Employer Picks Up the Tab?

Here’s a 2/15/11 article in The New York Post about an alleged bully boss.  Whether or not Mr. Dingle prevails,  this story should give employers pause to think about the high cost to THEM of alleged bullying – higher health costs, sick leave, complaints to human resources that tie up personnel, lost work hours, poor morale, bad publicity that may discourage quality job applicants and taint the organization, turnover, and, of course, costly litigation.  As a lawyer and consultant with experience in employment law and domestic violence, I have done substantial research in this area and believe that training, monitoring and early intervention could resolve many of these problems before they reach the critical stage.  PGB

My boss’ voice made me vomit

By JAMIE SCHRAM

The mere sound of his boss’ voice made his stomach turn.

Housing Authority Superintendent Anthony Dingle was so sickened by higher-up Demetrice Gadson’s constant berating that he would literally vomit, according to a lawsuit.

“I was constantly being attacked by her. I felt like attacks could come at any time. Every time I heard her voice, it triggered a sickening feeling in me,” Dingle said through his lawyers, Michael Borrelli and Alexander Coleman.

Dingle, 48, claims that his boss became verbally abusive after he blew the whistle on her for alleged shenanigans.

He says he was forced to go to a doctor because of the abuse to get “prescribed medication to calm his stomach and to get his intestinal system properly functioning,” the Manhattan Supreme Court suit charges.

A colleague even told him that Gadson relished in his suffering, the suit alleges, saying, “I did not know that I made men throw up” — and then laughed hysterically.

Gadson, 43, who is deputy director of the Housing Authority’s Manhattan Management unit, was so heartless that she even chastised Dingle as he grieved for his dead uncle, the suit says.

While Dingle was attending his uncle’s funeral in South Carolina, Gadson allegedly fired off e-mails to him that ripped him for not requesting overtime to address certain issues and accusing him of “not knowing his role.”

“She showed me a complete lack of respect,” Dingle said through his lawyers.

Dingle’s health continued to deteriorate, the suit says, and he suffered from a bleeding prostate that was treated by a urologist.

He was so beaten down emotionally that he sought out a shrink.

“Mr. Dingle began seeing a psychological therapist, and he continues, to date, to see this therapist on a weekly basis,” the suit charges.

The suit, filed late last year against the Housing Authority and Gadson, alleges the boss began verbally bashing Dingle after he complained about her to higher ups while he was superintendent at the Polo Grounds Towers in Harlem.

It follows a federal suit filed by Dingle against both last year. In that suit, the judge dismissed the case against the Housing Authority while the claims against Gadson remain pending. The Housing Authority declined to comment.

Reached by telephone, Gadson declined to comment.

Big Law: Big Bully?

As an attorney myself,  I have occasionally observed that the legal profession seems to attract more than its fair share of snarling, snapping, insecure, socially in-adept and battle-hungry bully bosses (of both genders).

This feeling is not allayed by a 2/15/2011 article in The Toronto Star.

According to the Star,  Jaime Laskis, 34, worked in the  New York office of a major Toronto law firm that she alleges in a sex discrimination suit  is “hostile and demeaning towards women.”

Laskis’ lawsuit claims:

- Kevin Cramer, an American who works as a senior partner at Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt, allegedly made an oral sex joke about a female client, said Harvard University was filled with pretty women “pretending to get a legal education,” and once said he hated working with female lawyers because they get pregnant and leave.

-   In reviewing Laskis’ job performance, Cramer  allegedly told her that she “must be more than a pretty face” and was “not helping herself by coming to work looking well put together.”

- When she asked Cramer  for constructive criticism on how to improve her performance, Cramer allegedly told her to “stop acting like a child that’s been taken to the woodshed and spanked.”

- Laskis lawsuit alleges she was fired in June 2009 in retaliation for complaining about the firm.

-  If being fired wasn’t bad enough, Laskis said another senior Osler partner allegedly tried to prevent her from getting a new job by telling  a prospective employer, a Manhattan law firm, that she would be a bad hire.

“It’s a horrible situation,” Laskis said. “It has been a really difficult process. I’m not this kind of person. I’m not a troublemaker. I’m not even a loud voice. I just keep my head down and do my job.”

In one of the most unsettling responses to a charge of discrimination that I’ve ever read,  Osler, which is a prestigious law firm with 500 attorneys,  issued a statement saying that it  would fight the charges and “regrets” Laskis “felt it in her interest to start a legal complaint concerning her time with us in New York.”

Laskis claims she was discriminated against “on the basis of her sex” in violation of the New York State Human Rights law and that the defendant acted with “malice and/or reckless indifference” and retaliated against her once she complained.

