by Ellen Pinkos Cobb
A Dallas County jury recently found a doctor liable for his workplace bullying, returning a $1.08 million verdict against the doctor and the clinic for sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and retaliation. The plaintiff, a Licensed Vocational Nurse, described a hostile and threatening work environment, testifying that on three occasions, the doctor had screamed at her with his hands raised and fists clenched, "Just shut up. Just shut up, I'm sick of you." On one occasion, he threw punches at her in the air, although he never touched her. Following company policy, the plaintiff reported the behavior to the practice's human resources department. Shortly after filing her complaint, the doctor called her into an office after business hours and gave her what he described in trial testimony as a "demonstration" of what screaming was to prove that he had not screamed at the nurse.
The plaintiff’s attorney stated: "The jury verdict included $348,889 against the doctor individually for bullying. A verdict such as this should serve as a warning and wake up call to bosses everywhere that they cannot scream, demean or otherwise bully their employees. This is one of the few verdicts I'm aware of in the country awarding an employee damages against their boss individually for bullying."
The plaintiff attorney’s statements are correct, as there is no law at this time against workplace bullying in the US. She is also correct that employers should maintain an awareness that employers should not engage in workplace bullying. Research has shown the detrimental effects of bullying in the workplace on both employers and employees. Further, legislation resulting in employer liability for workplace bullying is in force in numerous countries.
For more information on workplace bullying, please contact Ellen P Cobb, Senior Regulatory & Legal Analyst at The Isosceles Group and a Founding Fellow of the Workplace Bullying Academy. Her forthcoming book, Workplace Bullying and Harassment: New Developments in International Law, published by Routledge, will be issued in 2017.
(Note: Shortly before the verdict was read, the two sides reached a $440,000 settlement, which cannot be appealed, according to the plaintiff’s attorney. The case is Patricia Hahn v Scott Davidson, MD, et al, in the Dallas County Court at Law No. 5)