Workplace bullying is not unlawful. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), is not stopped by that, though. It has entered into a consent decree with the State of Oregon, ending a lawsuit involving workplace bullying. The case, filed by the EEOC on behalf of Sheri Peters, a former juvenile court clerk, was filed under federal employment laws but, at its core, alleged egregious workplace bullying.
Peters claimed that her former boss, the juvenile justice center manager, Linda Simonson, engaged in a variety of hostile conduct towards her subordinates. Peters claimed that, after working at the center for a month, she told Simonson that she was pregnant. Simonson responded that she felt Peters had concealed her pregnancy to get hired and called Peters at her unborn child “garbage.” When Peters went to the hospital with a ruptured placenta in December 2004, she claimed, Simonson called her and chastised her for being not at work.
Court documents do not paint a pretty image for the center’s management style. Several current and former employees testified about the “bullying conduct” of Simonson who, as one witness described, “managed the department like an abusive parent.” Another employee reported that she was harassed “relentlessly” by Simonson while out maternity leave. Another claimed that, while she was pregnant, she was subject to “harassing and intimidating behavior” by Simsonson. And one employee stated that Simonson was harassing, “cruel and vindictive.”
As part of the settlement, Peters will receive $315,000.
The real lesson here is not about pregnancy discrimination or even gender-based harassment. The real lesson is about respectful conduct in the workplace. Employers who fail to recognize that respect is an essential component of every job will eventually have to face the fallout of a distrusting workforce who feels they were thrown to the wolves by the organization that turned a blind eye to bullying and disrespectful treatment by management.