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Management Monday: Quit Oversharing

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 30, 2014In: Jerks at Work, Training & Metrics

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Supervisors and their direct reports are not equals.  If you are a supervisor, I advise that you keep this golden rule in mind.  When you are required to communicate a decision to your subordinate, understand that communicating does not mean “explaining.”  Employees do not want to hear the full story behind the decision.  Bosses Oversharing

You are not your employees’ equal.  You are the boss.  And, as the boss, your employees count on you to be the one who holds the ship together.  By over-explaining the reasons for a decision, by seeming too apologetic, you have failed your employees.

This does not mean that you must be aloof and reserved.  But it does mean that you should quit oversharing.  When you try to explain the behind-the-scenes politics, you confuse employees and lead them to believe that there are unanswered questions within the organization.  This can be a costly endeavor.

Employees with doubt emanate their doubt  and doubt is contagious and infectious.  We all have our crosses to bear—supervisors should not share the burden of their own crosses with their subordinates.  Subordinates want their bosses to be in control, to have the answers.

Of course, it’s rare that we, as supervisors, do have all of the answers.  But it is our job, as supervisors, not to reveal this inevitable fact.  Instead, it is our job, as supervisors, to put on the brave face of control and act as if everything is under control.

Sometimes, the “full-disclosure” route is very much the wrong route.  We, as supervisors, fix problems, not merely share the weight of those problems.  Supervisors should keep in mind this mantra the next time desire the need to share the burden of responsibility.  Don’t do it.  Seek advice from your higher ups.  But do not shoulder the burden with your direct subordinate.  Not, that is, if you want to keep your position and any semblance of true authority.

Workplace Revenge and the Equal Opportunity Jerk

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn September 17, 2013In: Harassment, Harassment, Sexual, Jerks at Work

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Being a jerk is a legal defense, so to speak.  An “equal opportunity jerk” is a boss who treats everyone badly, regardless of race, religion, gender, etc.  If his subordinates sue, alleging an unlawful hostile environment, they’ll likely have trouble establishing that the jerk was more of a jerk to one particular group of employees based on a protected characteristic. 

It is a defense that defense lawyers prefer to not to have to invoke. Nevertheless, when the facts are there, even an unattractive defense can be a winner. Take, for example, the Third Circuit’s decision in Clayton v. City of Atlantic City. 

people backstabberThe plaintiff was a police officer in the Atlantic City Police Department, who alleged that she was subject to the sexual advances of a senior officer.  This went on for a number of years until, eventually, she came under his direct supervision. 

As her supervisor, she alleged, he gave her a less desirable work schedule and singled her out for various minor policy violations.  Another senior officer also disciplined her and reprimanded the plaintiff for other policy violations, which the plaintiff alleged were common practice throughout the Police Department, such as leaving the city limits without permission for lunch and for rolling her eyes during roll call.  She was eventually transferred to a different unit, which resulted in a pay decrease.

The plaintiff alleged that she was transferred because of her gender.  But she also testified to what she described as a “revenge management” culture in the department.  That culture, as she described it, meant that if you were not liked by a superior, regardless of gender, it was common for the superior to attempt to undermine your career.

It was this “culture of revenge” that resulted in the dismissal of the plaintiff’s suit.  The court reasoned that an attitude of “revenge” is not unlawful, provided it is equally applied without regard to race, religion, gender, etc.  Here, there had not been gender discrimination because males and females alike were subject to the punishments of dissatisfied supervisors.

Although this case makes an excellent teaching example, it’s not exactly one I would recommend as "inspirational.”  Equal opportunity jerks may not be in violation of the anti-discrimination laws, but, boy, they sure do get sued a lot.

Clayton v. City of Atlantic City, No. 12-4273 (3d Cir. Sept. 12, 2013).

Dealing With Difficult People

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn November 5, 2012In: Delaware Specific, Jerks at Work

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We deal with difficult people everywhere, really. At work, we may have to deal with difficult people as co-workers, as customers, as vendors, and as bosses, just to name a few.
Difficult people come in all shapes and sizes. The street bully is the difficult person who are yells and throws insults to get his or her way. The silent killer uses passive-aggressive tactics to wage wars based on sabotage. In today's post, though, I have in mind the rough and rude bully type--the difficult person who pushes his or her way around like a bull in a china store and expects everyone to jump into action at his or her command.

