WBI BLOG for Decision Makers in Organizations

Advice, Ideas, Research, Benchmarking Lessons

October 3rd, 2015

Microsoft Paid $2 Million in Texas Bullying-Related Case

By Brenda Craig, Lawyers and Settlements.Com, Oct. 2014

Michael Mercieca kept the faith and after seven years finally saw the courts order Microsoft to pay for bullying him to a near breaking point.

The judge in the Texas employment labor law case, Tim Sulak, has issued a Final Judgement ordering Microsoft to pay $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages and legal fees. Judge Sulak found the tech giant guilty of “acting with malice and reckless indifference” in an organized office retaliation against salesman Mercieca.

Previously, a jury, by unanimous agreement, found that Microsoft and key managers had created a hostile work environment that led to Mercieca’s constructive dismissal and ordered that the 55-year-old Mercieca be paid $11.6 million, but the judge reduced it to the amount as is permitted.

A highly regarded member of the sales department with an unblemished record, Mercieca found himself drowning in nasty workplace conspiracy whereby fellow employees and supervisors undermined his work, falsely accused him of sexual harassment and expense account fraud, and marginalized him and blocked promotions.

The story began sometime before 2007 when Mercieca ended a relationship with a woman who went on to become his boss. Conditions at work began to change for him. Even though Mercieca went to the human relations department at Microsoft, the company did not act and allowed the behaviors to continue and even to escalate.

In addition to complaining about his own treatment in the workplace, Mercieca directly complained to Microsoft icon Steve Ballmer about sexist and racist comments made in the office by VP Eddie O’Brien.

“I wrote directly to Ballmer and told him what O’Brien said after the tsunami in Japan,” says Mercieca. “He said, ‘I would have zero pity for Japan. I would throw them right under the bus and create another tsunami if I have to.’” (Depositions.)

That complaint to Ballmer, Mercieca maintains, was another reason his co-workers began to isolate him and make the workplace hostile toward him.

Mercieca and his legal team of two lawyers were up against 250 lawyers that Microsoft set to work on the case. Despite that, Mercieca and his lawyers Roy Pollack and Paul T. Morin of Austin, Texas, four years of litigation and some 90,000 documents eventually won the day.

“Rather than do the right thing, the management team went after Michael by getting a female employee to file a sexual harassment complaint and a complaint of retaliation against him,” says Paul T. Morin. “Microsoft could have taken Mercieca’s charges seriously and disciplined the senior manager but instead it engaged in the worst kind of corporate bullying.”

“They (Microsoft Corporation) remain guilty today, tomorrow and in perpetuity over egregious acts against me and racist comments by their executive that led to the retaliation and vendetta resulting in my firing,” said Mercieca after the Final Judgement was announced.


WBI Note: Technically, the case was about retaliation for reporting racist and sexist remarks by an executive. This falls well within the realm of status-based discrimination, illegal activity.

Dr. Gary Namie can serve as an expert witness for employers who do the proper thing and terminate harassers and those who discriminate.


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October 3rd, 2015

Suicide Risk Doubled by Workplace Bullying

At WBI, Dr. Ruth, I and several of the staff have listened to long-winded tales of misery endured at the hands of workplace bullies for many years. It amazes us that as many people survive the process as they do. It’s a testament to human resilience.

Suicide is the abandonment of hope, of not seeing any future, of not perceiving alternatives. It happens. How often it is the choice of bullied workers is not known. The international pioneer of the movement, Heinz Leymann, wrote in the early 1990’s that about 10% of those bullied do take their lives. It was his educated guess.

Now comes an important study from our Norwegian friends at the Bergen Bullying Research Group led by Stale Einarsen. The principal author of the study published Sept. 17 in the American Journal of Public Health is Morten Birkeland Nielsen.

The subtitle of the article is “A 3-Wave Longitudinal Norwegian Study.” The key contribution made by the study is that it measured the same group of people during three different time periods. Its longitudinal approach clarifies the sequence of events. It was a test to determine which caused which — bullying at work or considering suicide (the academics and clinicians call it suicidal ideation). The one that preceded the other can be considered a cause of the second.

