A bullying boss can make your life a living hell, where nothing you do is ever good enough. As an employee, your main goal every day is to avoid public tirades and humiliation. Everyone you know is looking for another job.
But can you legally hold your bully boss legally responsible for the suffering inflicted on employees?
One former employee of Beckett Media, LLC in Dallas is trying. A former executive is suing the company in Texas state court, claiming the company’s president, Sandeep Dua, bullied him to the point of causing a mental breakdown, according to Sports Collectors Daily. Beckett Media, owned by Eli Global, provides pricing, grading, publishing, and e-commerce for collectors of sports memorabilia and trading cards.
The Lawsuit Allegations
Rodney Alsup of Dallas filed the suit in April. He seeks actual and punitive damages of up to $500,000 and a return to his job without discrimination. Alsup was the company’s national sales manager in 2013 and was promoted to director of sales and marketing in 2014. Eight months later, he suffered a breakdown, allegedly caused by Dua’s pattern of intimidation, humiliation, and unreasonable expectations.
Alsup’s legal claims include breach of contract, disability discrimination, and violations of HIPAA (health information privacy) laws. Beckett denies the allegations. As part of the lawsuit, Alsup made the following claims:
- Dua’s management style “is to intimidate, embarrass and ‘ride’ employees constantly stressing that only ‘A’ players are allowed on the bus and ‘C’ players (including disabled employees) are moved off the bus.”
- Being “stuck between a bullying boss and customers enraged by Mr. Dua’s conduct” made it difficult for him to do his job.
- After being discharged from a hospital, Beckett illegally obtained copies of his medical records and shared them with Dua and other company employees.
- Dua “imposed humiliating and demeaning” reporting requirements and denied him access to company offices.
- After his hospital discharge, Dua demanded in a week’s time what Alsup claims would be “several months of work.”
- At least one other “current member of Beckett’s management team has been hospitalized for depression due to Mr. Dua’s threats and humiliation.”
Is Your Boss a Sociopath?
We don’t know whether the allegations are true, and we don’t know Dua. However, if the lawsuit is true, it’s possible that Alsup worked for a sociopath. According to an article in Forbes magazine, about one in 25 people could be considered sociopaths. (Sociopaths are people without a conscience, who have no sense of right or wrong, and who lack empathy but have the ability to mimic emotion and empathy to ingratiate themselves and manipulate others for their benefit or amusement.)
Research shows there may be a higher rate of sociopaths in management than in the general population. Some of the warning signs of a sociopathic boss include the following:
- failing to acknowledge responsibility and blaming others;
- lacking genuine feelings or empathy toward others;
- manipulating and bullying others for their own purposes: because they lack of emotion, sociopaths need extra stimulation, and the power they feel when bullying employees provides them an adrenaline rush;
- lacking feelings of remorse;
- celebrating making others suffer;
- enjoying making others feel bad about themselves; and
- sabotaging co-workers and employees.
Your Legal Options for Responding to Bullying in the Office
Regardless of whether your boss is a sociopath, whether you can successfully bring legal claims depends on the conditions of your employment, which would have to be extreme. Why? For two reasons:
- Legislatures and judges generally avoid telling management how to run their businesses.
- It’s not necessarily illegal for management to act illogically, to act irrationally, or to make employees miserable.
If the bullying is focused on a particular group (women, the disabled, or Hispanics, for example), there may be violations of federal or state antidiscrimination laws if you can show there were unequal terms and conditions of employment or if the bullying was so severe that it would be considered harassment. If the boss is a genuine bully, a possible defense may be that the boss bullies all kinds of employees, without regard to who they may be, so no discrimination occurred simply because a worker belongs to a certain group.
Common law (judge-made) causes of action, such as defamation, libel, intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, or unlawful termination, may also be an option. Intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress may seem like a logical choice, but it may be difficult to prove. To prevail, you would have to show three things:
- the manager’s conduct was intentional or reckless;
- the conduct was outrageous, extreme, and intolerable, going beyond the limits of what would be considered generally acceptable behavior; and
- the conduct caused severe emotional distress that resulted in harm.
Summing It Up
- Too many workers suffer through bullying bosses.
- If the situation is extreme enough and you can show that you suffered some kind of serious harm as a result, you could bring legal action against your employer.
- As in Alsup’s case, the causes of action could be based on state or federal statutes or common law.
If you feel you’re being bullied at work, contact our office today so we can discuss the situation, possible violations of the law, and your options for seeking redress or compensation.