The ABA Journal recently asked its readers how they deal with difficult people of a particularly difficult variety--opposing counsel in litigation. As a general rule, I have had very positive relationships with opposing counsel. In fact, many of my opposing counsel have become very good friends of mine, whose friendship I value tremendously. Particularly in Delaware, where we value civility and professionalism as a foundation of the practice of law, my interactions with the lawyer on the other side of the table is a positive one more often than not.

That said, there certainly have been times when I have had to deal with a lawyer on the other side who, it seems to me, insists on being unreasonable or who routinely uses bully tactics in an effort to get his or her way. These interactions trouble me a great deal and, unfortunately, tend to change the way the case is litigated. Perhaps it is because this happens so infrequently (thank goodness), that I have given these bullies a good deal of thought once the interaction or case is over.

There are a few mantras that I do my best to remember when getting screamed at by another lawyer or having to deal with a lawyer who uses threats as strategy. I share them here both as a reminder to myself and in the hopes that readers may be able to put them to use in their time of need.

Mean people are scared people.
If my opposing counsel is yelling at me, I know he's scared of something I've said or he thinks I am going to say. Either I have an actual advantage or he thinks I do. I'm happy to have either.

A lawyer who can't control his temper can't control his case.
If my opposing counsel spends hours writing lengthy letters and multiple emails filled with ridicule and scathing commentary, he is not spending his time preparing his case, reviewing the facts, or coming up with new legal arguments and strategy. A distracted opponent is fine by me.

Sticks 'n stones may break my bones (and even hurt my feelings), but they won't affect my client's case.
At the end of the case, nasty comments and raised voices are irrelevant. The outcome of the case--whether by settlement, by verdict, or by judicial decision--will not include a scorecard of baseless accusations made or declare a winner for worst-mannered, most uncivil lawyer. The case will be decided on the application of the law to facts, as argued by the more effective lawyer, so it's best not to focus on anything else.

So, turning back to the question posed by the ABA Journal, "how do you deal with rude opposing counsel?" My answer is easy. I win.

A Really Bad Boss and a Really Awful Invasion of Privacy

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 21, 2012In: Jerks at Work, Privacy In the Workplace, Privacy Rights of Employees

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This lawsuit, which we'll file in the category of "Ultimate Jerks at Work," was reported by Kashmir Hill on Forbes.com. Here's the story, as alleged in the lawsuit.

Jonathan Bruns was working for a staffing agency when he was placed with a company in Houston, Texas. According to the complaint, Bruns asked if he could charge his cellphone in a wall outlet. His supervisor, Pete Offenhauser, obliged.

Apparently, after Offenhauser approved the request, he unplugged the phone from the wall and into his laptop. Once the phone was connected, Offenhauser had access to the pictures Bruns had stored on his phone. Among them were photos of Bruns' fiancee.

In the photos, Bruns' fiancee was, er, uh, nude.

What did Offenhauser do next? Oh, come on, I think we all know. He called everyone in the office over to his laptop. Once the whole group was gathered 'round, he showed them Bruns' photos. Bruns walked in and saw the goings on. When he asked what all the excitement was about, he was greeted with "laughs and inappropriate comments," many of which were made by his boss.

Bruns and his fiancee filed suit against the company, alleging invasion of privacy. This is not exactly a surprise, I'd say. But why not sue the supervisor, Offenhauser, individually? Well, presumably, because he was acting in his capacity as a supervisor at the time of the alleged conduct. But the alleged acts were, after all, tortious in nature, so there would likely be a claim against him, as well as against the company. The company, however, is more likely to have the money to pay.

And that, dear readers, is how the pixels crumble.

Fighting Back: Bullies and Obesity

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 3, 2012In: Disabilities (ADA), EEOC Suits & Settlements, Hiring, Jerks at Work, Off-Duty Conduct

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Some people are real jerks. Anyone who deals with the general public for a living knows that this is an indisputable fact. For those who work in sales or service positions know that the theory "the customer is always right" can be a bitter pill to swallow. Every waiter, store clerk, and receptionist has had a moment where they had to swallow very hard to resist firing back at an irate and/or irrational customer who's decided to take out his or her frustrations on whoever happens to be in their line of vision. Most of the time, it is not possible or not wise to fight back.

But, sometimes, it is.

