Lesson of the Boys on the Bus

Could videotaping be a solution to workplace bullying?

It was in Karen Klein’s case.

As a result of a cell phone video that went viral on the Internet, four seventh-graders in upstate New York recently were suspended for a year for bullying Karen Klein, a 68-year-old school bus monitor.

Meanwhile, a fund drive started on Klein’s behalf has yielded more than $650,000 to date.

It is unlikely that anyone would have believed what Klein went through on that bus ride home if it had not been videotaped.  The youths’ behavior is so vile that it is shocking !

The four boys cruelly taunt and humiliate Klein, even commenting about the suicide of her oldest son.  (“You don’t have a family because they all killed themselves because they don’t want to be near you.”)  They invaded her personal and emotional space, as well as her physical space. They drove her to tears and they were positively gleeful about it.

Surveys show that at least one in four American workers experience a hostile workplace as a result of bullying. Adult bullies tend to be more sophisticated than middle school boys. Most bullies in the workplace are supervisors but they can also be co-workers and customers.

Supervisors undermine the target over time with unfair criticism and demeaning comments.  They sabotage the target’s work by providing inadequate resources and unrealistic deadlines. They set out to systematically destroy the target’s reputation and self-esteem.

Targets of workplace bullying currently have little or no legal recourse to address the problem unless they are targeted in violation of civil rights laws on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, etc.  Most targets of workplace bullying must either endure the bullying until they are sick, forced to quit or fired.

Other countries have adopted laws and regulations addressing workplace bullying but there is no state or federal law on the problem in the United States. Workplace bullying has been virtually ignored by the U.S. Secretary of Labor and the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

So back to Klein’s case. The videotape of the boys on the bus drew international attention to her plight. Maybe there’s a lesson there.

Employers today routinely monitor employees to insure against theft or fraud. Why shouldn’t employees electronically monitor the workplace?

Keep in mind that several states have laws that prohibit the use of devices that record, photograph or overhear events or conversations in private places. Private areas include places where a reasonable amount of privacy is expected, such as a restroom or a locker room. Most work areas are considered public but … anyone who is seriously considering the surreptitious monitoring of their workplace should review (in advance) the laws of their state and, if they’re smart, consult an attorney.

It’s a radical idea but maybe a few viral videos that demonstrate the real problem of workplace bullying in the United States would prompt some long overdue federal attention to the problem.

Minnesota School Bully Lawsuit

June 22, 2011 – In recent years, schoolyard bullying has become a focus of concern in America, and this concern has spilled over to  workplace bullying.

Now Minnesota’s biggest school district is being sued for allegedly enacting policies that discriminate against homosexual students in its Anoka-Hennpin School District. As a result, the lawsuit alleges, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and those “perceived as LGBT have been subjected to a constant torrent of slurs and have been physically threatened or attacked by peers.”  See complaint here.

The suit objects to the school district’s “Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy,” which allegedly prohibits staffers from acknowledging the existence of LGBT people and, according to the suit, prevents teachers from effectively intervening when they see bullying taking place.  The policy states: “Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student led discussions.”

The lawsuit states three distinct causes of action:

  •  U.S. Constitution Amendment XIV, Denial of Equal Protection on the Basis of Sexual Orientation

Defendants, acting under color of state law, have deprived plaintiffs of the rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in that Defendants, without justification, have Treated plaintiffs differently than other similarly situated students and student groups on  basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation.

  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq.Discrimination Based on Sex 

The School District and each school within the District attended are recipients of federal financial assistance. The acts and omissions of Defendants violated Plaintiffs’ rights under Title IX by discriminating on the basis of sex. Defendants had actual notice that harassment based on sex was so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it created a hostile climate based on sex that deprived Plaintiffs of access to educational programs, activities, and opportunities.

[Note: Title IX states that “no person” (which includes workers!) in the  United States “shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance … .” ]

The acts and omissions of Defendants violated Plaintiffs’ rights under the Minnesota Human Rights Act by discriminating against their full utilization and benefit of an educational institution on the basis of sexual orientation. Defendants aided, abetted, and incited discrimination against Plaintiffs based on sexual orientation that prevented her full utilization of and benefit from an educational institution.

The suit was brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the law firm of Faegre & Benson.