Desperate Housewife Bullied?

Judge Elizabeth White declared a mistrial on 3/19/12 after the jurors reported they were deadlocked. Eight supported actress Nicollette Sheridan’s claim; four didn’t. .Judge White on 3/13/12 issued a directed verdict dismissing the battery claim  and Michael Reinhart, who has supervised construction of the show’s sets since it began eight years ago, testified he was copied on an email in 2010 — shortly after Sheridan filed her lawsuits — in which ABC/Disney executives discussed having IT wipe computer hard drives to eliminate any reference to Sheridan’s termination. And the Human Resources so-called “professional” who investigated Sheridan’s complaint that she was slapped by Cherry failed to interview Cherry!!! PGB

This woman was allegedly assaulted by her boss and then killed off.

The trial began this week in a case brought by Actress Nicollette Sheridan, formerly of the ABC soap opera Desperate Housewives, who alleges she was whacked upside the head by the hit show’s creator Marc Cherry and then killed off  when she complained to ABC.

Sheridan alleged Cherry slapped her  in the face with his hand during a rehearsal on September 24, 2008 after the two had an argument regarding a cut line of dialogue. When Sheridan complained to ABC, she says she was fired in retaliation — her Desperate Housewives character, Edie Britt, was killed in a freak electrical accident in April of 2009.

ABC has argued that the decision to kill off Edie Britt was made prior to the alleged smackdown and that the supposed slap was a mere tap, done for the purposes of artistic direction.

“This is a man hitting a woman in the head — hard — without her consent,” said Sheridan’s attorney, Mark Baute.

Battery occurs when the defendant’s acts intentionally cause harmful or offensive contact with the victim’s person. 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.

Sheridan’s lawsuit initially alleged damages over claims of sexual and gender harassment, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, wrongful termination and more. However, during the pre-trial phase, the judge threw out some claims and the actress dropped others. Now the case involves claims of wrongful termination and battery.

If Sheridan wins, a judge has ruled that she will be eligible to reclaim one year’s salary, not the $20 in pay for the show’s full run that she originally sought. Her attorneys are seeking almost $6 million.

A sad reality of this type of case is that Sheriden, 48, is out in the metaphorical cold while ABC continues to be a major television network. ABC lists as potential witnesses many of Sheridan’s former co-workers – including Desperate Housewives cast members Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman and Eva Longoria. Of course, if Sheridan’s allegations are true, the remaining Housewives stars presumably do not wish to be killed off like Edie Britt until the series ends this season.

Great Policy; No Follow-Through

The best policy in the world won’t protect you without follow-through.

That’s the lesson of a decision by the Seventh Circuit  Court of Appeals  in a Wisconsin sexual harassment case, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Management Hospitality of Racine, Inc., et al., No. 10-3247 (Jan. 9, 2012,).

The defendant, a company owned by Salauddin Janmohammed  which operates 21 International House of Pancakes restaurants, had a “zero-tolerance”  anti-harassment policy in place, anti-harassment training, and a policy of investigations of complaints.

What it didn’t have was follow-through. Or, in the words of the Court, “the policy and complaint mechanism were not reasonably effective in practice.”

According to the Court:  “the presence of a sexual harassment policy is encouraged by Title VII [but] the mere creation of a sexual harassment policy will not shield a company from its responsibility to actively prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.”

The Court upheld an award of $105,000 to two teenage servers at an IHOP operated by the defendant in Racine.  Katrina Shisler and Michelle Powell said they were sexually harassed in 2004 and 2005 by an IHOP assistant manager in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.

Normally, an employer can advance the so-called Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense in a Title VII case sexual harassment claim involving a hostile work environment. This allows the employer to escape liability for damages if:

 (a) it “exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior,” and

 (b) “the plaintiff employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any protective or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.”

The Court said the  Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense was not available to the Management Hospitality because both teens had complained to managers about sexual harassment  and the managers did nothing.  The company did not begin investigating until a private investigator hired by an attorney for one of the teenager began asking questions.

The Court said a rational jury could have found that the sexual harassment occurred “every shift,”  was “highly offensive,” and included “physical touching.”

The Court said a rational jury also could conclude that the employer failed to follow its own policies by discouraging  employees from reporting complaints, providing inadequate anti-harassment training to supervisors, and failing to “promptly” investigate the complaints.

The EEOC filed suit on behalf of the two teenaged servers. A jury awarded one of the servers $1,000 in compensatory damages and the other $4,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.

New Record for Discrimination Claims

Employment discrimination charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reached an all-time high in 2011.

