Monday, September 30, 2013

Status Letter Sent to U.S. Social Security Administration

September 30, 2013
3801 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Apartment 136
Washington, DC  20036

Social Security Administration
Mid-Atlantic Program Service Center
Module 7
300 Spring Garden Street
Philadelphia, PA  19123-2999

RE:  Social Security Disability Claim No. xxx-xx-xxxx

Dear Sir:

I have been continuously disabled and unemployed since October 29, 1991.  The effective date of my disability, October 29, 1991, is drawn from allegations made in a sworn declaration filed on May 22, 1992 with the D.C. Department of Human Rights by Dennis M. Race, Esq. (202 887 4027) and Laurence J. Hoffman, Esq., senior management partners of the Washington, DC office of the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (Akin Gump).  According to the declaration my former employer had been advised by a practicing psychiatrist, Gertrude R. Ticho, M.D. (deceased) that I appeared to suffer from the psychiatric "disorder" ideas of reference (consistent with schizophrenia), that I was not fit for employment and that I could become violent (i.e., that I posed a "direct threat in the workplace" which denied me, as a disabled American, the protections of The Americans With Disabilities Act). 

According to a second sworn declaration filed on May 17, 1993 by Akin Gump with the D.C. Department of Human Rights, Dennis M. Race, Esq. and Malcolm Lassman, Esq. consulted Dr. Ticho in a telephone conference call in late October 1991 to seek advice and guidance concerning a job harassment complaint I had lodged against my supervisor and coworkers pursuant to Title VII and/or The D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977.  Freedman v. D.C. Department of Human Rights, D.C.C.A. no. 96-CV-961 (Memorandum Opinion and Judgment, Sept. 1, 1998) ("the firm . . . learned [upon consulting a practicing psychiatrist] that [Mr. Freedman's] behavior was indicative of a disorder known as 'ideas of reference,' which is sometimes accompanied by violent behavior.').  Dr. Ticho did not examine me in person.  I never met Dr. Ticho or had any contact with her of any kind prior to October 29, 1991.  According to Dennis M. Race, Esq., Dr. Ticho was a "personal friend" of Malcolm Lassman, Esq., a senior firm manager.

I recently received written information about my current diagnoses provided by my treatment provider, The McClendon Center, a Core Services Agency of the District of Columbia, located at 1313 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC  20005, telephone: 202-737-6191.  In an email message addressed to me dated September 17, 2013 by Dennis Hobb, Program Manager, The McClendon Center, my psychiatric treatment chart lists the following currently existing disorders:  Delusional Disorder (297.1), Major Depression Recurrent Severe Without Psychotic Features (296.33), Alcohol Dependence in Sustained Remission (303.90), and PTSD (309.81), and Schizoid Personality Disorder (301.20).  I enclose a copy of the said email message for your information.

The psychiatric literature indicates that paranoia, major depression, alcohol dependence, and PTSD are recognized consequences of a subtle form of job harassment known as "workplace mobbing."  See, e.g.,  Hillard J.R., "Workplace mobbing: Are they really out to get your patient?" Current Psychiatry Volume 8 Number 4 April 2009 Pages 45–51.  I enclose a copy of the said article for your information.

I also enclose a copy of a document I submitted to the D.C. Department of Human Rights in November 1991 that describes my retrospective perceptions of my work environment at Akin Gump during the entirety of my tenure at the firm from early March 1988 to October 29, 1991.  I believe that the document -- and the editorial comments I added later (in italics) -- support the view that I was a victim of workplace mobbing. 


