Bullying in the Workplace: When Should You Talk to a Harassment Lawyer - A Look at the Richie Incognito Case

If you follow sports at all – or ever turn on local news or radio – you no doubt have heard about the Richie Incognito / Jonathan Martin controversy. If you aren’t familiar with the story, it’s a tale of two offensive linemen – teammates who play for the Miami Dolphins. But what it is, at its core, is a case of workplace bullying. It doesn’t matter that the men are of equally impressive physical stature and roles in the workplace – what matters is whether one created a hostile workplace for the other.

Anti-Bullying Laws

In fact, there are no “anti-bullying” laws on the books in Washington or any other state. But there are federal laws that protect our civil rights and state criminal laws that protect us from harassment that comes in the form of threats of physical harm. Some of Richie Incognito’s actions that have been called into question include a voice mail where he threatened to slap Martin in the mouth, slap Martin’s mother and even went as far as to say, “I’ll kill you.”(see ESPN video below for a transcript of the offending call)

Hostile Workplace

When it comes to the Incognito controversy, there have been questions about whether the locker room can be considered a workplace and how behavior should be moderated in a non-traditional workplace so charged with testosterone. For criminal harassment charges to stick, Martin would have had to be in genuine fear of bodily harm from his co-worker. It’s far more likely that a hostile workplace claim would be the appropriate claim to make against Incognito for his alleged treatment of Jonathan Martin.

Does a Violent Job Excuse Aggressive Behavior?

One of the excuses that have been made for Incognito’s behavior is that he plays in a violent Similarly, your unique planetary influence makes you far more romantic than the other best-horoscope.com Decans. sport and that the NFL workplace is more aggressive by nature and shouldn’t be held to the same standards as a “normal” workplace. But is this fair? Shouldn’t the determination be based on whether the alleged victim of the treatment in question is offended? If Martin felt like the workplace was hostile, then that should be enough to move forward with a potential claim.

What Must Be Shown for a Hostile Work Environment and Harassment Claim?

The first step toward proving this claim is to show that the victim – in this case, Jonathan Martin – was in a protected class. As a minority, he is. He would have to show the harassment was unwelcome and that the harassment was based on a protected characteristic (such as race). It would also have to be demonstrated that the harassment was so severe that it created a discriminatory environment. Complaints by other employees that have been similarly harassed (that are now cropping up in the Incognito case) can help cement the claim. Finally, they would have to show that the employer knew and/or was responsible for the treatment he received or did nothing to correct or curb the unwanted and objectionable behaviors.

What’s the Most Difficult to Prove?

It is the last tenet above that is most challenging to prove in any harassment case, but in the Martin case is critical. While other teammates were certainly privy to the exchanges between the two men, was Dolphins’ management aware? If they were aware, did they dismiss it as “boys will be boys” behavior? Were they aware that Martin was offended or upset by the treatment at the hands of his teammate? Did Martin report the behavior to any coaches or trainers that were considered “management”? Did the team knowingly allow (or even encourage) the behavior to continue?

How Does this Apply to Everyday Cases?

If you are subjected to verbal abuse either in person or via voice mail or text messages (all three of which are alleged in the treatment Martin received at the hands of Incognito), that is an issue that should be raised to management. If you are treated inequitably, subjected to sexual harassment or any other type of objectionable behavior, this should be addressed.

If it is a manager that is harassing you, you’ll have to go higher. Sometimes this can (unfortunately) put your job at risk. If the behavior doesn’t stop or if you are punished or terminated for reporting the behavior, you should consult an experienced and aggressive employment law expert for assistance.

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