Last Laugh? Not for NY Taxpayers

Remember this 2/15/11 story in The New York Post: “My Boss’s Voice Made Me Vomit!”

New York Housing Authority Superintendent Anthony Dingles sued the New York City Housing Authority and his boss, Demetrice Gadson. Dingles alleged Gadson began a campaign of constant verbal attack after he complained to higher ups about her poor management techniques. As a result, he said he literally became sick when heard her voice. He said the stress forced him to get medication for his stomach and intestinal system, inflamed his bleeding prostrate and he was so beaten down emotionally that he began therapy.

The New York Post’s web blog subsequently carried mocking comments: “He’s obviously not married, or he’d be used to it,” and “Where are the Sopranos when you need them?”  The Post gave the incident its annual Golden Stapler “As the Stomach Turns” award.

First the good news (at least for victims of workplace abuse).

After a nine day trial, a federal jury in New York concluded in December that Gadson violated the Dingles civil rights by filing frivolous disciplinary charges against him in retaliation for complaints that were protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Now the not so good news (at least for Dingles).

The jury awarded Dingles “nominal” damages of $1.

BUT from an employer’s perspective even that small amount is a disaster because it entitles the attorneys who represented Dingles, Bennitta Joseph and Alexander Coleman, to attorney fees from the city.  Such fees could reach up to $450,000.  And this doesn’t take into account what the city paid to defend Gadson, as well as all of the lost work time, absenteeism, increased health costs, etc.

Of course, the taxpayers of New York City ultimately will pay the bill.  (The New York Senate passed a workplace anti-bully bill in 2010 but it subsequently died in the House.)

Meanwhile, Dingles, who still works for the housing authority, succeeded in protecting his job and no longer is supervised by Gadson.  Which is not a bad result for Dingles.

Ron Paul to sexual harrassment victims — Go home?

Unlike Herman Cain, his former competitor in the GOP presidential race,  Ron Paul is not facing accusations of sexual harassment.

However, Paul, a member of the U.S. Congress from Texas, may be accused of having stunningly little understanding of the problem.

Earlier this month, Paul told Fox News he is standing by statements he made in a 1987 book, Freedom Under Siege, that workers who are targets of sexual harassment must bear some responsibility for the abuse and do not require any special legal protection.

“Why don’t they quit once the so-called harassment starts?” wrote Paul. “Obviously the morals of the harasser cannot be defended, but how come the harassee escapes some responsibility for the problem about sexual harassment in the workplace.”

Earlier this month, host Chris Wallace of  Fox News Sunday asked Paul whether he still agreed with those 1987 statements.  Paul said he does, adding that neither verbal and physical harassment  warrants a federal law.

Regarding the issue of verbal harassment, Paul said:  “If it’s just because somebody told a joke to somebody who was offended, they don’t have a right to go to the federal government and have a policeman come in and put penalties on those individuals. They have to say maybe this is not a very good environment. They have the right to work there or not work there.”

Paul said workers who are victims of physical sexual harassment also do not require protection from a federal law because there already are laws prohibiting assault and rape.

“Because people are insulted by rude behavior, I don’t think we should make a federal case about it. I don’t think we need federal laws to deal with that. People should deal with that at home,” he said.

( At home????)

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual harassment, which is a form of sex discrimination. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

The U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly has said that Title VII doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious.  Harassment becomes illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

In other words,  to be actionable, victims of sexual harassment must feel their very freedom to work  is … under siege.

Is Google Really America’s Best Employer?

Note: Google has settled the case out of court; Brian Reid’s lawyer declines to say for how much. PGB

Google was ranked number one this week in Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work for,”  and it does seem to be a great place to work  — unless you remember a time when the only “search engine” was the card catalog at your local library.

Google is battling an age discrimination lawsuit brought by a former executive, Brian Reid, who was hired by Google in 2002 as director of operations and engineering.  After two years, Reid, then 54, was fired  by Google.

Reid has a Ph.D. in computer science and is a former associate professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University. He managed a team that built one of the first Internet search engines at AltaVista.