Gary Freedman

Steptoe & Johnson Responds to Representation Solicitation

Mr. Freedman,
I am writing to tell you that Steptoe is not able to represent you in the matter described, and I don’t have anyone to refer you to.
I hope that things work out for you.
Barbara Kagan
From: Gary Freedman []
Sent: Saturday, September 28, 2013 8:42 PM
To: Kagan, Barbara
Subject: pro bono -worker's comp
Barbara Kagan, Esq.
Steptoe & Johnson
Washington, DC

Dear Ms. Kagan:
I am writing to inquire whether Steptoe & Johnson would consent to represent me pro bono in the following matter.  I intend to file a worker's compensation claim regarding injuries I sustained during my employment at Akin Gump (1988-1991).  The following email message I sent to Dennis Race will explain the claim in detail. If you cannot represent me, perhaps you could refer me to another DC attorney?
Thank you.
Gary Freedman
Washington, DC
202 362 7064

Workplace Verbal Abuse -- What the DC Court of Appeals Says

When Maria Alvarado worked as a laundry manager at Imperial Valet Services Inc., she was subjected to frequent verbal abuse from her employer, according to testimony she gave after she quit. Her boss, she said, would call her "stupid," "a piece of crap" and other names.

After warning the supervisor not to treat her that way, Alvarado quit. Imperial challenged her request for unemployment compensation benefits, arguing she voluntarily left her job without good cause. After an administrative law judge found in Alvarado's favor, Imperial appealed. 

Today, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals sided with Alvarado, finding that an employee who quit because of verbal abuse could make a claim that they left for good cause and apply for benefits. Judge Kathryn Oberly, writing for the three-judge panel, said that although employers had a right to correct employees in a "reasonable manner," employees were not required to put up with "undue verbal abuse."

According to the opinion, Alvarado didn't file a brief, so there was no attorney listed for her. Imperial's attorney, Washington solo practitioner Thomas Heslep, declined to comment because he hadn't seen the opinion yet. 

The opinion was the first time the appeals court was asked to consider whether verbal abuse could be considered good cause for quitting, in the same vein as quitting for unsafe working conditions, for instance, could be considered good cause. 

Oberly said administrative law judges should "consider the totality of circumstances" when presented with verbal abuse claims. Those circumstances would include whether the "employer habitually hurled verbal insults," whether the insults were made in front of other people, whether the employer was criticizing the employee about job-related duties, and whether the employee had brought their concerns about the abusive conduct to their employer or supervisor. 

"Requiring an ALJ to weigh these factors (not all of which must be satisfied in every case) shapes our rule to comport with the purposes of unemployment compensation, as opposed to a rule that would be harsher, albeit simpler," Oberly wrote. 

In Alvarado's case, the court found the verbal abuse she endured did give her good cause to quit. The record showed she was subjected to repeated verbal abuse, was verbally abused in front of other people, was subjected to criticism that wasn't job-related, and had tried to address the abuse with her employer before quitting.

Judge Corinne Beckwith and Senior Judge Vanessa Ruiz also heard the case.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Worker's Comp Claim -- Message to U.S. District Court

Angela D. Caesar
Clerk of the Court
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
Washington, DC

Dear Ms. Caesar:

I plan to file a worker's compensation claim with the D.C. Department of Employment Services.  For your general information I forward a copy of an email message (emended) I sent to Dennis M. Race, Esq. on September 22, 2013 at the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (Washington, DC) regarding that claim.  I direct your specific attention to paragraph 5 of the following message that concerns the U.S. Marshals Service and Judge xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx.

Gary Freedman
Washington, DC

Dennis M. Race, Esq.
Senior Counsel
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
1333 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20036
Telephone: 202 887 4028

RE: Intent to File Worker's Compensation Claim

Dear Mr. Race:

This will advise the law law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (Akin Gump) that I plan to file a claim for Worker's Compensation from the Department of Employment Services of the Government of the District of Columbia, and I state the following reasons for the claim:

1.  I was employed as a paralegal at Akin Gump during the period June 13, 1988 to October 29, 1991.  During the entirety of my tenure at the firm I was subjected to a recognized subtle form of job harassment known as "workplace mobbing."

My allegations of facts concerning the mobbing were affirmed as genuine and truthful by the Government of the District of Columbia in an unlawful job termination complaint and subsequent litigation styled Freedman v. D.C. Department of Human Rights, D.C.C.A. no. 96-CV-961 (Sept. 1, 1998).  See Brief of Appellee (D.C. Office of Corporation Counsel).

2.  Neither Akin Gump nor the D.C. Office of Corporation Counsel denied that I was a victim of workplace mobbing.  The issue of whether I was a victim of workplace mobbing was never litigated; there is no anti-mobbing statute in the District of Columbia.  No administrative agency or court has ever determined that I was not a victim of workplace mobbing.