Take, for example, Jennifer Livingston, a TV news anchor in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. A viewer with, apparently, way too much time on his hands, took it upon himself to write Ms. Livingston a note to express his displeasure with her weight. "Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain," wrote the viewer. "I leave you this note hoping that you'll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle."

I think it's fair to say that Ms. Livingston didn't find the viewer's "concern" all that heartwarming. Heck, it may have even hurt her feelings. But, instead of hiding her pain, she elected to take a different approach and responded to the comments on the air. Her response took the form of an articulate call to arms in which she accused the viewer of being a bully.

I think the story is inspiring for a number of reasons but it also highlights a few different current issues in employment law.

First, there's the continuing discussion surrounding bullies in the workplace or, as I like to call them, "jerks at work." Legislation has been introduced in numerous states over the past five or so years that would, in short, make it unlawful to be a jerk at work. I think there are obvious problems with trying to legislate "jerkiness" but I also recognize the high costs that jerks can have on workforce morale, creativity, and overall productivity. This post at Above the Law provides a recent summary of the various legislative efforts.

Second, there's the as-yet-unresolved question of whether obesity is a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Historically, courts have been unwilling to include obesity as a protected disability. With this precedent in mind, some employers have refused to hire applicants who are obese and charge higher health-care premiums for overweight employees. But the EEOC has said that the ADA does protect individuals who are morbidly obese. A case filed last year by the EEOC asserting that "severe" obesity was a protected disability under the ADA, recently resulted in a $55,000 settlement for the employee. And a recent decision by the Montana Supreme Court seems to further support that the trend has shifted towards protecting obesity as a disability.

Gordon Ramsay, A Hotel, and a Hen House

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn August 21, 2012In: Jerks at Work

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Last night I watched the second episode of Gordon Ramsay's new show, Hotel Hell. If you're not familiar with the show, the basic premise is this: Gordon visits a failing hotel and, after lots of screaming and yelling, turns the owners into decent human beings who don't treat their staff like savages and who see the error in their ways. The team all pulls together at the end and turns the place around. [FN 1]

Like the premiere episode last week, last night's episode provided no shortage of "teaching moments." [FN 2] The main lesson from last night's show was this: leave the farming to the farmers. Just because you have enough change in your pocket to buy a parcel of land does not mean that you should be operating a John Deere. The chickens will cluck at you from the hen house and the cows are likely to give you a swift kick with a hoof if you so much as think trying to milk one of them. Blue Hen of Delaware.jpg

In this case, there was no farm, no tractor, and no animals. It was worse--there was a lawyer with a hotel. A lawyer who had no experience whatsoever in the hospitality industry. But, one starry night, he was talking to his wife about what they should do to celebrate their wedding anniversary when he had the bright idea to buy the local landmark hotel instead of, let's say, just booking a dinner reservation.

And, poof, just like that, the lawyer became a hotelier. Not a successful hotelier, mind you. But a hotelier nonetheless. Soon, Gordon was on site to save the day.

He nearly fell over when he learned that Mr. and Mrs. Hotel Owners had no experience in any aspect of hotel or restaurant management. He told them, or, technically, screamed at them, that they ought to just sell the place; that they were not cut out for this business. As it turns out, it seems that Gordon may have been right, the post-script following the show indicated that the bank foreclosed on the property, despite Gordon's valiant efforts. So what's the "teaching moment" from this low-grade disaster?

Don't pretend to be something that you're not.

If you find yourself responsible for a project in a subject matter far beyond your scope of knowledge, admit it. And, for the love of Ramsay, don't try to boss around the real subject-matter experts. If you do, you'll be the laughing stock of the hen house. [FN 3]

***Footnotes***

[FN1] Don't misread my description as a negative review--I heart Gordon Ramsay. If it's his show, it's great, and that's that.

[FN 2] A "teaching moment," for those who many not know, is a major screw-up that, 15 years ago, would have resulted in taunting and teasing but, today, prompts insightful discussion by those who did not cause said screw-up.

[FN 3] In Delaware, you'd have Blue Hens in your proverbial hen house, as it's the Delaware State Bird.

Is Your Boss a Bert or an Ernie?

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn July 9, 2012In: Jerks at Work

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Navigating office politics can be difficult. Even in workplaces without backstabbers and manipulators, we all have days when it can be, well, shall we say, difficult to play well in the sandbox with others.

