Bully for you!

I’ve seen today some news headlines announcing that a Microsoft employee in Texas (why is it always Texas?) has been awarded $2million to compensate him for “bullying”. Here’s a link: titled, “Microsoft to pay $2 Million in Workplace Bullying Case”.  I’m sure this will cause phones to ring in  the offices of lawyers who represent workers in employment disputes (like me). The callers will be relating very sad stories that add up to “a lot of work places are just like Junior High School” – they are run by people who are just plain mean spirited, and they call you names and physically intimidate you and make you not want to get up out of bed and go to work. And, often, the co-workers are not better.

I have often had to explain to callers with this type of story that there is not much I can do to help them. As the US Supreme court has observed, “Title VII [the federal law that outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, etc.] is not a workplace civility code.”  What that means is that, unless the conduct includes derogatory references to race or sex or whatever, or unless you can prove that seemingly neutral comments are disproportionately directed to minorities, women, etc., the rude, denigrating, bullying behavior is not against the law, and the courts want no part in stopping that kind of conduct in the work place.  As a result, victims of such conduct have little or no remedy. About the best you can do is, if the conduct causes physical symptoms, that’s an industrial injury and you are entitled to workers compensation benefits.

This Microsoft “Bullying” headline seems to suggest that the worker has a judgment for $2 Million because he was “bullied” at work. Read the article carefully, though: the mean conduct was, the worker contended (and proved) the result of his having had an affair with a coworker who later became a manager, and used her position to punish the victim. That’s unlawful sex discrimination. Also, he claimed (and his claims were believed) upper management put him on the List of People Whom We Do Not Like (there are other more colorful terms more often employed for that list) because the worker complained about a senior manager’s comments denigrating the Japanese. That’s unlawful retaliation for protesting national origin discrimination. All that is conduct prohibited by Title VII anti-discrimination laws. Putting the label of “bullying” on it is just smoke. That the conduct can be labeled “bullying” doesn’t make it illegal; and if the conduct isn’t based on sex or religion or one of the other protected classes, it’s not illegal even if it is properly labeled “bullying”.

Maybe we SHOULD have laws prohibiting “bullying”. But we don’t, yet.





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