A total of 99,947 charges of employment discrimination were filed with the EEOC in Fiscal 2011, compared to  99,922 in Fiscal 2010. This sets a new record for discrimination claims.

Once again, charges alleging retaliation under all the statutes the EEOC enforces were the most numerous at 37,334 charges received, or 37.4 percent of all charges, followed by charges of race discrimination ( 35,395) and sex discrimination (28,534).

Other allegations include:

  • Disability discrimination–25,742
  • Age discrimination—23,465
  • National Origin  discrimination – 11,833
  • Religious discrimination – 4,151
  • Color discrimination – 2,832
  • Equal Pay Act – 919
  • Genetic Discrimination Act – 245

The EEOC filed 300 lawsuits in 2011, which resulted in $91 million of relief.  Twenty-three of the lawsuits involved systemic allegations involving large numbers of people.

Through its combined litigation, enforcement, mediation programs, the EEOC obtained  $455.6 million in relief for private sector, state, and local employees and applicants,  an increase of more than $51 million from the 2010 fiscal year and a new record for the agency.

Of possible interest to workplace anti-bully advocates, the EEOC’s enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) produced the highest increase in monetary relief among all of the statutes the EEOC enforces: the administrative relief obtained for disability discrimination charges increased by almost 35.9 percent to $103.4 million.  Back impairments were the most frequently cited impairment under the ADA, followed by other orthopedic impairments, depression, anxiety disorder and diabetes. Many of these ADA claims could be stress related – targets of workplace bullying suffer high levels of stress that are blamed for short-and long-term physical impairment.

The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The fiscal year 2011 enforcement and litigation statistics, which include trend data, are available on the EEOC’s website at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/index.cfm

Corporate Psychopaths on Wall Street

Note: The theory that a significant percent of abusive managers are actual psychopaths is not new.  Robert D. Hare, Ph.D., and Paul Babiak, Ph.D., published the book, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work  in 2006. Jon Ronson, author of the 2011 book, The Psychopath Test,  interviewed former American chief executive officer “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap,  who was notorious  for closing factories and laying off workers  in the 1990s. Ronson concluded Dunlap possessed many but not all of the traits of a psychopath. For example, Dunlap had no record of juvenile delinquency and was in a long standing marriage. PGB

 Precipitated Financial Collapse?

A former British academic has advanced a theory that “corporate psychopaths” at the helm of financial institutions in the United States are largely to blame for the global financial crisis.

“They are happy to walk away from the economic disaster that they have managed to bring about, with huge payoffs and with new roles advising governments how to prevent such economic disasters. Many of these people display several of the characteristics of psychopaths, and some of them are undoubtedly true psychopaths,” writes Clive R. Boddy, in a recent book published by Macmillan, Corporate Psychopaths: Organizational Destroyers.

He says psychopaths are the one percent of “people who, perhaps due to physical factors to do with abnormal brain connectivity and chemistry” lack a “conscience, have few emotions and display an inability to have any feelings, sympathy or empathy for other people.”  These people, Boddy adds, are “extraordinarily cold, much more calculating and ruthless towards others than most people are and therefore a menace to the companies they work for and to society.”

Psychopaths make it to the top of successful corporations, Boddy says, because they take advantage of the “relative chaotic nature of the modern corporation,” including “rapid change, constant renewal” and high turnover of “key personnel.”  They exhibit a combination of “charm” and “charisma,” which makes “their behaviour invisible” and “makes them appear normal and even to be ideal leaders.”

Boddy argues in a recent issue of the Journal of Business Ethics that psychopaths working in senior positions in corporations and in financial corporations had a major part in causing the global financial crisis.

He says corporate psychopaths  “largely caused the crisis” because their “single-minded pursuit of their own self-enrichment and self- aggrandizement to the exclusion of all other considerations has led to an abandonment of the old-fashioned concept of noblesse oblige, equality, fairness, or of any real notion of corporate social responsibility.”

Boddy told Bloomberg View columnist William D. Cohan that senior managers should be screened to insure they are not psychopaths and actually care about others.

In his book, Boddy says that psychopaths destroy the morale and emotional well-being of fellow workers  “by humiliating them, lying about them, abusing them, using organisational rules to control them, not giving them adequate training, blaming them for mistakes made by the psychopath, bullying them and coercing them into unwanted sexual activities … .”

Boddy is a former professor of marketing at the Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom and a former co-founder/director of a pan-regional, Asia-Pacific marketing research company that was sold to a marketing conglomerate in 2002 for a reported $80 million.