No discussion of the film Horrible Bosses is complete without covering Kevin Spacey’s character, David Harken. Although he is arguably the most intimidating and even frightening of the three horrible bosses (two of which I covered in earlier posts, #1 and #2), his workplace conduct gives rise to the lowest litigation value from an employment law perspective. Unfortunately for Harken, his jealousy combined with his unhealthy marriage ultimately lead him to a life of violent crime outside the office and his final downfall. For the purposes of this blog entry, we will focus on Harken’s workplace conduct and leave his more colorful personal life for your enjoyment at home with a tub of popcorn.
In the film, Nick Hendricks (played by Jason Bateman) has good reason to detest Harken. After dangling a possible promotion in front of Hendricks and watching Hendricks work tirelessly to meet Harken’s extremely high (and often inconsistent) expectations , Harken proceeds to award the promotion to . . . himself. He then commences construction on an even larger office for himself. Hendricks is understandably upset about this strange turn of events. Sadly for Hendricks, “unfair” and even “bizarre” do not equate to “unlawful.” In addition, case law has clearly established that federal employment laws aren’t general civility codes for the American workplace.
While Harken’s conduct is despicable and makes for a great storyline, there is no indication that his conduct toward Hendricks is based on any protected status. Indeed, Hendricks would have an uphill battle proving a discrimination claim given that: (1) Hendricks and Harken are in the same race- and sex-protected groups; and (2) it seems that Harken is equally horrible to everyone in the office regardless of race, sex, religion, etc. Harken’s conduct, however, clearly does lead to serious workplace morale issues that any proactive employer would want to address.
Thankfully, Harken’s evil nature and a clever navigation system operator land him in jail with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the leg, but Hendricks’ celebratory mood seems destined to be short-lived. The final moments of the film indicate that Hendricks may have traded one horrible boss for an even more disturbing one. Just ask the guy trapped in the car trunk.