The best piece of advice I ever received when it comes to getting along with others is to remember that not everyone thinks like I do. Of course, I know that this is true. But even the obvious can be easily forgotten. There is a novel way to keep it mind, though.

If you want to manage your workplace (or other) relationships better, try starting with a personality analysis. And Muppet Theory may be the analysis you've been looking for. Muppet Theory, in short, proffers that everyone can be classified as either a Chaos Muppet or an Order Muppet.

As the creator of the Theory, Dahlia Litwick, writes on Slate:

Chaos Muppets are out-of-control, emotional, volatile. They tend toward the blue and fuzzy. They make their way through life in a swirling maelstrom of food crumbs, small flaming objects, and the letter C. Cookie Monster, Ernie, Grover, Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and--paradigmatically--Animal, are all Chaos Muppets. So, I must tell you, is Justice Stephen Breyer. bertandernie200x200.jpg

Order Muppets--and I'm thinking about Bert, Scooter, Sam the Eagle, Kermit the Frog, and the blue guy who is perennially harassed by Grover at restaurants (the Order Muppet Everyman)--tend to be neurotic, highly regimented, averse to surprises and may sport monstrously large eyebrows. They sometimes resent the responsibility of the world weighing on their felt shoulders, but they secretly revel in the knowledge that they keep the show running. Your first grade teacher was probably an Order Muppet. So is Chief Justice John Roberts.

Litwick goes on to explain that you can determine which type of Muppet your office mate is by the workspace that he or she keeps. She likens a Chaos Muppet's desk to Oscar's garbage can. But Chaos Muppets aren't all bad, she reminds us--too many Order Muppets means no cookies for anyone.

You may find that the quirky behavior of that coworker who drives you buggy is a little less quirky when think of him as an Ernie instead of a Bert. Go ahead and try it. Then have a cookie.

And, in case you are wondering why the reference to two Supreme Court justices, Litwick writes about the law and courts for Slate, which just confirms for me that she's totally awesome, as if her Muppet Theory didn't do that already.

Poor Client Management and High Expectations

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn July 3, 2012In: Jerks at Work, Performance Evaluations

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There has been a common element in each of the most difficult cases I've litigated--poor client management. What this means in a broad sense is a lawyer who fails to properly manage his client's expectations. This occurs for any number of reasons. For example, the lawyer may not have a good grasp of the case or of the applicable law and, for that reason, may have a severely inflated sense of the value of his client's claims.

The client is not always without fault, either. I've seen particularly manipulative or just plain bossy clients push their lawyer to do one thing or another and simply refuse to relent until they get their way. I usually see this exhibited during depositions. My opposing counsel brings his client to the deposition of my witness. Throughout the deposition, the client scribbles notes frantically, ripping pages out of a notebook and thrusting them across the table to his lawyer.

Inevitably, the lawyer relents and asks the question proposed by his client. And, inevitably, it's a flop. The question is out of context, irrelevant, and often poorly stated. It makes the lawyer look foolish and throws him off course.

A good lawyer knows better than to let this happen in the first place. When it is appropriate to bring a client to a deposition or court hearing, the good lawyer explains in advance what his role is and what the client's role is. If the client gets caught up in the moment and temporarily forgets those instructions, the lawyer simply takes a break at the next opportunity and tells the client to please keep her notes until the next break, when he will be glad to review them.

So what does client management have to do with today's workplace? In short, the transferrable lesson relates to managing expectations. Whether you are dealing with your direct supervisor, your assistant, or your own clients or customers, expectations are essential.

We are all responsible for setting our own rules and then abiding by them consistently. If you give your cell phone number to clients and encourage them to call you "anytime," don't be short with them when they do. Similarly, if you allow employees to "tease" a coworker because of his accent, don't be surprised when the "teasing" spreads to gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

It is the responsibility of every manager to set the expectations for employee behavior. These expectations are set in part by example and in part by responding immediately and consistently to every failure to meet those expectations.

Workplace Email: The Devil Made Me Do It

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn July 2, 2012In: Jerks at Work, Resources, Tech Tips

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People manage email in different ways. Some of us use our Inbox as a task list, filing everything that does not need attention.  Others use their Inbox as a storage site for any email that they may ever want to refer to again. You can imagine which group is better liked by IT departments across the globe.

