicts.