Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Freedman v. D.C. Department of Human Rights -- A Conceptual Problem

I worked as a paralegal at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld from 1988 to 1991.  In late October 1991 the firm's senior attorney managers terminated my employment after I lodged a harassment complaint against my supervisor and others.  It is probable that I was a victim of a subtle form of harassment known as mobbing.

I filed an unlawful job termination complaint alleging discrimination under the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977 with the D.C. Department of Human Rights.  In September 1993 the agency found that the decision to terminate my employment by the firm's senior managers was not pretextual and that I did not prove that I was subjected to job harassment by coworkers.  Both the D.C. Superior Court and the D.C. Court of Appeals later affirmed the agency determination.

 I believe that a major conceptual problem for anyone evaluating my case, whether it be a state human rights agency or a court, is presented by a strong unacknowledged bias to view my coworkers as the alleged "bad guys" (the harassers) and to view the firm's senior managers who investigated my complaint as impartial "good guys" who were motivated to arrive at the truth in an unbiased manner.  Both the agency and the courts, therefore, tended to place undue emphasis on the fact that I did not make out a case of job harassment by "the bad guys" and tended to ignore the overwhelming evidence of pretext by the firm's senior attorney managers, since they were seen as the impartial good guys.

This conceptual approach or underlying psychological bias overlooks two basic facts about mobbing.  First, workplace mobbing is a subtle phenomenon.  The victim of workplace mobbing will be easily depicted as hypersensitive and paranoid by the mobbers since their harassing conduct will be subtle.

Second, in a workplace mobbing situation, the senior managers tend to side with the mobbers.  So effective is the defamation of the mobbing victim by the mobbers, and so unified are the mobbers in their behavior, that an organization's senior managers succumb to the machinations of the mobbers who aim to create the deceptively credible appearance that the mobbing victim is mentally disturbed.  In many or most cases of workplace mobbing the senior managers will be duped into believing the mobbers' propaganda that the mobbing victim is unfit for employment.

An investigating agency and a reviewing court will tend to emphasize (1) the absence of persuasive evidence of job harassment and will (2) tend to overlook the evidence of pretext in the behavior of an organization's senior managers.

At least that's my interpretation.