See No Evil at Penn State

Coach Joe Paterno and Penn State President Graham Spanier were fired, effective immediately, on Nov. 9, 2011 by the PSU Board of Trustees. The troubling culture at Penn State was in evidence when students sympathetic to Paterno erupted into violence at the news until they were subdued by police with tear gas. Meanwhile, more victims of alleged pedophile Jerry Sandusky surfaced. PGB


In light of the horrifying and unfathomable nature of the pedophile scandal at Penn State University, it is easy to forget that Penn State is a workplace.

The leader sets an important tone for a workplace in terms of signalling what behaviors will and will not be tolerated.  Which raises a question.  What did Penn State President Graham Spanier know of the incident in 2002 in which Jerry Sandusky, a retired long-time football coach at Penn State, allegedly showered and engaged in sexual conduct with a young boy at Penn State’s  football building?

According to a grand jury report, Spanier said he was told that a staff member had reported that Sandusky was “horsing around” with a young boy in the shower in a way that made the staff member “uncomfortable.”  However, Spanier says that he did not  know that Sandusky was engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with the boy.

Wasn’t it enough that Sandusky was engaging in horseplay with a young boy in the shower area?  That a staffer was made to feel “uncomfortable” witnessing the behavior?  Did Spanier have an obligation to inquire further?

Spanier obviously felt that something improper had occurred. In response to the incident, Spanier said he approved of a plan to take Sandusky’s locker room keys away and to inform him that he could not use Penn State’s athletic facilities with young people, an order that officials later agreed was unenforceable.  Was there any protocol at Penn State for investigating and disciplining alleged misconduct on campus?  Sandusky was still a professor emeritus at Penn State, and had an office there.

Sandusky is the founder of The Second Mile, a charity dedicated to helping impoverished youth who have absent or dysfunctional families. Sandusky allegedly abused at least eight boys through his contact with the club, which hosts sporting camps and events at Penn State.

According to a grand jury investigation, in addition to Spanier, the following adults were allegedly aware of the 2002 incident:

  • A 28-year old Penn State Graduate Assistant who said he saw Sandusky nude in the shower and thought Sandusky was having sex with a boy. (He reported the incident to Paterno.)
  •  The graduate assistant’s father.
  • Penn State Coach Joseph V. Paterno (who reported the incident to his bosses).
  • Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley.
  • Penn State Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz.
  • Dr. Jack Rayovich, executive director of the Second Mile Club.

None of these people, including Spanier, reported Sandusky’s conduct to the police or to child protective services.

Incredibly, this was not the first time that Penn State officials had notice that Sandusky was engaging in questionable behavior with children in a shower on the campus.

Schultz told the grand jury that he knew that Sandusky was investigated by child protective services in 1998 for allegedly showering with young boys and behaving in a sexually inappropriate manner. According to the grand jury report:  “Schultz testified that the 1998 incident was reviewed by the University Police and ‘the child protection agency’ with the blessing of then-University counsel Wendell Courtney (who)  was then and remains counsel for The Second Mile.”

Spanier, who was appointed president in 1995, denied knowing of the 1998 University Police investigation of Sandusky.

There was yet another incident at Penn State in 2000 in which a janitor allegedly saw Sandusky having sex with another boy, this one aged 11 or 12.  The janitor  told his co-workers, who expressed fear they could lose their jobs, and then he told his immediate supervisor Jim Witherite. No one called the police that time either.

State police commissioner Frank Noonan was quoted Monday as stating:  “Somebody has to question about what I would consider the moral requirements for a human being that knows of sexual things that are taking place with a child, … Whether you’re a football coach or a university president or the guy sweeping the building. I think you have a moral responsibility to call us.”

Both Schultz and Curley have been arrested for allegedly lying to the grand jury and failing to report the alleged 2002 sexual assault to authorities as required by law.

Spanier may avoid arrest but it remains to be seen whether he can avoid responsibility for the tsunami wave of bad publicity that has washed over Penn State’s campus because the highest ranking officials there saw no evil.

What about Walmart?

Note: Gillane was sentenced to 96 years in prison on 12/14/11.

A jury this week found John Gillane, 46, the Walmart employee who shot and wounded three of his supervisors last year, guilty of seven felony counts, including two counts of attempted murder with a deadly weapon.

But what about Walmart? Does this incident say anything about the employment practices of America’s largest retail chain? Or was it just a fluke involving an unstable employee?

