Getting Sued for Being Mean

Unlike Lance Armstrong, Michael O’Connell also has a neck scar. (source)  His coworkers decided it would be jolly good fun to call him “uni-ball” and “cut-throat”.  Apparently, Mr. O’Connell had a problem with that.  He already had some form of anxiety disorder, so he claimed hUni-Balle was being harassed and somehow that implicated his disability.  He was subsequently canned.

Forgetting that filing a lawsuit would mean that the public would now be apprised of his deeply personal loss, Mr. O’Connell decided to sue his former employer for discrimination, IIED, and retaliation.  Judge is allowing the IIED claim and retaliation claim to stand. (Decision)  The retaliation claim is one of my favorites:  Judge found the guy didn’t properly prosecute the discrimination claim itself.  But, even if you don’t have a valid discrimination claim, it is still unlawful to be fired for making a bogus discrimination claim.  Technically, you could accuse everyone you work with of being racist, sexist bigots, and you cannot be fired for it, no matter how poorly it affects office morale to be accused of being a racist, sexist bigot daily.  I don’t know anyone who has ever tried this, but it would be an interesting case.  It would take a lot of something Mr. O’Connell lacks.

The IIED claim is an interesting one.  Typically, you cannot sue your boss for an injury, including emotional injury, that occurs on the job; that’s why we have workers’ compensation.  It is meant to get you speedy medical and replacement wage benefits in exchange for not being able to sue the boss.  (The medical benefits were a fantastic thing for workers 100 years ago; nowadays, with most people having insurance, it makes things more complicated.)  But, there are state variations and, for egregious conduct, apparently Mr. O’Connell was found to have stated a valid claim in his jurisdiction.

It is an interesting tort, like bullying laws, that significantly restricts freedom of speech.  How mean are you allowed to be to someone before you owe them for their therapy bills?  The most inappropriate man may need to be careful if he dares criticize a resident of Illinois.


2 Responses to Getting Sued for Being Mean

  1. Jordan says:

    “Apparently, Mr. O’Connell had a problem with that. He already had some form of anxiety disorder, so he claimed he was being harassed and somehow that implicated his disability.”

    Not quite…

    As I read the opinion, the Plaintiff started to develop anxiety issues due to the taunting and also due to the fact that he had surgeries because of cancer. Because of the anxiety, he was prescribed anti-anxiety medication, which he kept in his drawer. The defendants knew he was prescribed medication, and kept it in his desk, and then would hide it. They would then continuing to pick on the dude to make his now unmedicated anxiety worse.

    I’m all for pranking (I am a notorious prankster who often crosses the line), but that goes WAY too far. In another context… imagine if he had diabetes. Would it be funny to give him some birthday cake for lunch and then hide his insulin?

  2. Jay Wolman says:

    I missed the sentence regarding the theft of the anti-anxiety medication. However, a one-time theft of the medication might not rise to the level of harassment on the basis of an anxiety disorder. (Procedurally, he only raised this disability in court; he failed to raise it with the administrative agency and was barred from pursuing it on that basis.) Just like a one-time sexually charged joke that offends someone the jokester happens to dislike for other reasons (e.g. lost a client account) does not necessarily rise to sexual harassment, even if properly handled that count might not have survived.

    I don’t think either form of pranking is appropriate. I’m a bit more vengeful; if someone stole my anti-anxiety medication or insulin, I’d call the cops. But not these guys:

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