The study overcame a problem common to all cross-sectional studies (in which different groups of people are measured only once) — the question of correlation between factors. That is, if we ran a study here at the WBI website of bullied individuals and asked two questions — have you been bullied and have you considered suicide — and the two scores were highly correlated, we still could not say with certainty that bullying caused people to consider suicide. The Nielsen, et al., study solved that problem with its unique tracking of a single group over time — in 2005, 2007 and again in 2010. In wave 1, 2,539 (our of 4500 solicited from a national random sample) returned the researchers’ surveys. By 2010, the sample was still at 1,291 individuals — the final group with three measurements.

Continue reading this article… »


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October 3rd, 2015

Unnecessary Organizational Shame & Guilt Related to Bullying

By Gary Namie, PhD

Individuals targeted for bullying by other employees, regardless of rank, suffer a great deal of personal shame. Sadly it is the consequence of being on the receiving end of humiliation, degradation and threatening misconduct. It freezes the person and inaction leads to stress-related health problems.

Shame is the negative emotion associated with a feeling of worthlessness. The external message directed at people being shamed is that they are worthless. It cuts to the person’s core sense of who they are. It says you are a bad person. Guilt feels similarly negative, but it differs from shame. The guilt message is that one did something wrong knowing there were options. Guilt is feeling bad over one’s behavior, one’s choices, not over one’s identity.

Guilt has a way of influencing organizations in a bad way, too. We’ve seen it all too often in our consulting. It leads to a paralysis, nearly a parallel form of inaction, an inability to solve the bullying problem that has festered for months or years.

For instance, good moral individuals, who may serve as Sunday church deacons, somehow fall into the trap of ignoring bullying because U.S. laws say they can. But gnawing at them is the knowledge that it is wrong to turn one’s back on suffering individuals. Personal guilt ensues. Then coommon rationalizations — “we have no policy,” “it’s a matter of he said/she said,” “I can’t believe the complainant – the story sounds too bizarre and extreme,” and “Bob is a friend — I’ve never seen him be cruel to anyone” — make it easy to move on. Guilt is assuaged.

Decision makers who become internal anti-bullying advocates avoid guilt through a much different path. They act on their internal moral code. They call us. But their fight is uphill in asking permission to address abusive conduct within the organization. They rarely get the permission they seek.

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September 29th, 2015

Consistency vs. Case-by-Case Approaches to Solving Workplace Bullying Problems

By Gary Namie, PhD

One of the major complaints from bullied workers is the unfairness and inequity inherent in their employer’s approach to bullying complaints. As a group, bullied individuals are very sensitive to perceived injustices.

It is key to remember that if it is an American employer, there is no legal risk-avoidance reason to compel them to take complaints about bullying and abusive conduct seriously. If they treat complaints as legitimate and serious at all, it is because they choose to do so voluntarily.

When a sympathetic, well-intentioned employer does allow bullying complaints to be lodged, that openness is often followed by resolution attempts on a case-by-case basis (CBCB). Adopting CBCB sounds good but is plagued by unintentional consequences.

To employers, CBCB affords flexibility. It allows the investigator and decision maker to take into account mitigating circumstances. For instance, offenders can be forgiven if their misconduct is found to be based on following orders from a higher ranking manager. It also makes sense to be lenient in delivering negative consequences for first-time offenders. How could this be unfair?

From the perspective of rank-in-file employees the CBCB method is perceived much differently. From that view, in the first instance the given orders were unseen. Only the absence of punishment or changes was noticed. Therefore, the decision smacks of favoritism. And if the offender was a department head or director, then it appears the employer is protecting managers. Bullying is met with impunity.Leniency, too, looks like the employer decided to grant the bully wide latitude.

In both cases, employer flexibility feels like employer betrayal to workers.

This is a preventable error.

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