Litigation Value: Rampant unlawful discrimination and harassment = more zeros than I’ve seen in a long time; instructing employees to fire all the “cripples” and the “fatties” = an expensive lesson for the employer to learn; finding out that a sequel is in the works = priceless.
To kick off our new blog, I thought I should choose some bosses whose shenanigans meet, if not exceed, the litigation value accumulated by the antics of the much loved fictional boss and source of inspiration for our previous blog, Michael Scott. With that in mind, it would be difficult to surpass the litigation value in the aptly named dark comedy film Horrible Bosses. Given that a sequel is now in the works, let us revisit one of my favorite 2011 films.
If you have seen the movie, you probably know that I could spend weeks blogging about this movie alone and the rampant employment issues, not to mention the potential criminal charges arising from the events in the film. I’ve decided to limit this blog entry to a particular employment discrimination issue that seems to be on the rise—sexual harassment against men in the workplace. Believe it or not, sexual harassment charges filed by men have doubled over the past two decades. Indeed, in 2011, 16.3 percent of all sexual harassment charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) were filed by men.
This serious issue is represented in a darkly humorous way in the film via Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston) and her dental assistant, Dale Arbus (Charlie Day). Not only does Julia grope, lick, and make highly sexual comments to Dale on a regular basis, she even threatens to tell his fiancee that they had sex unless Dale agrees to actually have sex with her. In fact, Dale eventually learns that Julia sexually assaulted him and took photographs documenting the assault while he was under anesthesia during a dental procedure. Julia’s actions are enough to make this blogger even more nervous about those pesky dental appointments. When Dale complains to his friends about Julia’s conduct, they disregard his concerns and even seem to think Dale should be pleased with her attention.
Think that this is only a far-fetched plotline in a movie? Think again. Allegations of similarly egregious conduct have come up in employment lawsuits. In fact, plaintiffs in recent litigation have made allegations of female supervisors or coworkers making sexually suggestive remarks in the workplace, sending revealing photographs of themselves, engaging in inappropriate touching, and otherwise causing a sexually hostile work environment for the male plaintiffs. Some male plaintiffs have even alleged that when they complained about such treatment, their supervisors and other employees thought they should be happy to receive such attention or even made fun of them for not reciprocating the harassers’ advances.
The bottom line for employers: Harassment training is key, and all complaints (regardless of the sex of the complainer and the alleged harasser) should be taken seriously and handled appropriately. As for Dale, he manages to get the best of Julia, but you will have to watch the movie to find out how. A hint—please don’t try Dale’s methods at home.