In ‘Oh, Really?’ the Biederman Blog’s editors — voracious consumers of all matters pop culture — cast a curious, skeptical, fun and smart end-of-the-week eye on popular productions, sharing their keen observations about legal matters these raise.
In Horrible Bosses, a 2011 movie that’s recently been released on DVD, three friends who work for miserable so-and-sos, find themselves unhappy, disgruntled and needing a plan to get back at their awful chiefs for years of bullying, discrimination and abuse. They end up hiring a hit man to help them coordinate the murder of each boss: the first is an egotistic CEO, the second an irresponsible small-business owner and the third a sexually harassing dentist. Is homicide the only way, really, to solve rotten problems in the workplace? Doesn’t the law provide more suitable options, really?
Each boss presents singular, identifiable employment law issues.
The first, portrayed by Kevin Spacey, is a narcissistic bullying CEO who baits Jason Bateman’s character with the promise of a promotion. Bateman’s character labors for advancement, arriving at work at 6 every morning, even missing the chance to say goodbye to his dying grandmother in hopes he can rise sufficiently so he can be his own boss. But when the day for his promotion arrives, Spacey, instead, takes the title and blackmails Bateman so he can’t quit the company, ensuring that he stays a corporate slave who does all the work while his boss gets all of the credit. To add insult to inury, Bateman must endure his boss’ unjust accusations, abusive conduct and profanity.
Bateman, of course, has legal options, as bullying and verbal harassment in the workplace is illegal in California. For victims to show that they’re experiencing severe or pervasive harassment that alters working conditions and creates an abusive workplace, they must satisfy both objective and a subjective standards. See Harris v. Forklift Sys. (1993) 510 US 17, 126. Under the objective standard, victims must prove that a reasonable person would consider conduct they’re experiencing to be severe or pervasive. Under the subjective standard, victims must show that they actually feel the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive as to interfere with the work environment. n Bateman’s stuck in what appears to be a strong case for an abusive workplace environment, entitling him to protection under California labor law.
As for Jason Sudeikis, his character’s boss has inherited his small business from his father. As soon as the nepotistic son takes over as new owner, he asks Sudeikis to terminate all the “fat” people in the office, including a wheelchair-bound worker and a pregnant colleague. This, of course, would appear to flout the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). It prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants with disabilities in all aspects of employment, including hiring, pay, promotion, dismissal and more. It also protects employees from retaliation when they seek their rights under the law. Those who employ at least 15 people must adhere to the ADA, and it clearly would offer Sudeikis a more rational option than homicide.
Meantime, Charlie Day portrays a dental hygienist who experiences sexual harassment, which is legally prohibited in the workplace under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Day, based on the movie’s comic antics, easily could establish a prima facie case of sexual harassment, as the bad conduct by his boss continues through the work day and is both subjectively and objectively severe and pervasive. See Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998). Hi’s boss also makes sexually explicit comments throughout and even sexually assaults him while he’s anesthetized. His character perseveres and doesn’t quit his job. Because of his hostile workplace environment, however, he could, in real life, hit the bricks and successfully argue constructive discharge, meaning conditions under which he was expected work are “so intolerable that a reasonable person would resign.” Pennsylvania State v. Suders, 542 U.S. 129 (2004).
So, in summary, there are legal remedies rather than resorting to homicide for those who find themselves in atrocious work situations.
Of course, in California, it’s also worth mentioning that many supervisors also get an earful about these, perhaps because workers keep prevailing in eye-popping legal awards (such as the $168 million judgment announced Thursday). Or is it just that all the managers in the state simply also are homicidal themselves after undergoing their every other year, state-mandated training in averting sexual harassment in the workplace?