In the lawsuit, Reid said supervisors and co-workers at Google made numerous derogatory comments about his age, stating that he was not a “cultural fit” for the company, that he was “an old man,” “slow,” “sluggish,” “lethargic” and “an old fuddy-duddy” who “lacked energy.” Co-workers allegedly joked that Reid’s CD (compact disc) jewel case office placard should be an “LP” instead of a “CD.”

Reid also offered statistical evidence of age discrimination at Google, evidence Google demoted him to a nonviable position before terminating him, and that Google advanced changing rationales for his termination.

The trial court initially dismissed Reid’s lawsuit, after Google filed a motion for summary judgment.  But Reid appealed and the lawsuit was reinstated by the California Court of Appeals, which said undisputed evidence supported a prima facie case of age discrimination. Google appealed that decision to the California Supreme Court, which also ruled in Reid’s favor.

Google argued that the derogatory comments made by staffers about Reid should be rejected under the judicial “stray remarks doctrine,” and that slurs like “fuddy-duddy” are insufficient to show that Google’s asserted reason for firing Reid was a pretext for age discrimination.

The California Supreme Court agreed with the appeals court’s determination that the categorical exclusion of evidence by the application of the “stray remarks doctrine” was unnecessary and might lead to unfair results in Reid’s case.  The Court said the so-called “stray remarks” should be evaluated in combination with all of the evidence.  [See Reid v. Google, Inc., 50 Cal.4th 512 (2010)]

The only written performance review of Reid by Google was positive. His supervisor, Wayne Rosing,  described Reid as having “an extraordinarily broad range of knowledge concerning Operations, Engineering in general and an aptitude and orientation towards operational and IT issues.”  Reid was praised for “project[ed] confidence when dealing with fast changing situations,” and being “very intelligent,” “creative,” “a terrific problem solver.”

But Reid’s supervisor wrote that “[a]dapting to Google culture is the primary task for the first year here . . .. Right or wrong, Google is simply different: Younger contributors, inexperienced first line managers, and the super fast pace are just a few examples of the environment.” (Emphasis added.)

The review concluded that Reid “consistently [met] expectations.”

In October 2003, Reid was removed from his position as the director of operations position, and relieved of his responsibilities as director of engineering. He was replaced by two employees, who were 15 and 20 years younger, respectively.  Google asked Reid to develop  an in-house graduate degree program and an undergraduate college recruitment program.

Reid maintains that Google’s then-CEO Eric Schmidt assured him the graduate program was important and would last at least five years. But Reid was given no budget or staff to support it.

Google says it fired Reid on February 13, 2004 because it was eliminating graduate degree program and Reid’s job, and because of poor performance. Reid says he was given no reason for his termination other than lack of “cultural fit.” He said he was told the graduate program would continue and his termination was not performance based.

According to CNN,  Google was picked as best employer because: “Employees rave about their mission, the culture, and the famous perks of the Plex: bocce courts, a bowling alley, eyebrow shaping (for a fee) in the New York office. Then there’s the food: some 25 cafés companywide, all gratis. Wrote one Googler: “Employees are never more than 150 feet away from a well-stocked pantry.”

Among other things, Reid’s complaint includes claims for age discrimination under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) (Gov. Code, § 12900 et seq.), wrongful termination in violation of public policy; failure to prevent discrimination; and both negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

*  Editorial note: Before I confer the honor of America’s best employer on Google, I’d like to see how Reid’s lawsuit turns out. We may never see that, of course, because given the direction the litigation has taken, Google may be SERIOUSLY considering an out of court settlement (if it hasn’t already). In any case, I am not inclined to think that any employer who engages in pervasive age discrimination (or any other kind of illegal discrimination) is exemplary or worthy of honor. And I predict that the young people who are so thrilled with bocce ball and free coffee today will have a sad awakening in the not too distant future. They may start hearing “stray remarks” just around the time their children start thinking about college, when a paycheck would really come in handy.