3.  Since May 2009 I have been a patient at the McClendon Center in Washington, DC where I receive medical management for mental illness.  On September 17, 2013 I was advised in an email message by Dennis Hobb, Program Manager, McClendon Center that my chart includes the following psychiatric diagnoses: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depression, Alcohol Dependence (in remission), and Paranoia (as well as Schizoid Personality Disorder, a nonpsychotic psychiatric disorder that does not render an individual unemployable, but that may require that the individual's need to work in isolation be accommodated by the employer under the Americans With Disabilities Act).  Prior to that email message of September 17, 2013, I was not aware of my psychiatric diagnoses.

-----Original Message-----
From: Dennis Hobb <>
To: 'Gary Freedman' <>
Cc: 'Natalie Nichols' <>; 'Michael Burt' <>; 'Anne Degirolamo' <>; 'Sallie Twentyman' <>
Sent: Tue, Sep 17, 2013 3:57 pm
Subject: RE: : Complaint against Nurse Sara F. Carroll

Mr. Freedman,

At the McClendon Center we take allegations of Medicare/Medicaid fraud and abuse very seriously.  Actual fraud would have been committed if Nurse Carroll had billed for services that she didn't provide.  I have no reason to believe that she did not see you on the days for which she billed, so I believe no fraud was committed.  Abuse can encompass a range of issues.  It can vary from claiming too much (or too little) time with the patient, or it can be committed if you did not have a valid treating diagnosis.  Your file contains the following diagnoses: Delusional Disorder (297.1), Major Depression Recurrent Severe Without Psychotic Features (296.33), Alcohol Dependence in Sustained Remission (303.90), and PTSD (309.81), and Schizoid Personality Disorder (301.20).  These diagnoses were made by Aimee Calderone-Burgess, who is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social worker, and therefore qualified to diagnose mental health conditions in the District of Columbia.  As you have valid DSM diagnoses and are being appropriately treated by an Advance Practice Registered Nurse, I believe your allegations of Medicare/Medicaid fraud are unfounded.  However, it is your prerogative to contact an appropriate agency such as the Office of Health Care Ombudsman to register your concerns.  You have my assurance that we will cooperate fully in any investigation conducted by any oversight agency at which you register a complaint.

Dennis Hobb

4.  Major Depression, PTSD, Alcohol Dependence, and Paranoia are medically-recognized consequences of workplace mobbing.

Victims of workplace mobbing frequently suffer from: adjustment disorders, somatic symptoms (e.g., headaches or irritable bowel syndrome),psychological trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and major depresssion).  In mobbing targets with PTSD, Heinz Leymann notes that the mental effects were fully comparable with PTSD from war or prison camp experiences. Some patients may develop alcoholism or other substance abuse disorders. Family relationships routinely suffer. Some targets may even develop brief psychotic episodes, generally with paranoid symptoms. Leymann estimated that 15% of suicides in Sweden could be directly attributed to workplace mobbing.  Hillard JR "Workplace mobbing: Are they really out to get your patient?" Current Psychiatry 8(4): 45-51, April 2009.[tt_news]=174310

Akin Gump admits that I suffered from paranoid symptoms during my employment at the firm.  The D.C. Worker's Compensation program administers the special/second injury fund, which provides benefits in instances where an injury combines with a pre-existing disability to cause a substantially greater disability.

5.  On January 15, 2010 I was interviewed by Deputy Marshal xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx (202 xxx xxxx) of the U.S. Marshals Service (U.S. Department of Justice) as part of a threat investigation relating to U.S. District Court Judge xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx (District of Columbia).  Deputy Marshal xxxxxxxxxx was concerned about my obsessive preoccupation with my employment experience at Akin Gump and the intense anger expressed in my writings published on the Internet about that employment experience.   Deputy Marshal xxxxxxxxxx specifically asked, "What was your motivation in writing a blog (titled 'My Daily Struggles')?"  He added that he had been reading my blog for the previous two months, since November 2009.

Anger, obsessive preoccupation with past trauma, and the potential for violent acting out are symptoms of PTSD.  Thus, the U.S. Department of Justice has affirmed as genuine the symptoms diagnosed by the McClendon Center as constituting PTSD, a recognized consequence of workplace mobbing.

In an email message dated June 7, 2011 USMS Associate General Counsel xxx xxxxx advised me that the USMS instituted a threat investigation in January 2010 because I had "sent numerous communications to U.S. District Court Judge xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx" (beginning with a letter dated August 14, 2000, more than a decade ago in which I accused Judge xxxxxxx of a possible ethical infraction for failing to recuse herself from presiding over my Petition for Review of Agency Determination when she sat as a judge on the D.C. Superior Court).

6.  I advised the U.S. Department of Justice by letter dated January 5, 1994 that I had suffered severe emotional distress as a result of Akin Gump's action in using the legal processes of a state agency, the D.C. Department of Human Rights, to defame me in pleadings filed by the firm with that agency.

There is no evidence that I suffered from Major Depression or PTSD prior to September 1992, that is before I learned in late December 1992 that Akin Gump had used the legal processes of a state agency (in May 1992) to defame, humiliate and embarrass me, which resulted in the infliction of extreme emotional distress.

Experts in workplace mobbing recognize that a frequently encountered aspect of the phenomenon is that the employer himself ultimately colludes with coworkers in mobbing behavior which typically features behaviors intended to defame, humiliate and embarrass the mobbing victim.  Thus, an expert in mobbing could very well conclude that Akin Gump's act of filing false and defamatory written statements about me in May 1992 (seven months after my employment ended on October 29, 1991) with a state agency was, in fact, an integral part of the mobbing.

7.  Under the D.C. Worker's Compensation program a claimant is required to report job-related injury or illness in writing to the Office of Workers’ Compensation within 30 days of occurrence or awareness.  I became aware that I suffered from the recognized consequences of workplace mobbing experienced at Akin Gump (1988-1991) on September 17, 2013 by way of the above email message (see paragraph 3, above) sent to me by Dennis Hobb, Program Manager of the McClendon Center.  Thus, I have until October 17, 2013 to file a timely claim under the D.C. Worker's Compensation program for the injuries I suffered at Akin Gump, namely, the specific complex of psychiatric symptoms or disorders typically caused by workplace mobbing: Major Depression, PTSD, Alcohol Dependence (in remission), and Paranoid symptoms.

Gary Freedman
3801 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Apt. 136
Washington, DC  20008
telephone: 202 362 7064

Greg Lott
Victim Assistance Unit
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, DC Field Office
Washington, DC

I am planning to file a worker's compensation claim growing out of the injuries I sustained during my employment at the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.  I am writing to inquire whether the FBI can assist me in pursuing my claim.  The claim is explained more fully in the email message below.

I understand this is a civil matter, but the U.S. Marshals Service insinuated itself in this matter in the year 2010 and acted on suspicions or conclusions that are material to my worker's compensation claim (see paragraph 5, below).

Further, my former employer's actions in May 1992 in filing statements about me with a state human rights agency that were defamatory on their face -- alleging that I suffered from severe mental illness that rendered me unemployable and potentially violent (i.e., a direct threat in the workplace) based on the opinion of a psychiatrist who had not examined me personally, thereby violating the American Psychiatric Association's Goldwater Rule -- may constitute a felony under 18 USC 241, Conspiracy Against Rights.  I have been denied the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act because I am considered a "direct threat in the workplace," an allegation made by Akin Gump and affirmed as genuine and credible by the D.C. Department of Human Rights.  Freedman v. D.C. Department of Human Rights, D.C.C.A. no. 96-CV-961 (Sept. 1, 1998).  The U.S. Supreme Court has held private citizens to be liable as state actors when they conspire with government officials to deprive persons of their rights.  Thus, my former employer, Akin Gump may have committed a "color of law violation," a felony that falls within the investigative jurisdiction of the FBI.

Thank you.

Gary Freedman
Washington, DC

Davis Polk Responds to Representation Solicitation

Mr. Freedman,

I'm sorry we are unable to assist you.
And unfortunately, I do not know of anyone in Washington D.C. to whom I can refer you.



From: Gary Freedman []
Sent: Saturday, September 28, 2013 05:09 PM
To: Katz, Sharon
Subject: pro bono -worker's comp
Sharon Katz, Esq.
Davis Polk

Dear Ms. Katz:

I am writing to inquire whether Davis Polk would consent to represent me pro bono in the following matter.  I intend to file a worker's compensation claim regarding injuries I sustained during my employment at Akin Gump (1988-1991).  The following email message I sent to Dennis Race will explain the claim in detail. If you cannot represent me, perhaps you could refer me to another DC attorney?

Thank you.

Gary Freedman
Washington, DC
202 362 7064

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Akin Gump Workplace Violence: Formal OSHA Query

Name :        Gary Freedman   
State :        District of Columbia   
Worker Type :        Private Employee or Employer
Phone Number :        202 362 7064   
E-Mail :   
Topic :        Regulations (Standards)   
Serial # :        36659402   
Question :       

1.  I work as a paralegal at a law firm where I am being subjected to verbal abuse including delusional and unfounded statements to the effect that I could be homicidal and violent.  I am subjected to defamatory statements and rumors that have damaged my reputation in the firm and that could ultimately affect my employment status.

2.  There is an OSHA powerpoint presentation on the Internet that says that the behaviors described above constitute "workplace violence" in the health care and social service work sector.

My questions are:

-- Does OSHA consider verbal abuse in the law firm sector to constitute "workplace violence?"

-- Are there any OSHA rules/regulations or any other written pronouncements issued by the agency that define verbal abuse as a form of "workplace violence" and that would subject a law firm employer to OSHA sanctions.

Thank you.

Why Did Hogan Lovells Thank Me For My Query but Michael Madigan Brushed Me Off?

Dear Mr. Freedman –
Thanks for your note.  Unfortunately, we receive many more requests for pro bono assistance than we can possibly handle.  Accordingly, we will not be able to assist you at this time.
Best of luck.
T. Weymouth
Hogan Lovells US LLP
Columbia Square
555 Thirteenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004
+1 202 637 5600
+1 202 637 8633
+1 202 637 5910
Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail.
From: Gary Freedman []
Sent: Monday, September 23, 2013 11:15 AM
To: Weymouth, T. Clark
Subject: worker's comp claim
T. Clark Weymouth
Hogan Lovells
Washington, DC
I am writing to inquire whether Hogan Lovells would consent to represent me pro bono in the following matter.  I intend to file a worker's compensation claim regarding injuries I sustained during my employment at Akin Gump (1988-1991).  The following email message I sent to Dennis Race will explain the claim in detail. If you cannot represent me, perhaps you could refer me to another DC attorney?
Thank you.
Gary Freedman
Washington, DC
202 362 7064

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why is Akin Gump's Los Angeles Office Interested in Jonathan Shapiro?

 Jonathan Shapiro was an associate in Akin Gump's Washington, DC office from 1987 to 1992.

Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, & Feld (    0 returning visits
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Letter to Expert in Workplace Mobbing

Linnea B. McCord
Associate Professor of Business Law
Graziadio School of Business and Management
Pepperdine University
Los Angeles, CA
telephone: (818) 501-1624

Professor McCord:

I was a victim of workplace mobbing at my last place of employment, the Washington, DC office of the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.  I have been disabled since October 29, 1991.

I thought you might have a research interest in the following documents concerning my experiences:

Description of workplace mobbing that I experienced:

Proposed worker's compensation claim (2013):

Complaint to OSHA (2013).  The complaint is time-barred and not actionable, but I wanted to state my case for the record:

I hope these materials can be of value to you.

Gary Freedman
Washington, DC
202 362 7064

Workplace Mobbing


Kenneth Westhues, University of Waterloo

A summary of research on workplace mobbing published in OHS Canada, Canada's Occupational Health & Safety Magazine, Vol. 18, No. 8, December 2002, pp. 30-36. Published on the web, January 2003. 

In the early 1980s, a Swedish psychologist named Heinz Leymann identified a grave threat to health and safety in what appear to be the healthiest, safest workplaces in the world. German was Leymann’s first language, Swedish his second, but he labeled the distinct menace he had found with an English word: mobbing.

Over the next twenty years, news of Leymann’s discovery spread across Europe and beyond. Untranslated, the English name he gave it entered the vocabulary of workplace relations throughout Scandinavia and in Germany, Italy, and other countries. All across Europe, not only specialists in occupational health but managers, union leaders, and the public at large came to recognize workplace mobbing as a real, measurable kind of harm, a destroyer of health and life.

Strangely, recognition of Leymann’s discovery has been slower in coming to the English-speaking world. Newsweek published a popular summary of research on workplace mobbing in 2000, but only in its European edition. In Britain and America, attention has focussed less on mobbing than on the different but related problem of bullying, and, occasionally, on one of its extremely rare possible results: the outbursts of extreme violence, that from time to time make headlines across the country.

Workplace mobbing was almost never discussed in Canada until the coroner's inquest following the murder of four workers at OC Transpo in Ottawa in 1999. In that case, a former employee, Pierre Lebrun, had ended the shooting spree by also taking his own life. It turned out that Lebrun had been ridiculed relentlessly by co-workers for his stutter, and then, after he had slapped one of them in retaliation, been forced to apologize to his tormentors. Had Lebrun been mobbed at work? Was this the phenomenon Leymann had in mind? Media reports and the inquest itself tentatively said it was.

In 2000 and 2001, The National Post publicized my research on mobbing in the academic workplace, the process by which even tenured professors are ganged up on, humiliated, and run out of their jobs. While trying to make sense of some bizarre and hugely destructive university conflicts in 1994, I had stumbled upon Leymann’s work and found it powerfully illuminating of the data in my files.

In the meanwhile, the concept of workplace mobbing caught the attention of the Ontario Nurses Association, the College Institute Educators Association of British Columbia, and a smattering of other union and management groups, which then sponsored workshops on the topic, much as occurred in Germany a decade earlier.

The trauma of being mobbed

To describe mobbing as possibly the gravest threat most workers face is not to ignore threats posed by slippery floors, dangerous machines, toxic chemicals, and the other material hazards that health and safety committees properly make their top priority.

In practical terms, however, the worst kind of harm most Canadians have to fear at work is the kind that arises from faulty human relations, some kind of glitch in how people treat one another. Montreal researcher Hans Selye won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1964, for the best single-word description of today’s main workplace ills: stress. This short English word struck a chord in both the scientific community and the public, as mobbing would decades later, and quickly found its way into other languages. By now, research has shown in a thousand ways the stark, even lethal effects of too much of the wrong kind of stress on physical and mental health.

Mobbing can be understood as the stressor to beat all stressors. It is an impassioned, collective campaign by co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker. Initiated most often by a person in a position of power or influence, mobbing is a desperate urge to crush and eliminate the target. The urge travels through the workplace like a virus, infecting one person after another. The target comes to be viewed as absolutely abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities, outside the circle of acceptance and respectability, deserving only of contempt. As the campaign proceeds, a steadily larger range of hostile ploys and communications comes to be seen as legitimate.

Mobbing is hardly the only source of debilitating stress at work, and it was not the only one on which Leymann did research. He interviewed bank employees who had undergone the terror of armed robbery, and subway drivers who had watched helplessly as their trains ran over persons who fell or jumped onto the tracks. Leymann documented the depression, absenteeism, sleeplessness, and other symptoms of trauma resulting from such stressful experiences.

Bank robberies and subway suicides were no match, however, for being mobbed by co-workers in the personal devastation that ensued. Not infrequently, mobbing spelled the end of the target’s career, marriage, health, and livelihood. From a study of circumstances surrounding suicides in Sweden, Leymann estimated that about twelve percent of people who take their own lives have recently been mobbed at work.

How it happens

Mobbing is relatively rare, and many workplaces hum along for decades without a single case of it. But by Leymann’s and others' estimates, between two and five percent of adults are mobbed sometime during their working lives. The other 95 percent, involved in the process only as observers, bystanders, or perpetrators (though occasionally also as rescuers or guardians of the target), mostly deny, gloss over, and forget the mobbing cases in which they took part. That is one reason it has taken so long for the phenomenon to be identified and researched.

