Friday, January 13, 2012

Subtle Job Harassment: State Court Recognition as of 1986

In Eide v. Kelsey-Hayes Co., 154 Mich. App. 142, 397 N.W.2d 532 (1986) the Michigan Court of Appeals recognized the phenomenon of subtle job harassment and permitted expert testimony to explain to the jurors the latent harassing meaning of seemingly trivial acts that went into the creation of a hostile work environment.

The Court wrote:
  • Next, defendant claims that the trial court erred in admitting the testimony of a sociologist as an expert witness. Defendant asserts that the testimony of plaintiffs' expert, Dr. James Gruber, was inappropriate, without foundation, and highly prejudicial because his testimony invaded the province of the judge and jury by going to the ultimate factual and legal conclusions.

    An expert is considered any person which the trial court determines has recognized scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge that will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue. MRE 702; Strzelecki v Blaser's Lakeside Industries of Rice Lake, Inc,133 Mich.App. 191, 198; 348 N.W.2d 311 (1984). The determination of whether a proposed expert witness is properly qualified is left to the sound discretion of the trial court, the decision of which will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Dybata v Kistler,140 Mich.App. 65, 68-69; 362 N.W.2d 891 (1985).

    Here, the trial court determined that plaintiffs' expert witness was qualified as an expert witness in the area of sexual harassment. Dr. Gruber had been teaching in the area relating to the subject for a number of years and had published books and articles on the subject. He also testified that he was familiar with the extensive body of research and literature regarding sexual harassment. We do not believe that the trial court abused its discretion in deciding that Dr. Gruber was qualified as an expert.

    After reviewing the record we also conclude that the evidence was sufficiently complex so that an expert would be helpful to the jury's understanding of the evidence. Little case law exists in the area of sexual harassment based on the creation of an offensive, hostile and intimidating environment which allows the sexual conduct to exist. Further, sexual harassment can take many forms and is often very subtle. Here, Dr. Gruber illuminated for the jury the type of environment that existed in the defendant's plant and testified to the sexual connotations of several of the acts of which plaintiff complained.
I referenced the Eide case in my Brief on Appeal filed with the D.C. Court of Appeals, stating that it was a dubious proposition to deny that attorney managers of a major law firm -- Dennis M. Race, Laurence J. Hoffman, and Malcolm Lassman (all labor lawyers, by the way) -- either knew or should have investigated in late October 1991 the possibility that the complaint of subtle job harassment I lodged against firm personnel satisfied, prima facie, the legal requirements of a hostile work environment.  That is to say, I might have been mistaken to believe that the acts I complained of constituted job harassment, but the complaint I lodged was not necessarily the product of mental illness that rendered me unemployable and potentially violent -- at least according to Eide and possibly other case law.


Gary Freedman said...

James E. Gruber, Ph.D. in January 1992: one month before DHR issued its Complaint in Freedman v. Akin, Gump, Hauer & Feld:

Gary Freedman said...


Professor of Sociology
University of Michigan-Dearborn
Dearborn, Michigan 48128
(313) 593-5611 (Office)


I am a social psychologist whose primary focus for the last twenty-five years has been sexual harassment. The end result of one national and three international research projects has been a substantial number of journal articles, conference presentations, and workshops. Additionally, I have been active as an expert witness in sexual harassment and have given testimony in county, state, and federal courts. In the last five years I have undertaken a new research venture: Bullying and sexual harassment in middle and high schools. As workplace sexual harassment was twenty-five years ago, school bullying and sexual harassment are emerging research and legal topics.


University of North Carolina: Ph.D. (1976), M.A. (1973), Sociology.
University of Wisconsin: B.S. (1970), Sociology and Psychology.


1992 - present Professor of Sociology
The University of Michigan-Dearborn
Dearborn, MI
1979-1992 Assistant (1979-82) and Associate Professor (1982-1992) of Sociology,
The University of Michigan-Dearborn
Dearborn, MI
1975-1979 Assistant Professor of Sociology,
The University of Wisconsin-Parkside
Kenosha, Wisconsin


Courses taught on a regular basis
Social Problems
Poverty & Inequality
Social Psychology
Men & Masculinities
Gender Roles
Introduction to Women's Studies
Social Research Methods
Sociological Theory

Gary Freedman said...

State court recognition of subtle job harassment:

Gary Freedman said...

In 2000 may people thought George W. Bush would make a great president.

They were wrong; but not necessarily mentally ill.