We also have different standards for what is and is not acceptable from a usage or style perspective.  Emails that disregard sentence capitalization, for example, opting to use only lower-case letters, may drive some readers bonkers. Others may be more troubled by email senders who elect to use an atrocious and distracting “stationery,” which translates roughly to a pale beige background with fuzzy gray dots arranged in a grid pattern on which it is impossible to read any text smaller than 24 pts in bold font.

But what about the content of our emails?  There are tricky aspects of that, too, as many of us are all too well aware. Why is it that readers so often misinterpret messages as having a far more sinister or simply unfriendly intent?

Scott McDowell suggests some reasons in his post, Email Etiquette II: Why Emoticons (And Emotional Cues) Work.  I’ve been seeing a lot of articles like this lately and am thoroughly convinced of the accuracy of their premise. In short, despite our attempts to sound conversational in email correspondence, the electronic nature of the exchange prevents an actual conversation from occurring.  Without the chance to translate body language, intonation, and facial expressions, as we do so naturally during in –person conversations, we’re left to our own imaginations when putting emotions to the text we see on the screen.

And, as the post explains, if an email’s content is neutral (as many of us aim to achieve in our day-to-day business correspondence), he reader is more likely to assume that the tone is negative.  This theory of “negativity bias,” which is credited to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, also holds that, when the email’s tone is positive, the reader interprets the tone as neutral, as Mike Maslanka previously explained. 

So what’s a well-intended email author to do? smiley face icon

McDowell suggests an increased use emoticons.  Admittedly, I use a lot of smiley faces in my casual correspondence. I know, I know, it’s not exactly the most lawyerly way to write an email but it does the trick.  When used properly, the winking smiley face can lighten the tone of an otherwise serious-sounding sentence.  But I don’t imagine that I ‘d use a smiley face or even a winking smiley in an email to a new client with whom I don’t already have a rapport or who doesn’t already know smiley-type personality. 

Perhaps there’s an app waiting to be developed here—emoticons for the business environment. A little bow-tie wearing smiley face, maybe? Or maybe the smiley face could don a pair of wire-rimmed glasses, thus appearing both smart and friendly.

Until then, I’ll offer my own humble suggestion—not to to senders but to recipients. If you receive an email from a coworker or other person you generally consider to be on your side of the shooting range, and you have a moment of doubt about the tone or intention behind an email you receive, make an effort to start from the assumption that it’s positive or, at the very least, neutral. In other words, be consciously careful to avoid assuming that guy or girl down the hall has suddenly switched sides and is now a covert agent operating for the enemy.

Taking the Mystery Out of Bad Hiring Practices

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn June 25, 2012In: Age (ADEA), Gender (Title VII), Harassment, Hiring, Interviewing, Jerks at Work

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Want some free anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training? Well, have I got a deal for you! Mystery Diners is a reality show on the Food Network. The show's concept involves a father-daughter team who pretend to be employees and/or customers at a target restaurant in order to help the owner uncover the "leaks in the dam" so to speak.

An episode that aired last week, called, "Managing Disaster," could be used as a workplace best-practices training video. In short, you could use the video to train employees that any of the conduct by the restaurant's manager should be considered prohibited conduct in your workplace.

Yes, it really was that bad. And I mean bad. Let me take a moment to run through just a few examples of conduct that occurred during the hiring process.

Candidate #1: Sarah the "Old Lady"

Two women are sent into the restaurant to interview for a waitress position. One of the women is Sarah, who is in her mid-30s and has lots of waitressing experience. She interviewed with the bad-guy-manager (we'll call him "Manager," despite he did anything but manage the employees).

During the interview, he asked her how old she was. Yes, you read that correctly. When she answered "I'm 35," Manager nearly fell out of his seat. He quickly sent her on her way and told her he'd be in touch. After she was out the door, he ran over to the bar, where he told the bartender that Sarah "was like, in her 30s--she'd be like a mother in here!!"

Candidate #2: Destiney In a Short Skirt
The second candidate was Destiney, the daughter of the father-daughter team, who I'd guess to be maybe 21 years old. Destiney was young and cute and wore a short skirt to herinterview. As if Manager hadn't already shown his true colors during Sarah's interview, he took it to an entirely new level with Destiney. By the end of the "interview," though, you can be sure that Destiney had been offered the job.

For starters, he made her sit on a couch for the interview, which was not only way too informal but also clearly uncomfortable for Destiney in light of her attire. When Destiney admitted that she had no real experience to speak of, Manager assured her that experience was not important--"as long as you're cute."