A nine-year Wal-Mart employee, Gillane told police that Walmart was opening a new store that was causing a cut-back in employee hours and his medical insurance costs had increased. He said he believed one of the supervisors he shot, Eric Hill, gave him a bad evaluation and thought it wasn’t fair because Hill didn’t know him well.

According to the Reno Gazette Journal, Gillane told police he was tired of being mistreated and wanted to “get even and embarrass Walmart.”

Interestingly, after the October 29, 2010 shooting, the victims reportedly said Gillane was well liked, had no work issues, and they were unaware that he disliked them.  The three have recovered from their physical injuries but testified they still feel pain and emotional distress from the incident.

In a taped interview with police, Gillane said he decided the night before that he was going to confront the managers. “Was I disgruntled? —- yeah, I was disgruntled. I was going to take on Goliath,” he said.

He went to Walmart at 7:15 a.m. with two guns and purchased a box of ammo. He hid in a bathroom stall and loaded a gun and waited.

Gillane said he went to the office of manager Richard Sanders, passing several employees whom he did not shoot. He said he displayed the gun and told  Sanders to call the other managers into Sander’s office. He planned to tell them to call  the corporate level at Walmart Stores Inc.  so he could “go over all this stuff, how they’re crapping on us. I knew I was going to get fired. Then everything went wrong.”

Gillane said he panicked when Sanders bolted.

Prosecutors portrayed Gillane as a ticking time bomb who was frustrated with life and intended to kill the supervisors and go out in a “blaze of glory.”

Clearly, Gillane’s problems were much larger than the superstore. He was broke, had recently been evicted, and was upset that two wives had left him for other women, and he rarely got to see his 5-year-old daughter. Gillane had threatened to commit suicide two weeks prior to the incident.

Gillane was also convicted of three counts of battery with a deadly weapon causing substantial bodily harm, assault with a deadly weapon and carrying a concealed weapon.  After deliberating more than seven hours, jurors failed to reach a decision on whether he intended to kill the first manager he shot, Sanders, whom he reportedly hated the most.

There is a long history in the United States of disgruntled employees taking up arms and shooting supervisors and co-workers.  A series of shootings by postal employees in the 1980s led to the term, “Going postal.”

In a 2000 report, a commission empaneled to investigate violence at the post office recommended that  USPS management, unions, and management associations overhaul the dispute resolution processes, which was a significant source of frustration and tension for employees and managers, and boost pay for non-management personnel.

Wal-Mart employs about one percent of the U.S. population and earns profits of more than $15 billion a year. The New York Times has reported that starting in 2012 all future part-time Wal-Mart employees who work less than 24 hours a week on average will no longer qualify for health insurance plans, and Wal-Mart is cutting its contributions to employees’ health savings accounts by 50 percent. Premiums for Wal-Mart employees are expected to increase from 17 to 61 percent.

A few years ago, Walmart expanded coverage for employees and their families after facing criticism that many of its 1.4 million U.S. workers could not afford or did not qualify for coverage — rendering  them eligible for Medicaid.

The Value of a Good Name

Research shows that workplace bullying costs American employers billions each year in absenteeism, higher health care costs, lower productivity, and unnecessary litigation.

However, the cost may be even higher in terms of reputation, especially in this age of social media.

According to the Ethics Resource Center  (ERC), a non-profit center that researches high ethical standards in public and private institutions. a good name matters for many reasons, some measurable and some not. In a new report entitled, Building a Corporate Reputation of Integrity, the ERC says:

  •  Consumers prefer to deal with a company they trust.
  • Employees prefer to work at a company they are proud of.
  •  Increasingly, investors believe trustworthy, ethical companies are a safer place to put their money.

In workplace bullying situations, lawsuits generate bad publicity that can tarnish an organization’s reputation, and targets of bullying and witnesses to bullying often bad mouth their employers after they leave.  Even one disgruntled employee who shares his gripes on social media can potentially inflict enormous damage to a firm’s reputation.

A  2010 survey by Deloitte found that nearly half of workers who plan to seek out a new job say they have been motivated by a loss of trust in their employer. Some 46 percent also complain about a lack of transparency in internal communications and four of ten say they have been treated unethically.

According to the ERC, corporate executives surveyed by Weber-Shandwick, a global public relations firm,  estimated that 63 percent of their companies’ market value is due to reputation. A good reputation may be even more important for consumer product firms, where consumers cast verdicts on reputation with their pocketbooks, withholding business from companies they believe are ethically deficient and rewarding those with good reputation. Research by Edelman, another global PR firm,  found that nearly three-quarters of consumers say they will actively avoid doing business with a company they don’t trust, while 85 percent will go out of their way to buy from a company they trust.