Laskis said she felt confident to take on the big firm because she was single at the time and had some savings to tide her over unemployment. “I was certainly not alone in this kind of scenario. But I was in a position (that) a lot of other women, who have kids, may not be.”

“Some people don’t treat women the same way they treat men. You get a new boss and you can’t do anything right,” she said. “That’s the person evaluating you, and they don’t give you a fair shake.”

Whether or not Laskis prevails in her claims, the situation has resulted in grievous harm to all involved, plus the law firm that hosted this tragedy, which is facing serious liability.  As a lawyer/consultant in this area, I propose that a better way might have been to consider training, monitoring, and, if necessary, effective intervention. However, many law firms do not realize that they also are employers and, like every other employer, have a moral and,  at least to some extent legal, responsibility to treat their personnel with dignity and respect.

Abusive Potential Employers

We have all read about the self-defeating mistakes a job applicant can make at a job interview.

The woman who brought her toddler. The guy who took the phone call from his wife. The girl who wore a revealing T-Shirt and flip-flops.

It is less well understood that this is a two-way street. Employers make “mistakes” too.  Some employers use tactics that are abusive to potential employees, who often have no recourse to complain.

A potential employer is in a power position. The employer has what the applicant wants – a job. For that reason, most job applicants seek to please. However,  some employers seem to feel that by consenting to an interview, the applicant has forfeited his or her right to be treated with dignity, respect and fairly.

The Society for Human Resources Management exhorts its 250,000 members to abide by a Code of Ethics that includes: “Encourage my employer to make the fair and equitable treatment of all employees a primary concern.” That tenet should be broadened to apply to job applicants also.

An applicant found her dream job at a non-profit organization halfway across the country. She was offered the job and moved there with her children. However, in the month between the offer and her arrival, there was a management shakeup. When she arrived, her job description had changed and she was reporting to a new supervisor who had not participated in her job interview. Furthermore, the new supervisor was 20 years younger, far less experienced, and was hostile from the start. The applicant estimates it cost her about $8,000 to relocate for the job, and that it will cost her many thousands more to relocate again – not including lost pension benefits and the emotional distress.

In another instance, after meeting with the Human Resources person, a job applicant for a position in Long Island  literally waited six hours sitting in a chair outside the boss’ office. At one point, he heard the boss  talking on the phone, laughing, and making plans for dinner.  The interview was finally conducted at the end of the day. It lasted about ten minutes. To add insult to injury, he was stuck on the drive home in Long Island’s infamous rush hour traffic for about two hours.

One applicant, an unemployed father of two, says he was strongly encouraged to fly to Philadelphia to meet with a prospective employer, who indicated he was a finalist for the position but could not be appointed without a face-to-face meeting.  This was a job at a state agency that, he was told, had no travel budget.  Upon arrival in Philadelphia, the prospective employer administered the equivalent of a standardized test  that he said he was giving to all applicants.  The “test” could easily have been conducted over the phone. The applicant, who didn’t get the job, advises:  “Never pay for travel!” (Suggest Skype – it’s the equivalent of a  face to face interview and it’s free.)

Finally,  an attractive woman in her mid-50s recalls a job interview in Connecticut with a direct supervisor that was going well.  The supervisor said the company president planned to stop by and say hello.  At one point, a man in his 40s walked briskly into the supervisor’s office, took one look at the applicant, and, wordlessly, turned on his heels and walked out. There was a long  and awkward silence.  After a few moments, the supervisor,  a woman in her 30s, left the room. When she returned, she said the boss wouldn’t be able to meet with the applicant after-all.  The applicant suspected the man who entered the room was the company president.  She was devastated. “I guess I was too old?” she says.

When a prospective employer makes a mistake or uses abusive tactics, more often than not, the job seeker pays the price. You may not get the job. If you do, you may end up feeling used and abused. And you have little recourse.  The woman at the Connecticut interview might argue she was the victim of age discrimination but what she wanted was a job, not a costly and time consuming lawsuit (assuming she could get an attorney to take her case).

Of course, an abusive employer may lose a valuable potential employee and engender ill will that could cost the employer business in the long run.  And, what’s the point?

Suffice to say that it is amusing when a job applicant makes a snafu but it is troubling when an employer does. The employer exerts power and control over the interview and a bad employer can wreak both emotional and economic hardship on the applicant.

These are difficult times. An unprecedented number of Americans are out of work and ripe for exploitation. A job advertisement for a menial position can precipitate a line of hundreds around a block.  Job applicants need to beware and employers need to insure that their processes accord dignity and respect to all job applicants.

- PGB