Ethical Standards Lower than a Short Skirt

Seeing that he couldn't ask her about anything relevant to the duties of the job, I guess it's natural that Manager turned to other topics. In this case, Manager chose "partying," and began a series of questions about Destiney's after-hour activities, such as whether she liked to "party" and whether she liked to go clubbing, which "they" (presumably, Manager and his creepy friends), "did all of the time."

The low point of the "interview" came when Manager touched Destiney's knee as he sat way too close to her on the low-to-the-ground couch and talked about low-life topics like "partying" and assuring her that his standards for hiring were as low as his morals. What a dirt bag. And you can imagine what the father, who sat in a trailer watching the live video stream with the restaurant's owner, must have thought as he saw Manager Creepy touch Daughter Destiney's bare knee. Nice.

When Busted, Blame Others
Folks, the take-aways from this episode are, admittedly, obvious to most of us. They weren't, apparently, as obvious to Manager Creepy, who was shocked and appalled that the owner had secretly videotaped these antics. And, in a demonstration of some of the best blame-shifting skills I've perhaps ever seen, Manager Creepy, furious about the intrusion, turned the entire situation around and accused the owner of being an unsupportive boss.

Be sure to catch the show for some free anti-harassment-and-discrimination training.

Employers, Are Your Employees Minding Their Own Business?

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn June 11, 2012In: Jerks at Work

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Employees send a lot of emails at work. Goodness knows, the emails in my inbox never seems to stop piling up. And I think we can all agree that emails we send at work aren't always work related. So what do we talk about when our emails are not strictly business?

A pair of Georgia Tech researchers have published their take on the answer--but you may not want to know what they found. According to Tanu Mitra and Eric Gilbert, in their paper, "Have You Heard? How Gossip Flows Through Workplace Email" (PDF), found that more than 1 in every 7 emails sent at work contains workplace gossip.

The study evaluated more than 500,000 emails sent by Enron employees and looked for The authors define email "gossip" as an email in which an employee is mentioned in the body of the text but not included as a recipient. The study has lots of juicy findings:

1. Who Engages In Email Gossip?
Workplace gossip is common at all levels of the organizational hierarchy. [No big shock here.] Employees are most likely to gossip with their peers and employees at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy are responsible for a large portion of email gossip.

2. What Types of Emails Include Gossip?
The study concludes that gossip appeared as often in personal exchanges as it did in formal business communications. Emails that are targeted to a smaller audience are more likely to contain gossip.

3. How Gossip-y is the Gossip?
Negative gossip appeared in emails 2.7 times more often than positive gossip. At the risk of stating the obvious, this is not a good finding for employers. If true, it would mean that, not only are employees wasting lots of time with gossiping emails but that they're probably doing some real harm to workplace morale. Employers, how much are you spending to pay employees to stir the pot? Nobody likes a pot stirrer.

4. And, a random but fascinating finding:
Mid-level in-house lawyers contribute the second-highest amount of downward-flowing gossip. Yikes! I won't even attempt to rationalize this finding. I'd say that I will take a harder look at my own practices but I never send non-work-related emails during working time. [Particularly when my boss may be reading this post!]

It's a fascinating subject matter and an equally fascinating paper.
[H/T Workplace Diva]

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Brilliant: Part II

Posted by Lauren Moak RussellOn January 12, 2012In: Hiring, Jerks at Work, Just for Fun, Newsworthy

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You may recall our previous post about a young lawyer who sued his former employer. The lawyer, Gregory Berry, had sent an email to the firm's partners, in which he stated, "it has become clear that I have as much experience and ability as an associate many years my senior, as much skill writing, and a superior legal mind to most I have met." Not surprisingly, Mr. Berry's arrogance was not well received, and he lost his job. He then sued his former employer, seeking over $75 million in damages.

Mr. Berry must have been stunned, then, when his lawsuit was dismissed earlier this week. The court dismissed the suit on the grounds that Mr. Berry had executed a valid release of his claims in exchange for a $27,000 severance payment. Consequently, his claims were barred. The court rejected Mr. Berry's argument that he signed the "unconscionable" agreement under economic duress.

But this story isn't over! In keeping with the self-aggrandizing attitude evident in Mr. Berry's email, he left the Courtroom before the Judge had finished issuing her ruling. She has now ordered the parties to attend a hearing on January 24, for purposes of considering a contempt ruling against Mr. Berry, reports Above the Law.