The ERC says ethical leadership is a key to building and sustaining a good reputation:  “ERC research consistently shows employees are more likely to act with integrity when an organization’s leaders are honestly and visibly committed to ethical performance.”

Employers Should Review School Bully Laws

Imagine a place where a target of bullying can complain to a designated, trained management representative who is prepared to follow a clear protocol that is designed to immediately halt the bullying and to protect the target and witnesses from retaliation.

Imagine a place where supervisors are trained to achieve constructive and humane solutions to conflict.

The nation is mobilizing to protect school and college age targets of bullying and the protections listed above are becoming more commonplace.

According to the New York Times, 45 states have laws against bullying. However, these laws are intended primarily to protect students.

Clearly the public response to bullying is greatly influenced by the age of the target.  There appears to be less enthusiasm for efforts to protect workers and employees, possibly because of misguided fear of additional costs,  interference by the courts in private enterprise, and litigation. As a result, targets of workplace bullying  have little or no legal recourse, especially if they lack protected status under state and federal discrimination laws (which address discrimination on the basis of race, age, sexual and gender identity or disability).

School bullying laws effectively extend legal protections on the basis of  place (educational institution) rather than race or religion.  This is what workplace anti-bullying advocates seek – status blind protection for all workers who are targets of bullies in the workplace.

On Sept. 22, 2010, Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge; three days earlier, officials said, his roommate surreptitiously streamed video of him in an intimate encounter with another man. It remains unclear what role the video may have played in Mr. Clementi’s suicide but news coverage of the episode provided impetus to efforts to enact laws against bullying and harassment.

Just two months later, New Jersey’s legislature  – with just one dissenting vote – approved what is called the nation’s toughest law against bullying and harassment in schools. The bill was signed into law by NJ’s conservative Governor, Chris Christie. The law was endorsed by the NJ School Boards Association, which concluded that schools could largely carry it out with existing resources.

While a national campaign is underway to provide a civil remedy for workplace bullying, there are things employers can do now to address the problem.

School anti-bullying laws can not only provide guidance to states with respect to potential workplace anti-bullying legislation, they can  provide guidance to employers who want to take voluntary measures now to combat the problem.

Surveys  show that more than a third of employees say they are or have been bullied and many suffer severe psychological and physical health consequences. There is no question that workplace bullying costs U.S. employers billions each year – one estimate is $300 billion –  in higher health costs, absenteeism, poor morale, needless turnover, litigation, etc.

Even in the absence of a law, a diligent employer should review school antibullying laws with an eye to formulating voluntary policies to  halt workplace bullying.

According to NJ’s tough 2010 law,  the definition of “harassment, intimidation or bullying”  includes the creation of a hostile educational environment for the student by interfering with a student’s education or by severely or pervasively causing physical or emotional harm to the student… .”

The law requires public schools to:

  • Establish bullying prevention programs or approaches.
  • A detailed procedure must be included in each district’s policy concerning the investigation of incidents of harassment, intimidation, or bullying;
  • Appoint specific people in each school and district to run antibullying programs.
  • Investigate any episodes starting within a day after they occur.
  • Train teachers, administrators and school board members to deal with bullying.
  • Each school district must form a school safety team in each school in the district to foster and maintain a positive school climate within the schools;
  • A school administrator who fails to initiate or conduct an investigation of an incident, or who should have known of an incident and fails to take action, is subject to discipline;
  • The superintendent of schools in each school district must appoint a district anti-bullying coordinator and sets forth the responsibilities of that individual;
  • Superintendents must make public reports twice a year detailing any episodes in each school, and each school will receive a letter grade to be posted on its Web site.
  • Harassment, intimidation or bullying is grounds for suspension or even expulsion from school.

“Other states have bits and pieces of what this New Jersey law has, but none of them is as broad, getting to this level of detail, and requiring them, step by step, to do the right thing for students,” said Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director at the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group.

Imagine a workplace where a target of bullying can complain to a designated, trained management representative who is prepared to follow a clear protocol that is designed to immediately halt the bullying and to protect the target and witnesses from retaliation.

Imagine a workplace where supervisors are trained to achieve constructive and humane solutions to workplace conflict.


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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’


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.

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