That children and teenagers sometimes join in collectively humiliating one of their number is well known--most people can cite examples from their own school days. The widely publicized deaths of two girls in British Columbia–Reena Virk, beaten and drowned in 1999, and Dawn Marie Wesley, driven to suicide in 2000–have heightened public awareness of the cruel reality of swarming or collective bullying among both girls and boys.

Leymann’s contribution was to document beyond any doubt the same reality among adults, even in the cool, rational, professional, bureaucratic, policy-governed setting of a workplace. The tactics differ. Workplace mobbing is normally carried out politely, without any violence, and with ample written documentation. Yet even without the blood, the bloodlust is 
essentially the same: contagion and mimicking of unfriendly, hostile acts toward the target; relentless undermining of the target’s self-confidence; group solidarity against one whom all agree does not belong; and the euphoria of collective attack.

An example from a factory

One of the cases that first opened my eyes to workplace mobbing serves also to illustrate related concepts commonly but mistakenly applied. A former student of mine asked if he and his wife could meet with me. She was being sexually harassed, he said, in the factory where she had worked for most of her adult life.

The label this woman and her husband had placed on her problem fit the facts they presented to me. She was regularly paired for certain tasks with a male co-worker who day after day humiliated her with insults to her work and degrading sexual slurs. Years earlier, when she had threatened to report him to the boss, he had grabbed her arm in a threatening manner.

Yet as this shy, soft-spoken lady shared more facts with me, sexual harassment appeared to be a very partial characterization of her predicament. She had in fact complained to both union and management about the man's offensive behavior, but to no avail. She and her husband were at wit’s end. The leader of the union was a paragon of political correctness. A zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment was posted where all could see. Yet her harasser carried on as before.

Explanation could be found only in the larger dynamics of the work group. This woman ranked at the bottom of the pecking order. She was apart from her workmates in three crucial ways. First, she had a partial disability, the result of an accident at work years before, that under terms of the collective agreement precluded her doing certain jobs. For want of physical dexterity, she was exempt from tasks at which everybody else took a turn. She was also paid at an hourly rate, while most others were on piecework.

Second, though most workers in the group were from immigrant groups, this woman was from a different one than everybody else. Ethnically, she was a minority of one.

Third, while most of her peers sprinkled their speech with obscenities, took crude banter in stride, and seemed to thrive on a relatively coarse workplace culture, this woman did not. She was devoted to her family and her faith.

These and other factors made her an outcast. Her problem was far worse than one man’s harassment and bullying. It was the humiliation of daily loathing by her peers. What drove her over the edge were comments from two female co-workers on a hot summer day when job assignments were being rotated. One called out so that all could hear, “I don’t want to work with the cripple.” Another, distributing sweatbands to combat the heat, passed this worker by saying, “You don’t work hard enough to get one.”

At that point, this veteran of years of co-workers' hostility began crying then and could not stop. She was taken to the nurse, who sent her home. Her husband took her to the hospital emergency room. She was diagnosed with clinical depression and placed on sick leave. She returned to work months later, was again paired with the man who led the harassment and later suffered a severe heart attack. The formal grievances she had lodged were resolved with her early retirement about ten years after the mobbing began.

The case illustrates the escalation that is essential to workplace mobbing. Each higher level of authority, in both company and union, to which this woman and her husband appealed, was faced with overturning the will of a successively larger group of subordinates. Steadily more and higher-level employees over time voiced the common sentiment: this woman is impossible to work with, she has to go.

Mobbing was exacerbated in this case by its leader's special status in the group. Some female workers found him sexy. He had connections for getting cigarettes and alcohol tax-free, and in this way had forged semi-secret ties with other employees. Acting in the role of chief eliminator, he led the campaign to rob one partially disabled worker of her job, her dignity, and her health. The process took years, but it eventually achieved its aim.

Mobbing versus other exits

Why didn’t this factory worker quit? In the answer to this question lie clues to why mobbing is more common in some employment situations than others. Mobbing rarely happens to a worker who can easily relocate to a different employer. 