So what is the lesson to be learned for employers? Well, I suppose there's the idea that there's no way to guarantee you won't get sued. Despite the existence of a valid severance agreement and a substantial cash payent, the law firm still got hit with a lawsuit--and the aggravation and expense that goes with it. If there is a lesson here, it may be that you can never be too selective in your hiring decisions.

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Brillant: An Employee's Tale

Posted by Lauren Moak RussellOn August 26, 2011In: Jerks at Work

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Most supervisors have dealt with an employee who believes his work performance is better than what it actually is. It's a minority of employees who believe they are less than a "four-star" performer. But an employee who is so convinced of his personal value that he sues his employer for $75 million is a rarity, indeed. Yet, rare or not, that is precisely the case in Berry v. Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, LLP.

According to Berry, he had a “distinguished” and “remarkable” career in the technology sector. Having "conquer[ed] Silicon Valley," he decided to turn his talents to the legal profession, abandoning his technology endeavors to attend the prestigous University of Pennsylvania Law School. Upon graduation, he accepted a position with an equally prestigous law firm, Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman. Ready to conquer the world of private practice, according to Berry, he “immediately began doing superlative work,” and “repeatedly found ways to improve the efficiency of work, or even the outcome of cases.” Unfortunately, though, he feels his genius went unappreciated.

Berry claims that he was terminated after he sent an email to the firm’s partners requesting additional work. In the email, Berry stated that it had "become clear that I have as much experience and ability as an associate many years my senior, as much skill writing, and a superior legal mind to most I have met.” Interestingly, prior to sending the email, Berry had been expressly warned not to “be so arrogant.” Apparently, he did not heed that advice.

Upon termination, Berry was presented with an “unconscionable” Separation Agreement, which he signed only under “economic duress.” Under the agreement, Berry received two months’ salary in exchange for a complete waiver of claims. Notwithstanding having executed the waiver and release, Berry sued filed suit, alleging 14 causes of action.

The lesson for employers? Beware the employee who is, perhaps, a bit to aware of his own "superlative" work.





Workplace Bullies Are Just Big Babies

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 29, 2010In: Jerks at Work

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In a post titled, Create a Bully-Free Workplace, Nathanael Fast writes about the findings of a study he and Serena Chen conducted on workplace bullying. He reports some interesting findings from the study.  For example, he links bullying to significant costs to organizations.  Specifically, he says that bullying causes reduced creativity, low morale, and increased turnover, “all factors that weigh heavily on the bottom line.”

But what I found most interesting were his conclusions on the reasons for bullying—why bullies act like such, well, bullies. He concludes that the “simultaneous pairing of power with feelings of inadequacy” is what led bosses to become bullies.

In our studies, the power holders who felt personally incompetent became aggressive, not because they were power hungry or had domineering personalities but because they were trying to overcome ego threat. Put simply, bullying is a cheap way to nurse a wounded ego.

In other words, big babies who don’t like themselves take it out on others. 

An Award You Don't Want: Worst Boss of the Year

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn December 8, 2009In: Jerks at Work

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The eBoss Watch Worst Bosses of 2009 award is one that you probably don't want framed above your desk. There are 25 "winners" selected by a panel of experts on workplace behavior, bullying, and civility. 

Here's the description of one of the 25 worst bosses of the year:

Water distribution superintendent, City of Monroe, Monroe, Louisiana
Benton’s employees recorded a four hour meeting that took place late last year where Benton used hundreds of obscenities and ordered one of the supervisors to physically attack an equipment operator.

punching fist

 

For more on Jerks at Work, see these related posts:

Abusive Bosses Should Watch Their Backs

Everything You Needed to Know About Your Toxic Boss

Could an Ombudsman Help You Squelch Bullies in the Workplace

5 Costs of Coworker Bullying

Work-life balance, toxic bosses, and generation gaps, this week in BusinessWeek

Inside the Mind of a Super Jerk

Disrespectful Workplace Costs State $314k

How Crazy Is Your Boss? No, really, how crazy?

"My Boss Is Killing Me": Why this just may be true

It's Friday and Your Boss Is a Total Tool

The Truth About Workplace Revenge

Women Bullies In the Workplace

Jerks at Work and on the Web

Now's a Great Time for Workplace-Civility Initiatives

 

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