Mobbing is also rare in the case of workers on at-will contracts, since they can be summarily fired. A manager faced with ten subordinates who get along and get work done reasonably well, all of whom despise a certain other subordinate and want to be rid of him or her, ordinarily heeds the collective will. If for some reason the manager does not, there is conflict but not mobbing, since opinion about the acceptability of the worker in question is divided.

Further, in situations where a worker can be terminated only for cause, mobbing seldom occurs if legitimate cause exists. On the basis of clear evidence of substandard performance or serious misconduct, workers are routinely terminated–firmly, but often with compassion and regret. 

The worker most vulnerable to being mobbed is an average or high achiever who is personally invested in a formally secure job, but who nonetheless somehow threatens or puts to shame co-workers and/or managers. Such a worker provides no legally defensible grounds for termination, yet usually fails to pick up subtle hints and leave voluntarily. An attractive solution, from the majority point of view, is to bring or wear this worker down, one way or another, however long it takes.

As the process drags on, both sides, collective and individual, dig in their heels. It is often as if the targeted worker has grabbed a hot wire and cannot let go, despite the pain and injury it inflicts. The worker’s investment of self and sense of having been deeply wronged prevent the one resolution that would satisfy the other side.

Ironically, it is in workplaces where workers’ rights are formally protected that the complex and devious incursions on human dignity that constitute mobbing most commonly occur. Union shops are one example, as in the case of the factory worker described above. University faculties are another, on account of the special protections of tenure and academic freedom professors have. It happens in police forces, too, since management rights in this setting are tempered by the oath officers swear to uphold the law. Mobbings appear to be much more frequent in the public service as a whole, as compared to private companies.

Mobbing also appears to be more common in the professional service sector–such as education and health care–where work is complex, goals ambiguous, best practices debatable, and market discipline far away. Scapegoating is an effective if temporary means of achieving group solidarity, when it cannot be achieved in a more constructive way. It is a turning inward, a diversion of energy away from serving nebulous external purposes toward the deliciously clear, specific goal of ruining a disliked co-worker's life.

What to do about it

As a clinician, Leymann made his priority the healing of post-traumatic stress in those most severely affected by mobbing. With the support of the Swedish health service, he opened a clinic for mobbing victims in 1994, and published detailed research on the first 64 patients treated there. That clinic no longer exists and Leymann himself died in 1999, but 200 patients are currently treated in a similar clinic that opened in Saarbruecken, Germany, this year.

Competent, well-informed treatment of the many mobbing targets who suffer mental breakdown is obviously in order, especially since they have often in the past been misdiagnosed as having paranoid delusions.

Psychiatric injury, however, is but one possible harmful result of being mobbed. Some mobbing targets keep their sanity but succumb to cardiovascular disease–hypertension, heart attack, or stroke. Most suffer loss of income and reputation. Marital breakdown and isolation from friends and family are also common outcomes.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, although experts do not agree on the ingredients of the desired ounce. Believers in human perfectibility favor enacting laws and policies that forbid workplace mobbing under pain of punishment. Organizations as diverse as Volkswagen in Germany and the Department of Environmental Quality in the American state of Oregon already have anti-mobbing policies in place. It is too soon to say what effect, if any, such policies will have on the incidence of the phenomenon.

The impulse to gang up, to join with others against what is perceived to be a common threat, lies deep in human nature. It is not easily outlawed. A policy forbidding it may, in practice, become a weapon for convicting some mobbing target of a punishable offense and thereby aiding in his or her humiliation. The evidence is clear by now that policies against sexual harassment have often been used as tools for harassing innocent but disliked workmates. Anti-mobbing policies may turn out to be even more versatile tools for such mischief.

The tiny percentage of mobbing victims–like Pierre Lebrun–who lash back in violent attack would probably have lived out their lives peaceably and productively had they been spared the excruciating pain of relentless humiliation.

All can agree, at least, on the desirability of public awareness of the vital but sad discovery Heinz Leymann made two decades ago, and on the continuing need for careful, critical scholarship that builds on his. The better we understand ourselves, including our darker impulses, the more able we are to keep one another healthy and safe.